Nineteen minutes into this season, senior captain Mark Mitera had to be carried off the ice after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. With an injury that serious, many thought it would be the last time he would don the maize and blue.
But tomorrow, just two months and three days after undergoing surgery, Mitera plans to take the ice and continue his quick recovery. Michigan coach Red Berenson originally estimated the defenseman would be out three to six months after the operation.
“He looks really good,” Berenson said. “Right now, he’s been fit for a brace (to) try and start skating on Friday. Not with the team, but on his own.”
Mitera has been a regular presence at practice since the injury, usually sitting on the bleachers just outside the Wolverines’ locker room. Yesterday, he slowly climbed the stairs of Yost Ice Arena with a small brace on his left knee as a part of his rehab while his teammates skated drills.
“Everything off the ice has gone really well — his range of motion, his strength, his pain, his swelling,” Berenson said. “All that is good. So the next step is to get him on the ice and start that process.”
But Berenson was quick to add that even though Mitera looks very good, it’s still difficult to set a specific timetable for his return to the starting lineup.
And while there is no question Mitera has been missed as a key part of an underclassmen-heavy defensive unit, Berenson has been very impressed with how Mitera has led the team from the stands.
“He’s handled it well,” Berenson said. “He’s been very supportive of the team, very positive about his situation. He’s handled it like a pro.”
Back in town: After skating for Team USA in the World Junior Championship for nearly a month, sophomore forward Matt Rust returned to the Wolverines yesterday, and was feeling the impact of getting very little rest over the team’s break.
“I’m definitely pretty tired, pretty worn out,” said Rust, who tallied three goals and an assist while in Ontario. “It’s a long tournament. We only got a couple days off in the span of I think 30-some days.”
But Rust, who played alongside fellow Wolverine Aaron Palushaj (two goals, three assists) for Team USA, is anxious to get back on the ice for Michigan this weekend. The center tallied just two goals in the season’s first half — which Rust called “embarrassing” — after his 12-goal campaign last year.
“On a personal note for me, I think I played well and I think I’m going to be able to carry over that confidence into the second half of the season,” Rust said.
Team USA posted a disappointing fifth-place finish in the tournament after a 3-2 overtime win over the Czech Republic in its final game. The squad had hoped to play for a gold medal after finishing third last year.
Berenson said that players usually don’t return to first-half form after playing in the tournament. But with a series against No. 6 Miami (Ohio) this weekend, Palushaj thinks the transition back to college hockey will be much smoother.
“I don’t think it’s going to be much different going from playing the world junior players to Miami,” Palushaj said. “It’s a good transition from the tournament to playing a really good team.”
Hobey watch: Voting for the Hobey Baker Award, awarded to college hockey’s best player, begins tomorrow. Sophomore forward Louie Caporusso, sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan and Palushaj are all in the running for the award.
Caporusso leads the country in goals with 18, one of off last year’s nation-leading pace set by Hobey Baker winner and former Wolverine Kevin Porter.
Palushaj is sixth in the country in points per game, while Hogan leads the nation in winning percentage.
The field will be narrowed to 10 candidates on March 19.