This weekend, Michigan hockey fans are in for a treat.
Not only will Wolverines line up along the home bench, but they will also sit along the away bench as well.
Michigan welcomes the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 Team to Yost Ice Arena tomorrow night for an exhibition game to open up its 2008-2009 campaign. It will be fans’ first chance to see this year’s squad. They will also see a preview of Michigan’s future with future Michigan players Chris Brown, A.J. Treais and Kevin Lynch skating for USNDTP.
“(As a new player), you definitely try to impress the coaches and players who you will be playing with the following year,” said sophomore forward Matt Rust, who played for the USNDTP before joining the Wolverines. “We’ve got to be ready for their best game, I know I defiantly gave it a little bit more when I came to play.”
The trip to Yost will certainly be an exciting event for all three Michigan recruits on the USNTDP, along with the rest of the team which is based in Ann Arbor. The USNTDP has begun its season with a 4-3 record.
With the blood pumping and with the crowd and coaches watching, each of these players want to be at their best.
“I knew how excited I was last year when I played against (Michigan)” freshman Robbie Czarnik, who played for the USNTDP last year, said. “It’s going to be a totally different game (then last year) because we’re supposed to win, and they’re supposed to give it their all, but not win.”
Several current players are alumni of the development team, and each mentioned how important it had been to play well against the Wolverines. The development team travels around the country to play exhibition games against college teams.
“It was a fun experience,” Czarnik said. “I made a lot of good friends there, and the program was great in developing me as a player. I can’t wait to play them this weekend.”
But for the Wolverines, the game can sometimes be overlooked. In past years, the team has struggled when playing against the development team.
Two years ago, then-sophomore Jack Johnson tied the game up with 36 seconds remaining in regulation, and Michigan won the game in overtime, 3-2. With the regular season slated to start next weekend against St. Lawrence, Michigan coach Red Berenson doesn’t want his team to overlook anyone.
“Our players aren’t as excited to play in this game.” Berenson said. “They want to play, they can’t wait to play, but they’re not going into this game thinking that ‘I’ve got to have my best game’ “
This team has to get off to a good start in Division I and these games will help us, but there are still going to be parts of the game where we’re still on our heels.”
In addition to playing the USNTDP on Saturday, the Wolverines host Waterloo on Sunday. After the game, fans will be able to skate with the team and get autographs.
Michigan opens up the season with high expectations after reaching the Frozen Four last year. The Wolverines are ranked No. 2 in the preseason USA Today poll and were voted by the media to finish first in the CCHA.
Junior assistant captain Chris Summers said he thinks the team looks better prepared in practice than it has in recent weeks. Michigan’s coaches are now allowed to participate in practices instead of permitting only captains’ practices in previous weeks. That positive energy could evaporate with a disappointing opening weekend.
“I feel very confident of our team,” Summers said. “Especially in the last week, with the coaches out in practice, it has really tightened things together. We’ve got a whole new team with only the loss of four guys, and we’re trying to get some chemistry going and hopefully we can start that Saturday night.”