For years Michigan enjoyed an embarrassment of riches on the blueline. NHL caliber defensemen funnelled in and when their time was up a replacement joined the program without skipping a beat. Those were some great days.
The day finally came when all of those misfortunes Berenson had avoided came to Michigan's doorstep. Recruiting misses, attrition, OHL departures, they all came at once and the glory years of the Wolverine blueline were gone.
It's been four years. The rebuild has been slow but this is the last shot and Red Berenson has put his cards on the table. Longtime goalie coach Josh Blackburn is out and Wolverine alum Steve Shields is in. Mike Komisarek joined the program midway through last year and he'll get a full year to work with the defensemen.
Is this the season it all comes back together? If they're going to make the NCAA tournament it has to. If not, no matter how many goals they score this team is not making the postseason.
Early departures threw a wrench in the plans at forward, but the blueline was spared with both recruits making it to campus and the return of star defenseman Zach Werenski. They only lose a trio of journeymen defensemen in Brennen Serville, Mike Chiasson and Andrew Sinelli.
Mike Downing anchors a Michigan blueline that looks on paper to be their most complete unit since 2011. The junior Downing has led this group for two years; he is the teams top 1-on-1 defender, a ferocious hitter and has moved closer each year to becoming a shutdown defensman.
The Wolverines have another shutdown caliber blueliner in Zach Werenski. It was a tense offseason waiting for his decision but in the end the 18 year old sophomore passed on the OHL after Columbus selected him 8th in the 2015 NHL draft. Werenski is a special talent; he's gifted with the puck commanding the zone offensively, and with a year in the weightroom and a full grasp of his defensive responsibility Werenski should be on his way to a season that Michigan fans haven't seen in some time.
On the second pairing the dependable Kevin Lohan is back for his third tour along with Cutler Martin, a heavy hitter who jumped into the spotlight as a freshman a year ago with a knack for timely goals.
Nolan De Jong and Sam Piazza return from last year's bottom pairing slots. De Jong was a heralded recruit who is still waiting for the light to come on and Piazza a serviceable sophomore who saw limited time a year ago.
Red and staff bring two defensemen in this year's class.
Nick Boka joins the program after two seasons with the NTDP saw him selected in the 6th round of the NHL draft. Boka is an excellent skater who moves freely with the puck on his stick and sees the ice well.
The second defenseman is Joe Cecconi, an upstate New York native who played his USHL puck in Muskegon. A defensive standout with solid vision and good decision making, Cecconi is a 5th round pick of the Stars.
The question on everyone's mind: Who will start? After the exhibition against Toronto, Berenson gave no indication who that will be.
If I had to guess it would be Zach Nagelvoort. He didn't have the best season a year ago after an outstanding freshman year but that's not unexpected in today's game with film and advanced game planning. Nagelvoort has had an offseason to adjust and improve, as well as time to work with their new goaltending coach Steve Shields.
If Nagelvoort isnt the guy senior Steve Racine will be. Racine has a career record of 30-16-3 and been lights out at times during his career winning the starting job on multiple occasions, he just hasn't ever been able to keep the hot streak going and hold onto the job.
Their third option is freshman Chad Catt who joins the program from the NAHL's Soo Eagles. This season should be a great opportunity for Catt to learn the college game and push the incumbent goaltenders from behind, but if Nagelvoort or Racine can't lock the job down Berenson will turn to Catt.