Heading into the season, alternate captain Jason Dest was on pace to become Michigan hockey’s Iron Man, breaking Rob Brown’s record of 164 consecutive games played. After missing the first game of his freshman season, Dest played in every game for nearly three-and-a-half seasons and, if healthy, would have broken the record in the fourth playoff game.

But Dest suffered a shoulder injury on Dec. 2 at Western Michigan and missed two games against Notre Dame, ending his chance at the record.

Even if that streak was intact, it’s doubtful Dest would be paying too much attention to it. That’s just not the type of player he’s become.

“Just because it didn’t happen it’s not much of a disappointment, because there are bigger and better things to worry about with the team,” Dest said.

At the end of his classic book about his life in hockey, former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden includes a poem about what it means to be a hockey player.

Dryden paints the picture of the consummate teammate.

I love to play.

I want to win .

It matters to me if I win or lose .

I want to be part of something more important than me .

I want to be better than I was yesterday.

That’s Dest, according to assistant coach Billy Powers.

“His concern for the team’s success overrides any personal success that he would have,” Powers said. “That’s the ultimate compliment that you can pay a guy. He clearly cares more about the ‘W’ than anything that has to do with his stats.”

Unlike many of his teammates who earn the accolades and hype for their offensive success, it is more difficult to quantify Dest’s contributions.

There is no official statistic that tallies bone-jarring hits or pucks cleared out of trouble. These are qualities that can be overlooked on the stat sheet. But his effort is most reflected by the scoreboard or, rather, what doesn’t go on it. Silencing the opposing team’s top line and killing off penalties are of utmost importance, especially in the playoffs.

The Fraser native understands his role as a defensive defenseman and knows where to look to check if he’s succeeding – the final score.

“(Dest is) a kid who takes pride in playing against the other team’s best player and shutting them out, being a plus player, being a physical presence on the ice, being a top penalty killer,” said Powers, who recruited Dest from the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

When Dest first came to Michigan, he was paired alongside then-junior Eric Werner. Having a veteran player next to him allowed Dest to ease into the system, according to Michigan coach Red Berenson.

“When the puck was dumped in, Werner would be back,” Berenson said. “Dest did what he thought he needed to do, but Werner was in charge. Now, Dest’s in charge.”

Dest realized that he needed to do more. He has developed into the leader on his defensive pairing. Once the rookie next to a junior, Dest is now the senior next to the freshman with newcomer Steve Kampfer. In between shifts, Dest imparts some of his observations and motivation onto the freshman defender.

“On the bench, he lets you know how he feels,” Kampfer said. “If you’re not having a good shift, he’s is going to get on you and tell you that you need to pick it up . Anything he says, I take to heart. I listen to what he says and try to work on it every day.”

His transformation from passive to assertive has occurred in the locker room as well. Dest has provided the same vocal leadership with the rest of the team that he has with his defensive partner. When seniors Matt Hunwick, T.J. Hensick and Dest were announced as the team captains before the season, Dest’s inclusion in that group surprised many fans. But what those outside observers don’t see are Dest’s behind-the-scenes contributions, especially how he connects with the team’s younger players.

As an alternate captain, Dest has separated himself from the team’s other leaders as the louder one. In fact, Powers likened Dest’s locker-room presence to that of another coach.

“He has taken it upon himself to put his hat in the ring as far as making sure that everybody is aware of what is going on on a week-to-week basis,” Powers said. “He’s kind of the (team’s) conscience.”

Dest’s consistency has made him an example for his teammates to follow. Playing in 159-of-161 games will do that for a player.

“He’s ready to play every single game,” senior Tim Cook said. “You know what you will get from him and there’s no question that he’ll be ready to play. For the younger guys, that’s a really positive thing to see.”

Cook can attest to this consistency. He has been Dest’s teammate for the past six years. Two years before coming to Michigan, Cook and Dest first met at a “Planet of the Apes” movie night for the rookies in Omaha.

They have been teammates ever since.

“He’s pretty much the same player now that he was back then,” Cook said. “He is a lot more experienced and a lot better and stronger. But he’s always been a solid player who is very responsible back there.”

As dependable as Dest has been on the defense, he has not garnered the same NHL hype his fellow blue liners have. Dest is the only draft-eligible, top-six defenseman that has gone undrafted. Berenson believes this fact will have no impact on Dest’s post-collegiate hockey career.

“It doesn’t really matter if you get drafted,” Berenson said. “What matters is the player that you become. I don’t know if Dest wants to try pro hockey, but if he does, I’m sure there will be teams that are interested.”

But professional hockey is the last thing on Dest’s mind. Right now, he is focused on quieting the Northern Michigan offense and doing whatever he can do to help the team win.

“It’s really going to be keeping the puck out of our net and letting the offense take care of itself by taking care of our end first,” Dest said. “I’m going to try to be a leader in that aspect of the game.”

When people look back on great hockey moments, they often remember overtime goals that allow one team to advance in the playoffs or acrobatic saves that a goalie made to keep his team ahead. But fans rarely think about the poke check that prevented a team from threatening or the initial pass that started the game-winning rush.

But these are the small plays that can lead to the memorable moments. Though Dest has scored just one goal and nine assists this season, he has been a steady contributor on the blue line throughout his Michigan career and could make the season-extending play in the next few games.

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