Coming into this season, the Michigan hockey team knew it had a gaping hole to fill.

With the loss of its top line, the Wolverines lost the highest-scoring line in college hockey last season.

But it didn’t take long for Michigan to find some new playmakers tonight.

Just over four minutes into tonight’s exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program at Yost Ice Arena, sophomore Ben Winnett whipped the puck past goaltender Brandon Maxwell and into the top right corner of the net.

A minute later, sophomore forward Matt Rust scored from the right side of the net 22 seconds into a Michigan power play to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead. Michigan ended up winning 4-1.

Rust in particular is one of the team’s most explosive offensive weapons, and the Michigan coaching staff is hoping he can help fill the void left by the loss of last year’s top line —Chad Kolarik, Max Pacioretty and Kevin Porter, the Hobey Baker winner.

Rust notched his second goal tonight on yet another power play 38 seconds into the second period.

The Wolverines took a commanding lead after freshman forward Robbie Czarnik tallied his first goal — though unofficial — at 10:46 in the second. Czarnik played for the NTDP team last year.

The game moved smoothly in the early goings, but midway through the first period, the officiating crew began calling a lot of penalties. Both teams combined for 31 penalties in the game.

With the CCHA’s new four-man system, it was anticipated that more penalties would be called. At one point late in the first period, the NTDP team had a 4-3 advantage, and the ice looked pretty bare.

Though the game became choppy due to the stopping and starting of penalty play, the Wolverines were able to try out different special teams units tonight.

The power-play combinations were very effective, as each of Rust’s goals came less than a minute into the advantages. Penalty killing was also strong, with seniors Danny Fardig and Mark Mitera often highlighting the unit.

And though Michigan lost its top line in the off-season, all seven defensemen who saw ice time last year are back. Junior Chris Summers has moved to the offensive end of the ice as a forward, but freshmen Brandon Burlon and Greg Pateryn have the potential to be solid replacements.

Goaltender Billy Sauer was solid in the net with 13 saves, including a spectacular split-leg save. But Sauer was unable to complete the shutout, giving up a late goal to NTDP’s Cam Fowler. Fowler scored on a goal that bounced off the top post and was pushed into the net.

Even though the Michigan football team played a late afternoon game against Illinois, the crowd at Yost wasn’t as sparse as expected. Some fans wore hockey jerseys over football T-shirts.

With tonight’s 4-1 victory, Michigan keeps its winning streak against the NTDP team alive, now with nine wins and no losses. Three forwards on the current NTDP team have already verbally committed to Michigan: Kevin Lynch, A.J. Treais and Kyle Palmieri.

The Wolverines will take on Waterloo tomorrow afternoon for their final exhibition game before the regular season begins next weekend.

Check out the Michigan Daily’s SportsMonday on Oct. 6 for more coverage of this weekend’s hockey games.

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