Four of Michigan’s hockey recruits will finally share the ice with the No. 4 Michigan team this Saturday. The U.S. National Team Development Program Under 18 team (11-10-5 college teams, 32-11-5 overall) will square off against the Wolverines (21-3-2 CCHA, 24-7-3 overall) in an exhibition game at Yost Ice Arena. The only catch is that U.S. defensemen Jack Johnson and Mark Mitera and forwards Zac MacVoy and Jason Bailey will be wearing red, white and a slightly lighter shade of blue — not Michigan’s traditional Maize and Blue.
From a few years of experience with this game, Michigan coach Red Berenson knows what to expect from his four future players.
“They’ll be excited to play against Michigan,” Berenson said. “And we’ll, obviously, be interested in their game, but they don’t have to prove anything to us in that game. Still, I know they’ll want to show everyone why we recruited them.”
Tomorrow’s game will be the fifth time that the development program team will play at Michigan. Michigan has prevailed in each of their first four meetings. Still, Berenson knows the type of talent the Ann Arbor-based program possesses.
“They shouldn’t beat a Division I team,” Berenson said. “But why shouldn’t they? Because they’re all going to be Division I players next year. They’re all going to be (Kevin) Porters and (Chad) Kolariks, and (T.J.) Hensicks and (Matt) Hunwicks, so they’re a legitimate team who have some pretty legitimate experience playing Division I schools.”
Michigan State would know. The U.S. team went into East Lansing and beat the Spartans 4-3 on Jan. 28.
“They’re everything they’re billed to be,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said after the game. “They’re very dangerous, and they’ve got a couple of guys who, when they have a couple chances, can score, as we saw tonight.”
One of the guys that Comley saw, and who the rest of the nation is also watching, is forward Phil Kessel. The 17-year-old leads the U.S. team with 34 goals and 30 assists in just 48 games. He is widely regarded as one of the best young players in North America and is undoubtedly the most prized recruit in this year’s class. Earlier in the year, he was reportedly interested in staying in Ann Arbor to bring his skills to the Wolverines, but USCHO has reported that Kessel has narrowed his options to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
But even if Kessel doesn’t change his mind about Michigan, the Wolverines should be in good hands next year. The NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranked Johnson as the fifth-best draft-eligible player in North America.
“He skates well,” Berenson said. “He’s very skilled with the puck, he’s a physically tough defenseman, he plays a physical game and he can play both ends of the ice.”
After Saturday’s game, Michigan continues CCHA play with its final regular-season series. They will play Bowling Green on March 4 and 5 in a home-and-home series. Michigan holds a three-point lead over Ohio State for first place in the conference. With a win or two ties against Bowling Green, Michigan can seal up first place in the CCHA.