Michigan Hockey Notebook: Season Preview

No. 2-ranked Michigan opens the 2008-09 hockey season with a pair of exhibition contests this weekend at the Wolverines Yost Ice Arena. This weeks Michigan Hockey Notebook focuses on tidbits picked up from around Yost Ice Arena this week, plus player reactions to CCHA Preseason Luncheon held at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

It's been six months since the heavily-favored Michigan hockey team dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to CCHA rival Notre Dame in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals. Each member of Michigan's top line last season is fighting through training camp, battling to try and earn an NHL roster spot. The rest of that top-ranked team from last season, however, is preparing for a second straight trip to the Frozen Four.

Michigan in the Polls
After skating through much of last season as the top team in the nation, the Maize-and-Blue enter the 2008-9 campaign ranked second behind the defending National Champ, Boston College. A slew of other CCHA teams join Michigan in the top 15.

RankTeamPoints (First-Place Votes)
1.Boston College490 (27)
2.Michigan*432 (4)
3.Notre Dame*376
4.North Dakota371 (1)
5.Colorado College355 (2)
7.New Hampshire287
10.Boston University203
12.Michigan State*159
14.Northern Michigan*75
15.St. Cloud State69

*Denotes CCHA team

From Van Andel Arena...
The Central Collegiate Hockey Association moved its annual media luncheon this year from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, home of the Midwest Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Announced were CCHA preseason polls and preseason teams, plus comments from coaches around the CCHA.

Coaches Poll
1. Notre Dame (8) 128
2. Michigan (3) 122
3. Miami (1) 108
4. Northern Michigan 102
5. Michigan State 96
6. Ferris State 84
7. Ohio State 67
8. Nebraska-Omaha 59
9. Bowling Green 56
10. Lake Superior State 46
T-11. Alaska 28
T-11. Western Michigan 28

Media Poll
1. Michigan (43) 945
2. Notre Dame (35) 915
3. Michigan State (2) 776
4. Miami (2) 746
5. Northern Michigan (1) 700
6. Ferris State 529
7. Bowling Green 444
8. Nebraska-Omaha 415
9. Ohio State 339
10. Lake Superior State 322
11. Alaska 198
12. Western Michigan 145

F - Erik Condra, SR, Notre Dame
F - Aaron Palushaj, SO, Michigan
F - Justin Mercier, SR, Miami
D - Mark Mitera, SR, Michigan
D - Kyle Lawson, JR, Notre Dame
G - Jeff Lerg, SR, Michigan State

F - Carter Camper, SO, Miami
F - Tim Crowder, SR, Michigan State
F - Mark Olver, SO, Northern Michigan
F - Ryan Thang, JR, Notre Dame
D - Jeff Petry, SO, Michigan State
D - Ian Cole, SO, Notre Dame
G - Billy Sauer, SR, Michigan

Coaches Comments...
Red Berenson - University of Michigan
"Mark Mitera is here at Media Day.He's our captain and a great example of a true student-athlete, one of those top students who's also a top player. He's a first-round NHL draft pick with Anaheim; he's had the opportunity to leave Michigan more than once but he's chosen to stay and he was our rock on defense. These are the kind of kids that I think the CCHA should be proud of: the kids that stay and graduate and then move on and make us proud. We're glad to have Mark here today.

"I never thought I'd be here for 25 years. When I came back to Michigan, I found out real quick that they needed more than a coach. And once we got some good players in and we got a better attitude and a better commitment, then the program started to be better. And I can say that one reason I'm still coaching is I've enjoyed the success, but I've also enjoyed the competition in this league and the growth and the expansion that's gone with it. The years go by quick when you're having fun.

"In terms of our goalkeeping, I think it will be a strength. Billy Sauer is coming off his best season as a junior and he'll have a lot of support from sophomore Bryan Hogan who didn't get to play as much last year. That should be a strength.

"As far as our power-play goals and filling the role played by Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik and Max Pacioretty, that is yet to be determined. There are lots of good players, we have a lot of players that got good experience last year as freshmen and sophomores. Travis Turnbull is our leading goal scorer, he'll be back in his senior year, Carl Hagelin, Tim Miller and Steve Kampfer are just a few of the kids that should be able to compete for good ice time. I just see us as being a good team right from the get-go. Last year we weren't supposed to be good, we surprised ourselves, you never know what you're going to get. But I think the CCHA will be as tough as ever this year."

Jeff Jackson - University of Notre Dame
"Erik Condra will be cleared to take of the red jersey at our first official practice this Saturday. He's tested to 95 percent of his knee strength and we just named Erik captain and rightfully so he's probably the one individual in the locker room who hashad the biggest impact on the change for our program over the last three or four years. As far as his commitment and maturity, he's also an exceptional student in pre-medicine so we've had a lot of respect since he's had huge impact and hopefully he'll be able to get back 100 percent playing it will take a little time with that kind of knee injury that he had.

