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High Marks for U-M at NHL Entry Draft

They stood on the sidelines Sunday (June 30) at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the home of the New Jersey Devils. Five young ice hockey players -- J.T. Compher, Michael Downing, Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte and Nolan De Jong -- committed to playing at the University of Michigan but whose professional future lay in the hands of the NHL general managers. Within hours, these five were selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

When their names were called, their appearance in those NHL game jerseys gave an indication of the talent they possess and the potential of providing Red Berenson and his U-M staff with players that can be part of a championship program.

The NHL Entry Draft is a peek at the future, and a grade for the college hockey recruiting world.

Unlike football and basketball recruiting, where a cottage industry of subjective evaluators rate incoming recruits, college hockey teams and fans can judge the recruiting class by professionals who grade and then select players for their own team. Professional general managers and scouts make a living by whom they select, and the draft reflects the potential of that year's age group.

As a college program, you always want to be prominent in the draft, and the University of Michigan was just that. Five Wolverines were drafted in the seven rounds. It was the most of any team in the new Big Ten Conference, and it was the fourth time since 1999 that U-M has had more than four players picked in the entry draft.

The professionals also look at what schools are recruiting players when they have an interest. They know most of the draft eligible players need to develop, and when U-M signs a recruit, the NHL teams know the player will have the opportunity and coaching to improve his play. When a student-athlete signs a letter of intent to play at Michigan, their stock increases in the eyes of the National Hockey League.

The NHL teams know Michigan is a great environment for players to develop -- not only on the ice but off the ice too.

While four incoming freshmen were selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, one current Wolverine also heard his name called, enforcing the fact Michigan develops talent.

For Copp, it was a particularly big day. The 2012 Entry Draft was a frustrating experience for the Wolverine forward. He was bypassed in the draft, and he knew it wasn't easy for a player to be selected on his second run through.

When the Winnipeg Jets called his name, Copp was euphoric.

He wasn't even a rated scouted player at the start of his freshman year, and yet he emerged as a fourth round pick. It was his improved play in the second half of the season when he tallied 17 of his 21 points that created the buzz. He became one of the go-to guys on the Wolverines. The professional scouting staffs started to 'go to' the phones, calling the U-M coaching staff about the young man's development.

Copp showed the hockey world something when he concentrated on one sport and took advantage the opportunity. What he did in the last half of the season proved he was worthy and capable of playing the sport at a higher level. (Copp, a quarterback at Ann Arbor Skyline High School, was also a recruited football player.)

It is exactly what the professional teams look for when they a draft a prospect -- development.

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft was hockey's way of giving the University of Michigan program a top-notch grade for the incoming recruits, and the character of the young men they bring into the program.

And for Copp, it was even more special. Not only did he overcome the odds of getting back into a position to be drafted, he was selected by the Winnipeg Jets --the same team that selected and signed U-M's freshman All American Jacob Trouba. The two players have been hockey teammates since they were nine years old, and the potential to reconnect at a later date made the day even sweeter.

Indeed, it was a good day to be a Michigan Wolverine in New Jersey.

2013 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
PRUDENTIAL CENTER, NEWARK, N.J.

J.T. Compher, Buffalo Sabres -- Rd. 2 (35)
NHL.com Prospect Page
Selection Video (Sabres.com)
Post-Draft Interview (YouTube)
Sabre prospects know the way to Buffalo (Buffalo News)

Michael Downing, Florida Panthers -- Rd. 4 (97)
Post-Draft Interview (Panthers.com)
Prospect Profile (TheHockeyWriters.com)

Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets -- Rd. 4 (104)
Post-Draft Interview (Jets.com)
AnnArbor.com Feature

Tyler Motte, Chicago Blackhawks -- Rd. 4 (121)
Blackhawks.com Interview
Post-Draft Interview (YouTube)
Hockey: Tyler Motte 'comfortable' after NHL Draft (The Times Herald)

Nolan De Jong, Minnesota Wild -- Rd. 7 (197)
Wild.com Draft Pick Profile
The Province Feature

To go or not to go? That is the question.

It isn't a Shakespearean question; it is a question that many talented underclassmen in college sports face these days. And when that student-athlete is playing a sport like ice hockey at the University of Michigan, those questions are commonplace.

Head coach Red Berenson doesn't answer the question for the student-athlete at Michigan, but he does help guide them in the right direction.

