For the Michigan hockey team, tonight’s game is an exhibition.
But for the other team, it’s the Stanley Cup.
That’s how senior Chad Kolarik, four years removed from playing on the U.S. National Team Development Program, described tonight’s matchup with his former squad. But there’s still pride at stake for the Wolverines.
In almost a decade of playing against the Ann Arbor-based program, Michigan hasn’t lost. But last year, the Wolverines pulled out the win with just .4 seconds left in overtime.
Freshman Matt Rust was on the visiting bench last season at Yost Ice Arena, and, even a year later, he still considers the last-minute loss a “heartbreaker.”
Rust had already committed to the Wolverines and used the game as a first opportunity to play in front of Michigan coach Red Berenson and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I just wanted to prove to them that I wanted to come there for a reason,” Rust said. “I was good enough to come here, and I didn’t want to let them down. So, I definitely had a little bit of extra juice playing in the game.”
Two future Wolverines – forwards Robbie Czarnik and David Wohlberg – will play against their future teammates tonight. In 26 games with the U.S. NTDP, Czarnik is fourth on the team with 17 points. Wohlberg has 11 points in 23 games.
The exhibition also gives the Wolverines a chance to knock of their rust in their first game of the new year. Rust, freshman Max Pacioretty and sophomore Chris Summers played for the U.S. team in its fourth-place finish at the IIHF World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic during Winter Break. Summers is also a U.S. NTDP alum.
Those players didn’t practice yesterday after their equipment was lost at the airport on the return trip, but Berenson expects them to play today.
“For Summers and Rust, it’d be easy for them to take the day off, but they’re products of the program,” Berenson said. “They need to go out there and show those kids who they are.”
Freshman Carl Hagelin, who earned a silver medal with Sweden at the World Juniors, is not expected to play in the exhibition after returning to Ann Arbor yesterday. Berenson also said junior Travis Turnbull, who scored the winning goal at the Great Lakes Invitational last weekend, is questionable for tonight’s scrimmage after injuring his ankle in the title game.
Freshman goalie Bryan Hogan is expected to make his third start of the season tonight, but Berenson said Sauer will still start Friday against Western Michigan.
And even though Michigan won’t have a complete team tomorrow night, the game will be an indication of the team’s resiliency after Winter Break.
“You have to expect they’re going to give their best game,” Rust said. “They’ve got everything to gain and we’ve got everything to lose.”
US-NTDP at Michigan
Matchup: US-NTDP; No. 1 Michigan (11-1 CCHA, 18-2 overall)>
When: Tonight 7:35 P.M.
Where: Yost Ice Arena