When Eric Werner abandons the blueline and heads for the net, opposing goaltenders would be wise to keep an eye on him.
“Ever since juniors and when I was growing up, I’ve always liked getting in on goals,” the junior defenseman said. “I like creating opportunities offensively. From the blueline in, I like to jump in on the play.”
Last weekend against Northern Michigan, Werner demonstrated the many ways he can contribute to the offense.
Sunday, he closed out the Wolverines’ win by setting up an easy goal for Andrew Ebbett. Off a pass from Mike Woodford, Werner skated right toward the goal and at the last moment sent a pass across the ice to Ebbett for the powerplay tally.
Friday, the offensive-minded Werner was involved in both of Michigan’s goals. Midway through the opening period, he noticed an open lane to the net and snuck behind the Wildcats’ defenseman. T.J. Hensick found him all alone in front of the net and Werner knew what to do, making a nice move to fire the puck past goaltender Craig Kowalski. He also made a nice crossing pass for an assist on Milan Gajic’s goal later in the game.
For Werner, who leads Michigan defenseman with two goals and five points, simply being back on the ice for games has been gratifying.
Werner was declared academically ineligible by the Big Ten Conference for the second half of last season and missed Michigan’s final 23 games.
At the time his suspension seemed as though it could be a horrible blow to Michigan, as it was left with just five defensemen who had been contributing regularly.
“It was tough when it was it was announced that I wasn’t eligible,” Werner said. “I had let down my team and my family, and I was disappointed in myself. It was hard dealing with the disappointment for the rest of the year.”
But the Wolverines ultimately did fine without him, going on all the way to the Final Four. Nobody took Werner’s suspension harder than Werner himself.
“I was allowed to practice with the team, but I was in the stands during the games and not on the ice,” Werner said. “I couldn’t put on the jersey and play in the games. That was real tough.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson did not promise Werner that he would get back his spot on the team this year, instead leaving it up to Werner to prove that he had overcome the problems that had led to his suspension.
Werner made all the necessary strides — after winter term he took classes spring and summer terms.
“I learned a lot last year about how to be a student-athlete,” Werner said. “I’m making my work more of a priority and really just taking better care of my work.”
During the summer, Werner was officially back on the team. When the season started, Werner’s last game was Jan. 5, and he feels the layoff has lead to some rust.
“At the beginning of the season, I’d gone 10 months without playing a game,” Werner said. “I’m actually still getting in a groove out on the ice. There’s still things I need to work on to step up my play.”
If that means the best is yet to come, then the CCHA had better be ready for more offensive outbursts from Werner like the one he had this weekend.
Werner and the Wolverines take on Niagara in a nonconference matchup tomorrow. The Purple Eagles knocked off top-ranked New Hampshire last week, their lone win of the season.