Berenson is a coach that can give the student-athlete a perspective from both sides of the bench. Not only was he one of the first collegiate hockey players to go straight to the pro ranks, with the Montreal Canadiens, he stayed at U-M for all four years before going to the NHL, then returned to Ann Arbor to earn his master's degree.

"I've told kids in the past if they're ready to play in the NHL, I'll drive 'em to the airport," said Berenson.

In the last 10 days, the U-M ice hockey team has had two players make the jump to sign with NHL teams. While Berenson would have liked to see both players remain at Michigan, he will support their decision.

Last week, junior Jon Merrill signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils. Just a few days ago freshman Jacob Trouba signed with the Winnipeg Jets.

"One of the advantages of staying through your sophomore season -- we don't have many kids leave after their freshman year because they need to be exceptional players to go pro -- is obviously it's a long road to graduate," said Berenson. "The extra 30 hours are important.

"If you go back to Jack Johnson (now playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL), the plan for Jack was to graduate from Michigan whether he played four years or not," added Berenson. "We were all hoping he would play four years, but it turned out he was too good of a player, and I think the same is true of Jacob Trouba. He's too good to have stayed and played college hockey for four years."

Johnson stayed through his sophomore year and won the CCHA's Best Offensive Defenseman Award, the same honor Trouba received this past season after leading all CCHA defensemen in scoring.

Trouba was also named to the All-CCHA first team and CCHA All-Rookie team. The 19-year-old defenseman played in 37 games, scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists for 29 points to go along with 88 penalty minutes.

At the World Junior Championship in Russia over the Christmas holidays, Trouba's skills were on display to an international audience. He won the gold with Team USA and was named the tournament's best defenseman.

Berenson would have preferred that Trouba stayed through his sophomore season but added that the young man does have exceptional skill and "he is fortunate that he will be able to step right into the NHL."

As for Merrill, the decision was different. He is a junior and is much closer to graduation.

Hours aside, Merrill's injury in the exhibition game against Windsor on Oct. 10 gave him the firsthand experience what a fine line there is in the world of sports -- and in life. He suffered a cracked vertebra and missed a significant part of the season.

"I think Jon Merrill has a whole new perspective about hockey and life after that injury," said Berenson. "He injured his C4 and C5 vertebrae and right now, who knows, he could have been in a wheelchair. Instead he came back, had a good half of season for us."

Even with Merrill going pro, Berenson was happy Merrill stayed and the New Jersey Devils didn't push the defenseman.

"The Devils have been really patient," said Berenson. "They could have signed him after his first year. In the second year, he could have left with all the problems. Third year, he had a broken vertebra.

"I think the kid on one side wanted to come back and finish and the other side is excited about the next step."

He finished his U-M career with 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points, ending this past season with three assists and a plus-five plus-minus in Michigan's 6-3 win at Ohio State on Feb. 23.

Merrill's and Trouba's futures in hockey are bright. Still, Berenson isn't going to let them forget that they both came to U-M to get a degree. They are not going to the pro ranks without getting a constant reminder what they need to do beyond the sport of hockey.

"I went to school in the summer to get my master's," said Berenson. "It is doable, and I have told these players that."

He has told Merrill that he wants to see him back in school during the summer semester, and he has told Trouba to take online classes and go to school for credit hours wherever he plays hockey.

"They will always be Michigan men," Berenson said. "I will guarantee you that both Jacob and Jon will do everything they can to come back to school, take classes and graduate from Michigan."

One Loss Can Make the Future Bright

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Sunday morning (March 20) at Yost Ice Arena was a time to look ahead. The NCAA Ice Hockey Championship selection was taking place and televised live on ESPN2. You could hear the hoots and hollers from the locker room as the Wolverines were named to play Nebraska-Omaha in the West Regional in St. Louis this Friday at 4:30 p.m. CDT (5:30 EDT).

The same city to which head coach Red Berenson returned just a few weeks ago when the St. Louis Blues honored their great No. 7s before an NHL game. A city where Red helped make hockey a relevant major league sport. A city where Berenson was named NHL Coach of the Year in 1980.

But before this team and Red could look ahead, it was important to look back about 36 hours and take to heart what happened on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.

It was a game most Michigan fans probably thought the Michigan ice hockey team would like to forget. It was Friday night (March 18) and the Wolverines lost to Western Michigan in the semifinals of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, 5-2.

