DETROIT – The coaches and media agree. Michigan should finish fourth in the CCHA this season.
The preseason conference polls were released yesterday at CCHA Media Day. The Wolverines have been placed in the top two since its conception.
But the two sets of voters couldn’t agree on a team to top the preseason list. Fresh off its 2006 National Championship run, Michigan State received second place in the coach’s poll but the media voted them the Spartans No. 1. Miami (OH) was predicted to take the top spot by the coaches.
Michigan’s relatively low ranking can be attributed to the Wolverines’ lack of upperclassmen. They have three seniors, just two of whom have won multiple varsity letters. Twelve players will don the maize and blue sweaters for the first time this season.
Michigan coach Red Berenson doesn’t expect his newest players to be stars right away, but he says he thinks they’ll get the job done.
“I don’t think any of these kids will be outstanding,” Berenson said. “But if they’re not noticeable, then they’re playing well. Right now, I think they’ll be in that bracket where they’re not noticeable, and they’ll be able to minimize mistakes.”
Berenson noted this year would be a different challenge from last. After a season in which the Wolverines had stars like seniors T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick and sophomores Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano, the switch to fielding so many inexperienced players will be “interesting,” Berenson said.
Most CCHA coaches question Michigan’s green talent, but they’re not all writing the Wolverines off just yet.
“They do a great job with young kids,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “I expect Michigan to be a lot better than some people perceive them to be.”
The freshmen who have just two hours per week right now to practice with their coach because of NCAA rules are looking up to senior captain Kevin Porter to lead the team. Porter has played a crucial role so far this season because he leads practice while Berenson is not allowed to be on the ice.
So far, Berenson said he is impressed with how Porter has shouldered the added responsibilities.
“Right from day one, as soon as we told Kevin he’d be captain (I’ve been impressed with his leadership),” Berenson said. “He says the right things and does the right things.”
The highest returning scorer in the NCAA, Porter is not only expected to be a great leader, but also a great player on the ice. The coaches elected him to the preseason All-CCHA team. Senior Chad Kolarik made the second team, and junior Mark Mitera received honorable mention.
But even with all the questions about the upcoming season still unanswered, to Berenson, it’s still Michigan.
“Nothing has changed at Michigan,” Berenson said.