No. 9 Michigan opens the 2007-08 ice hockey season this afternoon against No. 2-ranked Boston College at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Minneapolis, Minn. In the final day leading up to the start of the tournament, GBW caught up with Nick Tarnoff, the hockey beat writer for The Heights, to provide prospective on the Wolverines season opening match up.
Q: What was the mindset like at Boston College after losing in the NCAA title game in each of the past two seasons?
A: I talked to a couple of guys for our preview issue that came out today. A lot of the guys used it as extra motivation for getting in that extra rep or another 15 minutes of skating time. Dan Bertram and Matt Greene specifically told me that it's something that they think about in the back of their minds on a fairly regular basis. They don't like to dwell on the negative, but like to use it as a motivational tool to help them focus on what needs to get done to get the team back to the same level.
Q: Beside the loss of goalie Cory Schneider, what will make this BC team different than last season?
A: I think there's a lot more experience on this team. Brian Boyle and Joe Rooney are the only two losses on the team from last season. With so many guys that have been so close the last two years, a lot of the guys are hungry. The rising juniors, who all had terrific years last year, are looking to take the next step and contribute even more. There should be just three freshmen, including the goalie, who will need to step into the lineup right away, so we should have a very experienced group of guys. The defense should be one of the best in the nation.
Q: How does the team compare to the 2005-06 team that lost 3-2 to Michigan at Yost Ice Arena?
A: It's a much more experienced team. We've got 19 returning letterman from last year's team right now. Some of the smaller guys who are juniors now hadn't been through the wars with the Midwest schools and weren't equipped to battle some of the more physical teams that they played early in their careers. A lot of them have had more time to get bigger and they're now more adept at playing a more physical style, a style that seems more widespread in the Midwest.
Q: Which players will be depended on to lead the BC offense?
A: It's going to have to be the juniors. Dan Bertram has to have a good year. Both the last two years we've had unsung players (Rooney and Collins) step up and shoot the lights out their senior years. When I look up and down the lineup, he looks like he's a guy that could have a breakout year. I also like Ben Smith to breakout between Nathan Gerbe and Brock Bradford. Having them around him should help him put up near 30 points or more.
Q: Which players will be depended on to lead the BC defense?
A: Senior Mike Brennan is the captain. He's played every game since he's been at Boston College through three years and he'll be expected to lead. He's our No. 1 defenseman. Last I saw he was paired with freshman Nick Petricki. In the past they've paired freshman with him to help them learn the ropes.
Q: How would you compare Brennan to a defenseman like Jack Johnson, someone Michigan fans had the pleasure of seeing so much the past two years?
A: Brennan is more of a stay at home defenseman than Jack was. He will jump into the play if he needs to, but he's more of a stay at home guy. Brett Motherwell is who I would compare more to Johnson. He'll quarterback the power play unit and was the top defensive scorer for last year with roughly 25 points. The majority of our defensive core, though, are stay at home defensemen.
Q: Who's the front runner to replace Schneider in goal?
A: John Muse is the starter. He's a product of a local school here in the Boston area. He was U.S. hockey reports No. 1 goalie in the nation last year as a senior in prep school. All three goalies need to put on a little bit of bulk, but Muse is quick. I only saw him when he was in prep school, but he was very good there. The expectations are high after coming in with that kind of background, but he himself made the comment to me that he's not coming in to try and be the next Cory Schneider. He just wants to play his game and is confident that it will be good enough.
Q: Weaknesses of the team?
A: It might be our power-play unit. I'm not sure how that's going to look with the extra skater yet. Obviously our goalie play is a question mark, but most of the rest of the team is proven and solid.
Q: What numbers should U-M fans look for on the ice?
A: #9 Nathan Gerbe. He's small, but will take on anyone on the ice. He's the heart of the offense this year I think. He's only 5-foot-7 or so, but he's tough. #21 Benn Ferriero is another very quick creative guy who looks to shoot first but will also use the guys around him that can put the puck in the net as well. I expect big things from him.
Start time is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. FSN North will provide live coverage of each of the Ice Breaker tournament games.
Preview: #9 Michigan vs. #2 Boston College
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