A familiar face was missing at yesterday’s hockey practice, and it won’t be coming back.

Michigan coach Red Berenson announced yesterday that sophomore forward Robbie Czarnik has quit the team and signed with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

He will make his debut with the Whalers today against the Windsor Spitfires.

Czarnik, a 2008 third-round draft pick of the L.A. Kings, will continue going to school at Michigan.

He tallied three goals and three assists this season with the Wolverines and contributed a goal last Friday in a loss against Bowling Green.

“He’s just not happy,” Berenson said. “He hasn’t been happy since he’s been here. … Things haven’t gone maybe the way he expected them to go.

“(Robbie is) just one of those kids that’s been down all the time. We’re trying to pick him up — ‘It’s okay, Robbie. You’re a good player,’ and on and on. But this is the end result.”

Calls to the Czarnik family about his decision to leave the team were not returned.

Most of Czarnik’s frustration stems from last year’s disappointing freshman campaign. He was one of the most highly touted forward recruits Michigan has had in years, but he didn’t meet lofty expectations, notching just five goals and 11 assists in 2008-09.

He showed marked improvement at the beginning of his sophomore season, highlighted by his two-point performance in Michigan’s win against Niagara on Oct. 22. It was the first multi-point game of his young career, and he scored the game-winning goal.

But Czarnik amassed just three points in the last nine games and had been relegated to the third line last weekend against the Falcons. Still, Berenson was hopeful that he would ultimately live up to his potential in a Michigan uniform.

“We have had meetings about his development and about his role and about what he can improve on, how he’s feeling about everything,” Berenson said. “We’ve never benched him, never sat him out. We have always encouraged him and tried to put him in a role where he might succeed.”

Czarnik played center and right wing this season, leaving an obvious void on the front line to fill. Senior Anthony Ciraulo and freshman Lindsay Sparks had been scratched from the majority of games this season, but both saw action last weekend and are possible candidates for Czarnik’s replacement.

Associate head coach Mel Pearson also mentioned the possibility of moving senior captain Chris Summers from defense to offense. Summers has experience as a forward, and the Wolverines have more depth on the blue line than on offense.

Pearson also discussed the effects on the program’s recruiting process. He said the team will now try to sign another forward. With almost three seasons of eligibility remaining, Czarnik was part of the Wolverines’ long-term plans.

Despite the difficult situation the team now faces, Berenson is more upset that Czarnik didn’t choose to work through his own personal troubles.

“I’m disappointed that he’s giving up on the hockey front (at Michigan),” Berenson said. “Things don’t always go your way when you get to this level, but I hoped he would have persevered. I think last year was a real challenge for him, emotionally, and he just never got over it.”

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