After the Michigan hockey team’s premature exit from the NCAA Tournament in the first round on Friday, the upcoming hockey banquet is the last chapter remaining to be written in the 2011-12 season.
It serves as the seniors’ last hurrah, and to celebrate the work the four members of the class of 2012 have put in over the years as Wolverines.
Too bad not all the seniors will be there. Forward David Wohlberg left Michigan on Monday for Albany, N.Y. to sign an amateur-tryout contract with the New Jersey Devils’ AHL team.
What should be time for the Wolverines to unwind after the end of their six-month season is instead full of questions, as uncertainty remains about which players will stay in Ann Arbor to continue their collegiate careers and which will leave.
It’s a different situation for Wohlberg, who has finished his Michigan eligibility and is no longer a member of the team. But it did provoke thought about the only situation in which Michigan coach Red Berenson would approve of players leaving — a chance to go to the NHL.
“Do you think there’s a player that graduates from Michigan who would give up their senior year to play in the American League?” Berenson said. “There’s no way.
“(The AHL is) a development league. Are you going to be more ready to play in the NHL than if you stayed at Michigan?”
The night after Berenson’s last game for Michigan in the 1962 NCAA Tournament, he started his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens — the only team he wanted to sign with. In fact, Berenson told the NHL that he wouldn’t play for any team unless it was the Canadiens. It was a bold request for a young player fresh out of college, but Berenson got his wish. And even then, he still made sure he was back in Ann Arbor in time to finish exams for his business degree.
It’s clear from that anecdote that Berenson values nothing more for his players than education. And he didn’t hide his pleasure when talking about the path that one of his other seniors has chosen to take.
Though defenseman Greg Pateryn had offers to go play for the AHL, he’s chosen to stay at Michigan to finish out his degree. To Berenson, that speaks volumes about his captain’s priorities, and he hopes it sets an example for the rest of the Wolverines.
“Why did you come to school to start with?” Berenson asked “Just to play hockey? If you did, you came to the wrong place. We graduate people here. Unless you’re too good for college hockey and you’re going to step right into the NHL, then there’s something to talk about.”
Sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill is the only Wolverine who hasn’t appeared to make a decision regarding his status for next season.
Merrill, who’s been drafted by the New Jersey Devils, said there are several people he needs to talk to before making a final verdict — namely Berenson — but he hopes to come to a decision soon.
Sophomore defenseman Mac Bennett, who confirmed that he intends to stay for his junior season, hopes that the rest of the team could potentially sway Merrill’s decision in favor of remaining at Michigan.
“With the group that we have for the next season, I would think we’d be able to do some serious damage,” Bennett said.
But not all of the Wolverines feel the same way. Junior defenseman Lee Moffie spoke very bluntly about the possibility of his teammates’ departures.
“If they don’t want to be around here and don’t want to give that extra effort, then maybe it’s time to move on,” Moffie said. “People we want around here are dedicated to Michigan.”
As it stands, Wohlberg will be the only Wolverine not present for the end-of-year celebrations on Saturday. Berenson suggested that he fly back to Michigan after his game on Friday, but doesn’t expect Wohlberg to show up.
“He won’t do it, I don’t think,” Berenson said. “The pros don’t think about that. They’re not worried about a hockey banquet.”