While freshmen on top football and basketball teams are usually
athletes who come to campuses after four years of playing for their
high school and dominating inferior opponents, the path that
college ice hockey players take is vastly different.

Janna Hutz
Michigan freshman Jason Dest spent the last two years in Omaha, Neb. with teammate Tim Cook. (FILE PHOTO)

College hockey players almost always play for a junior team
growing up, not their high school. And, much like in the college
process, they are recruited to play for junior teams and often
leave home to play.

Take Tim Cook and Jason Dest. The two freshman defensemen are
from Montclair, N.J., and Fraser, respectively, but, in their quest
to improve as hockey players, they have spent the last two years in
Omaha, Neb., playing for the River City Lancers of the U. S. Hockey
League.

Cook and Dest lived across the street from each other, and from
juniors to Michigan, have become best friends.

“We’re real tight,” said Cook, who spent his
first two years of high school at The Hotchkiss School in
Connecticut with teammate Brandon Rogers. “We’ve been
rookies twice together now — in Omaha two years ago and now
here. It’s brought us real close.”

After the last two years, the two also were able to give their
new roommates a heads-up about what to expect.

“(Dest) sleeps all time … I know it’s that
way with all a lot of people in college, but it’s a different
level with him,” Cook said. “On Sundays, I don’t
think he’s up until five or six in the night. It’s
pretty crazy.”

Dest added: “(Roommate Mike Brown) always gets mad about
how much I sleep. I take naps all the time, and he sometimes has
trouble sleeping. I think he’s a little jealous.”

While Cook doesn’t have that problem, there is something
he can do to annoy his teammates.

“I like to listen to rap, so they make fun of me a lot
about that,” Cook said. “It’s more country and
rock in the lockerroom. If I try to play some rap music, I’ll
hear about it pretty quick.”

The two know each other well enough, and, while they have spent
the fall term getting to know the other freshmen, they also have
been working hard on the ice and rapidly improving their play.

Associate coach Mel Pearson says defenseman “is the
toughest position in college hockey to come in as a freshman and
play,” noting that while forwards can blend in,
defensemen’s mistakes are often glaring and easy to
notice.

But after some struggles early in the season, the pair has come
on strong of late. In fact, the coaches have been so pleased with
the defense that they moved Eric Werner up to wing against Michigan
State so that all seven defensemen can play.

While the move was made to allow Werner’s offensive skills
and creativity with the puck to help out Michigan’s
struggling offense, the coaching staff would have gone another
direction if it didn’t have confidence in its rookies.

“We’re pleasantly surprised how well they have
played,” Pearson said. “They are improving much more
rapidly than we expected.”

Cook and Dest aren’t the only Lancers to play college
hockey. The man who single-handedly gave the Spartans a chance in
last weekend’s games with Michigan, freshman goaltender
Dominic Vicari, was also a Lancer.

Vicari stopped 65 of 66 shots to split the series and all but
locked up the starting spot at goal.

It came as no surprise to Dest that Vicari played so well. In
fact, he thinks the sight of Cook and him on the ice may have been
the reason.

“I think it had a little to do with it,” Dest said.
“Obviously the two schools have a big rivalry, and now
we’re part of it. When Dominic’s got a big game on the
line, he stays focused and really gets the job done.

“It was fun to play him. We definitely gave each other a
hard time on the ice. During the game it was a lot more serious
though. But when the game was over we went back to messing around
like usual.”

After seeing one ex-teammate last weekend, Cook and Dest will
get a chance to visit their home away from home the last two years
when Michigan visits Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.

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