"So, as with all of our coaches here it would be safe to say, that where we are selected in polls this time of year is kind of meaningless. But if the coaches are accurate from last year I will be happy to accept being selected as first this year. You know we have an exciting team coming back we had and up and down and up season last season finishing strong, hopefully we learned some lessons from that portion of the year coming back in the last month of the season was quite a first in what was quite an exciting experience for our group of guys.

"Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Ohio State, just the consistency of the improvement in our league and I think that our conference will be the most elite conference in college hockey this year. I think that any one of chosen top six teams could finish first and it wouldn't be a surprise and every year there is always a team that kind of comes from out of nowhere like Notre Dame did three years ago."

Enrico Blasi - Miami University

"We feel real good about our team We have a lot of seniors with a lot of experience. We feel good that the culture is very stable and our guys understand how to prepare and play and what the process is throughout the entire season and what it takes to really compete at a high level. Every team here prepares well and understands so I think our guys really get that.

"As far as our freshmen goaltenders are concerned they are young but we feel that they can play for us. But it will remain to be seen who will emerge as number one but to start off I think both are going to play.

"As far as Justin Mercier is concerned, obviously the coaches felt very strongly about picking him on the All-Conference Preseason Team. He is one of the guys who is capable of putting up some big numbers and hopefully he continues what he started a year ago."

Rick Comley - Michigan State University

"Jeff Lerg, who is here today, will be our captain. When we pick captains within my program there are basically two votes. The players get one, and I get one, and if there's a tiebreaker, I get another one. Fortunately, we didn't need the tiebreaker this year.

"I would like to announce that we put Jeff Lerg on a stretching program this summer, and he is now 5'11. (Laughter)

"I think Red's comments about Mark (Mitera) are excellent and very deserving, and I think Jeff Lerg falls into that category too. They do things the right way, they're great students, they're great people. They prepare everyday, and that locker room is Jeff's locker room, and I think he'll do a great job.

"I think I learned on our campus very early that it doesn't do you any good to talk about freshmen. When they put jerseys on and skate on the ice, our community, our media expect that they're all great players. I think you enjoy coaching young teams because they're very enthusiastic; they'll play hard. We know what battles we have ahead of us. We've had a pretty good run here in the last couple years and I expect that to continue, although we'll have to grow as the year goes on.

"I think the shootout is exciting. We need to eliminate ties. I think people want leave the building watching a winner. I do think it will keep people in the building for the hockey games, as opposed to leaving early, but is it exactly what we want, I don't know? I think it's going to be really exciting. I think as coaches we will definitely have to adjust to prepare for, we have all done shootouts for years, it's usually after a practice on bad ice, and everyone's a little bit tired and we have to be careful that we structure it properly because the reality is in a tight league that we have a lot of good teams, the champion probably will be decided by their ability in shootouts."

Seen Around Yost...
As we inch in on the Wolverines season-opening exhibition contest against the U.S. National Team Developmental Program on Saturday night, lines inside Yost continue to shuffle. As of practice on Wednesday afternoon, players wore the following.

Forward Lines
Light Blue - Chris Summers/Matt Rust/Aaron Palushaj
Red - Carl Hagelin/Louie Caporusso/Travis Turnbull
Dark Blue - Brian Lebler/David Wohlberg/Tim Miller
Grey - Ben Winnett/Robbie Czarnik/Brandon Naurato
Maroon - Danny Fardig/Luke Glendening

In recent seasons light blue has gone to the top line. Is that the case this season? It very well could be. Red could push for that top line, but I'd guess it goes to the light blues. After the top two lines, lots of mixing and matching as practice continued. Still working on the right combination's?

Defensive Lines
Blue - Mark Mitera/Scooter Vaughan/Tristin Llewellyn/Chad Langlais
White - Steve Kampfer/Brandon Burlon/Greg Pateryn/Eric Elmblad

Mark Mitera and Scooter Vaughan skated together as they did last season. Steve Kampfer and Brandon Burlon logged a lot of ice time together as well. I'd guess they are 2 of the 3 defensive lines. Langlais should be in the line up as well. Watch for Llewelyn and Pateryn to fight for the final spot in the line up.

Michigan Captain Responds...
What could be seen as a sign of disrespect, receiving just 2 first place votes in the preseason coaches poll (Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson couldn't vote for his own Irish), Michigan captain Mark Mitera addressed being voted No. 2 by the coaches after practice on Wednesday.

"It's just a preseason poll. No one's played any games yet, so it doesn't really mean anything. We were picked fourth in the league last year and we didn't end up in fourth so you can't put to much thought into where the coaches put you.

"Being at Michigan we always have high expectations for our team each year. Whether the coaches want to rank us there, that's still going to be our team goal as a unit. We want to have a good year and fight for that top spot.

This Week
Michigan opens the season Saturday night at 8:35 p.m. The Wolverines host the U.S. National Team Developmental Program Under-18 Team in an exhibition contest. Sunday at 4:05 p.m. the team skates in one final tune up against Waterloo. Following the Waterloo exhibition, the crowd will be able to "Skate with the Wolverines" to meet the 2008-09 team.

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