After the Michigan hockey team”s 9-0 route of Notre Dame last season on Jan. 17, everyone went home satisfied, eagerly awaiting the Wolverines” upcoming challenge Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena.
Everyone except for their sophomore Jed Ortmeyer.
Against the Irish, Ortmeyer suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
“It was my first shift of the game,” Ortmeyer said. “We had a line change and so did they and I got a pass from a defenseman. I was trying to get to the red line to get it deep so I could change. I just put all my weight on my right leg and I got hit while my leg was fully extended. My skate stuck in the ice and I felt my knee pop.
“It was a fluke thing, not a big hit or a dirty hit, it”s just the body wasn”t made to go that way.”
Ortmeyer was helped off the ice and skated up to the lockerroom where he waited until after the game for an MRI to be taken. The following day, the results came back.
A torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“I was bummed,” Ortmeyer said. “I thought it would only be a week and I would be ready to go because there was no pain or swelling in the knee. I was devastated to find out that my season was done.”
For Ortmeyer, the injury could not have come at a worse time. After just 27 games in the lineup, Ortmeyer had already recorded a career high 10 goals and 11 assists to go along with a plus-7 rating. These numbers were already a step up from his freshman season during which he recorded 8 goals and 16 assists in 41 games.
“Toward the middle of the season I felt like I started playing pretty well,” Ortmeyer said. “The coaches had been giving me opportunities to play more I felt like my confidence was going up. I was trying to take advantage of that and play the best I could.”
This season, Ortmeyer has returned with two things. A knee at 100 percent, and a new letter on his jersey. The letter “C”, for captain.
His captaincy was announced by Michigan coach Red Berenson on Sept 6. The announcement came as bit of a surprise to the team, as the Wolverines have not had a junior captain for the past eight seasons. And after missing half of last season with his injury, Ortmeyer has significantly less experience than most players in his position. Still, Berenson felt that Ortmeyer was the right man for the job naming him without a team vote.
“Ortmeyer is a good example of what a Michigan captain should be,” Berenson said. “His work ethic on the ice is exceptional, and the players are going to see that every day. He”s going to be a key player for this team.”
“I am really excited,” Ortmeyer said. “I was a little surprised at first because the team thought that we were going to vote on the captain, but we were all glad to get it over and done with.”
So from injury to captaincy, Ortmeyer had accomplished a great deal over one summer. But not without paying his dues of course.
Ortmeyer began skating only four days after his Feb. 15 surgery.
“I wanted to try and see if it was possible to skate in the Frozen Four if we made it.”
Along with team trainer Rick Bancroft, Ortmeyer began working right away to get back into playing condition.
“I had rehab everyday while the guys were on the ice,” Ortmeyer said. “I would be in here for two to three hours a day. That continued all the way through spring term, and I stayed here most of the summer and skated as much as possible. I went home for a while and skated there as well.”
“I think we tried to do more functional work with him, more sport-specific rather than just basic weight-room workouts,” Bancroft said. “Jed was such a great guy, he worked hard, and he was always upbeat. I never had to worry about him not making an appointment.
“When you have an athlete like Jed that”s so motivated to get better and keeps showing that motivation and never gets down if there”s a setback, he”s easy to work with. Jed was fantastic.”
Unfortunately, for Ortmeyer and the rest of the Michigan hockey team, he was unable to return for the Frozen Four due to minor complications resulting from surgery. Still, he did travel to Albany where he received a gracious welcome from his teammates.
“It felt good to go out and skate with the team and hang out with the guys in the lockerroom. They were really supportive when I skated out, they were all banging their sticks on the ice, giving me a little extra incentive to get back soon.”
“I don”t think he was close enough to get back by the Frozen Four,” Bancroft said. ” The mental side is a huge component. Your body might be close to 100 percent, but mentally you don”t know until you take that first hit.”
Since he couldn”t play with his team, Ortmeyer became its biggest fan.
“I went to all the games and watched some from my bed after the surgery. I think we had some ups and downs, but toward the end the team started to gel as the seniors took the reigns.”
While he was injured, the Wolverines missed his strong, physical presence out on the ice. Many times, a hit by Ortmeyer would completely change the complexion of a game.
Now that he is back in the lineup, Ortmeyer is poised and ready to begin a new season. His role as captain will be crucial to a team with 10 newcomers and only four seniors. Still, Ortmeyer knows he has the support of those around him.
“Jed”s been a leader ever since he got here,” Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn said. “More so now that he is the captain, but he leads on and off the ice. Every night he goes out and works his butt off. He never has a bad game because he is always out there working hard, and that is good for all the younger guys to see. If they see Jed out there working his butt off and he”s the captain, than that means they have to go out and work their butt off. He”s a good leader for this team.”
“Just because I have the captaincy doesn”t mean that I am the only leader on this team,” Ortmeyer said. “All the seniors and juniors are captains, and the sophomores will have to step up as well.”
Youth and inexperience will be the main obstacles the Wolverines will need to hurdle if they want to have a successful season. With so many new faces, the team might need some time to gel into one cohesive unit on the ice. Still, Ortmeyer feels that the desire is very apparent.
“I think that as a team we are hungry. Last year maybe the fire wasn”t there cause the seniors knew they already won one. We haven”t been able to reach that goal yet so it makes us more excited.
“We just have to go out and get better ever day. We have to be consistent on the road, and have (Josh) Blackburn bail us out when we need him to, which he usually does.”
With the season just about to get underway, the only lingering question remaining for most people is will Jed Ortmeyer be able to regain his mental confidence?
Ortmeyer doesn”t appear to be overly concerned about that though.
“They told me the mental thing would be the last step, but I don”t even think about the injury anymore.
“You never know with injuries. I learned last year that you don”t know when your season could come to an end, so I just want to go out and play as hard as I can every shift and give it my all.”
Weight 185 lbs.
From the coach: “Ortmeyer is a good example of what a Michigan captain should be. His work ethic on the ice is exceptional, and the players are going to see that every day. He”s going to be a key player for this team.”
head coach Red Berenson