Maybe he was just taking in a hockey game. Maybe he was sizing up his future team.
Whatever the reason, sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill did not attend the No. 1 Michigan hockey team’s practice on Friday, but he did attend a Plymouth Whalers game, according to several unconfirmed reports. Plymouth owns Merrill’s OHL rights, and Michigan coach Red Berenson acknowledged that Merrill leaving Michigan is a possibility.
The Whalers could not be reached for comment.
Merrill is currently serving a 12-game suspension leveled prior to the season for violating team rules. Under the policy, he was eligible to return to practice after two weeks. Friday marked the end of those two weeks, but he did not attend the practice then or on subsequent dates.
“Right now it’s still in a gray area,” Berenson said. “I can’t tell you that there is or there isn’t (a return date), but I think at some point we’ll have to either figure that out or announce it.”
The choice to restore Merrill’s practice eligibility isn’t Berenson’s alone. He said that Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon will also offer input.
“It’s not going to be all my call,” Berenson said. “That’s why I can’t give you an answer.”
Merrill recorded 25 points last season, which made him the Wolverines’ highest returning point scorer entering this year’s campaign. He also earned second team all-CCHA honors as a freshman.
The New Jersey Devils drafted Merrill with the 38th pick in the 2010 NHL draft. If Merrill opts to play professionlly, he will be unable to return to Michigan as a player.
The Wolverines have gone 4-0 in his absence, good enough for the No. 1 ranking the nation. Senior forward Luke Glendening, Michigan’s captain, said that with Merrill’s situation still unclear, the team must play with the assumption that he won’t return.
“This is our team, as of right now,” Glendening said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with that whole situation yet, so as far as we’re concerned, we’ll embrace him and whatever, but this is our team.”
SCOOTING ON HOME: Michigan has had the proper amount of players at practice this week, despite Merrill’s absence. That’s because practices this week have had the new addition of an old player, former forward Scooter Vaughan.
Vaughan took reps in the teams’ regular drills while rehabbing a broken arm, presumably in an attempt to continue playing professional hockey. He played on the same line as freshman defenseman Brennan Serville and sophomore defenseman Kevin Clare.
Vaughan played in 137 games as a Wolverine and tallied 39 points, 24 of which came as a senior last year. He was picked up by the San Jose Sharks in the preseason but was released in September.
ICE, ICE BABY: If you live in Marquette, Mich., you probably like ice. Maybe that’s why Northern Michigan decided to add 15 additional feet of it to the width of its rink.
The Berry Events Center is one of just eight Olympic rinks in Division-I hockey, and Michigan will have to adjust to more open play when it makes the trip to the Upper Peninsula for the weekend series.
The Wolverines will play just four total games on Olympic-sized ice this season — against Northern Michigan this weekend and against Alaska in December — but they did go 3-1-1 in the big rinks last year. That included two wins to end the regular season against Northern Michigan to clinch first place in the CCHA.
“I think it plays to our advantage,” Glendening said. “We have a really fast team.”
Berenson said the rink will change play slightly, with both teams having more time and space in the offensive zone. Still, he recognizes that Northern Michigan is allowing just 2.25 goals per game through four contests this season.
“It’s still hard to get to the net,” Berenson said. “Their defense is big and they’re physical, and you still have to pay a price when you want to get to the net.
“The bottom line is, it’s going to be hard to score goals.”