Monday, October 03, 2005

Michigan Wolverines Season Preview

Michigan senior captain Andrew Ebbett

Wolverines enter ’05-06 with 11 freshmen
U-M also has four-member senior class

By Matt Mackinder, Courtesy of Michigan Hockey

Even though Michigan graduated ten seniors from last year’s squad and lost three underclassmen to the NHL over the summer, the Wolverines still are mentioned as possible CCHA contenders and even get a mention as making noise in the NCAA Tournament if they get there.

The media and CCHA coaches all think the same thing, too, as both have the Wolverines, 31-8-3 overall a year ago and 23-3-2 in CCHA play, ranked second in the annual CCHA coaches’/media poll behind a strong Ohio State squad.

This season, U-M will be without stud goaltender Al Montoya and talented forward Jeff Tambellini, who signed with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, respectively, over the summer and gave up their senior years in Ann Arbor. Both were first-round picks with Tambellini going 27th overall in 2003 and Montoya getting picked sixth in 2004. Plugging forward Mike Brown, a junior-to-be, signed with the Vancouver Canucks as well.

The signings, though a sign Michigan is developing NHL-caliber players, had head coach Red Berenson in a ranting mood.

“It's a sad part of the game when money takes over and diverts top players before they can finish school,” said Berenson. “It has been Jeff Tambellini's dream to play at the top level and hopefully he can attain that. I wish he would have stayed for his senior season and had a great final year to finish his career. Jeff is a classy kid, a good student and a great player.”

Montoya nearly left last year, but held off due to the NHL lockout.

“It's disappointing to lose a player who is going into his senior year,” Berenson said. “He had a lot of pressure from the New York Rangers organization to turn professional and he made the decision to do it. He had a good career at Michigan, but I wish he would have stayed and enjoyed his senior year.”

Gone from last year’s class that nearly made it to the Frozen Four are forwards Eric Nystrom, Milan Gajic, Mike Woodford, Charlie Henderson (East Lansing), David Moss (Livonia) and Jason Ryznar, defensemen Nick Martens (Ann Arbor), Reilly Olson, Brandon Rogers and Eric Werner (Grosse Pointe Woods).

However, the incoming freshmen class is one that has made national headlines for its overall skill and talent. Defenseman Jack Johnson was the third-overall draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in July and was reportedly pressured by the Hurricanes to bypass college altogether and sign an NHL deal. Forward Andrew Cogliano went 25th overall to the Edmonton Oilers.

“I really like our incoming freshmen,” said Berenson, entering his 22nd year as head coach of the Wolverines. “We’ll have a new look and a lot of new faces. (Goalie Billy) Sauer will be tested early, but we look solid defensively with Johnson, (freshman Mark) Mitera (Livonia), Matt Hunwick and Jason Dest.”

Hunwick (Sterling Heights) and Dest (Fraser) are both juniors and are joined on the back end by senior transfer Adam Dunlap (from Boston University), junior Tim Cook and sometimes-forward sometimes-defenseman David Rohlfs (Northville), another junior.

Up front, senior captain Andrew Ebbett is back along with classmate Brandon Kaleniecki (Livonia), junior T.J. Hensick (Howell), sophomores Kevin Porter (Northville) and Chad Kolarik and freshmen Travis Turnbull, Zac MacVoy (Livonia), Tim Miller (Davisburg), 17-year-old Tyler Swystun, Jason Bailey, Brandon Naurato (Livonia) and Danny Fardig (Ann Arbor).

“I think T.J. is one of the most exciting players in college hockey,” boasted Berenson. “He’ll have some experience around him this year and we look forward to see what he can do.”

Sauer and Swystun are two of four 1988-born freshmen on NCAA rosters this year along with Jonathan Toews at North Dakota and Simon Danis Pepin at Maine. Sauer replaces Montoya as U-M’s No. 1 goaltender and, like Montoya, fast-tracked through high school in three years to be NCAA-ready. Senior Noah Ruden (Bloomfield Hills) and junior Mike Mayhew will battle for the backup role.

The Wolverines will also have their share of NHL draft picks on their roster. Hensick became property of Colorado in July and Bailey was taken by Anaheim. Hunwick (Boston), Porter (Phoenix), Rohlfs (Edmonton), Kolarik (Phoenix) and Cook (Ottawa) were taken in previous years.

But even without Montoya and Tambellini, two of the team’s backbones the past couple years, Berenson isn’t convinced this team is actually where it should be.

“This team has a lot to prove,” said Berenson. “But we all look forward to the challenge.”

Ebbett, Tambellini and Montoya were named tri-captains at last year’s season-ending banquet, but only Ebbett returns. Berenson named Hensick, Hunwick and Kaleniecki alternate captains.

“Brandon is an obvious choice as a captain since we lost Al Montoya,” Berenson said. “Brandon is a senior and he works hard and sets a good example. He plays with a lot of intensity and passion and he leads by example. As an older senior, I think the younger players will look to him.”

Last year’s captain, Eric Nystrom, graduated and signed with the Calgary Flames, the team that took him at No. 10 in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

On Oct. 2, Michigan played an exhibition game against the University of Toronto and scored in the final minute for a 3-2 win.

Porter scored the game-winner and Kolarik and Hensick tallied the others.

“It was an unbelievable experience – something I waited for all summer and even for the last couple of years,” said Johnson. “It was a fun time to experience a game-like situation and a game day routine. It helped us know what to expect coming into today.”

Sauer also experienced his first game action, though he did play in the previous day’s Blue-White intersquad scrimmage.

“It's been quite a few months since last year,” said Sauer. “I didn't even know if I was coming this year, so to finally put on a jersey was a pretty nice feeling. I didn't really expect it to be that close, but it was actually a good thing. It came down to the third period. They really did test us. It gets us ready a little more than if it we would have blown them out. It gives us more preparation.”

F Mike Brown (signed with Vancouver)
F Milan Gajic (signed with Providence – AHL)
F Charlie Henderson
D Nick Martens (signed with Grand Rapids - AHL)
G Al Montoya (signed with NY Rangers)
F David Moss (signed with Calgary)
F Eric Nystrom (signed with Calgary)
D Reilly Olson
D Brandon Rogers (signed with Omaha – AHL)
F Jason Ryznar (signed with New Jersey)
F Jeff Tambellini (signed with Los Angeles)
D Eric Werner (signed with Manchester – AHL)
F Mike Woodford (signed with Long Beach – ECHL)

D Jack Johnson (U.S. NTDP)
D Adam Dunlap (senior transfer from Boston U)
F Andrew Cogliano (St. Michael’s – OPJHL)
F Travis Turnbull (Sioux City – USHL)
F Zac MacVoy (U.S. NTDP)
D Mark Mitera (U.S. NTDP)
F Tim Miller (Omaha – USHL)
F Tyler Swystun (Camrose – AJHL)
F Jason Bailey (U.S. NTDP)
F Brandon Naurato (Omaha – USHL)
F Danny Fardig (U.S. NTDP)
G Billy Sauer (Chicago – USHL)

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