Sure, everyone knew Michigan was going to make its 21st consecutive NCAA appearance, but this wasn't the hard-nosed, sense-of-urgency type of style the Wolverines display as they battle in tournament play.

Senior captain Carl Hagelin noted how the team felt embarrassed after the loss. Berenson even mentioned to the media during his availability after the ESPN show how the team had been "playing down" to the level of its competition in the last few weeks.

Instead of forgetting about this game and the last few weeks of the season, Hagelin thinks this loss might have been the wake-up call the Wolverines needed. On Saturday afternoon (March 19) just over 16 hours after the loss to WMU, U-M bounced back with inspired play from goalie Shawn Hunwick (a career -high 42 saves in a regulation game) and two goals in a 15-second time span by Chris Brown and Hagelin to lead Michigan to a 4-2 win over Notre Dame.

This rebound game is what the seniors on this team are keying on. Hagelin even mentioned this loss might have been "good for the team" since they had been on an eight-game winning streak despite not playing up to their potential.

Now, the captain from Sweden and the other seniors have to show the importance of each and every detail. One 30-second shift can mean the difference between advancing or going home in the NCAA Tournament.

"In this tournament, if you don't get that first goal it can be tough to come from behind," said Hagelin. "Air Force got that first goal against us a few years ago and then we scored the first goal against Bemidji."

His plan is to help U-M jump on the momentum from the opening faceoff just as a team would be battling during the last minute of closely contested contest. His belief is the team needs to play with that sense of urgency. Everyone needs to know the importance of each aspect their preparation and play on the ice means to the success of this U-M team.

"The way we played (on Friday night), we don't want to be like that," said Hagelin. "This is Michigan and everyone including ourselves expects more."

Yes, it is time to look ahead. Without looking back, the fortunes of this Michigan team might not be as bright as they are this week.

Go Blue!

The game will be shown live in HD on ESPN3.com.

The Big Chill: A Special Event Leaves the Big House

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For those that grew up in a family based around the tradition of the Christmas season, the saddest day was when it was time for the Christmas tree to come down.

The anticipation of the holiday season and the excitement of Christmas morning had come and gone. Rudolph and Santa were names I wouldn't hear in the house for another year, another time.

Early this morning, I went to Michigan Stadium. And for some reason, I felt like a little boy watching the Christmas tree coming down.

The ice rink at the Big House was being dismantled piece by piece. The dasher boards were down. A crew was using sledge hammers to break the ice. And only the Big Chill logo at center ice and a hastily made snowman in the southwest corner of the field gave one a semblance of what really happened on Saturday (Dec. 11).

And when I looked back on the Big Chill and the weeks leading up to this event, it was indeed just like another Christmas season for me, the players and individuals that were able to play or skate at the Big House plus the 113,411 fans that witnessed and enjoyed a one-of-a-kind event.

I watched the ice go in during the Thanksgiving weekend. I watched the athletic department and ice rink event management group work and worry about the Big Chill -- day and night --- similar as a mom would work and worry about everything for a holiday event.

There is something about sport that brings out the little kid in all of us, and even more so during the holiday season. I noticed the wide-eyed youngsters, excited to step on the ice and play a game or skate in the Big House. It was wonderful to see the same wide-eyed look on the adults.

It didn't matter who you were -- Red Berenson, the Michigan or Michigan State team -- this was more than a game, for fans and players alike. Last Saturday and the days leading up to The Big Chill were special, and everything went off without a hitch.

Oh, we got lucky, no doubt about it. Mother Nature delayed the rain, then the snow and frigid temperatures just enough to let us enjoy the game and the event. Even Central Collegiate Hockey Association Commissioner Tom Anastos brought mom into the effort saying, "All this proves is Mother Nature is truly a hockey mom."

I don't know when I will see an event like this again. So, like a little boy who knew Frosty and Santa were names I wouldn't hear for a long time and who watched mom take down the Christmas tree, this morning I watched the high-lows putting the boards away. And I knew Scooter and Patrick, who were among the men who put the ice down, were names that I might not hear for a long time.

The rink was coming down just like the Christmas tree I remembered as a boy. This special season was over.

Fortunately, we can all now sit back and enjoy the real holiday season, thinking back to the fun we had the last few weeks and looking forward to another favorite part of the year: bowl season and the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.