The 100th season of Michigan Wolverines hockey is set to begin this weekend. Well, kind of.
The No. 6 ranked Wolverines welcome the Windsor Lancers to Yost Arena on Saturday for an exhibition game. Windsor is a member of the Ontario University Athletic Association and last played the Wolverines in the 2019 exhibition season opener, falling in Ann Arbor, 8-2.
With a new season of hockey already upon us, there is A LOT to go over. Several high-profile players from last year’s Frozen Four team have departed, including three of the four Wolverines selected in the top five of the 2021 NHL Draft (Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson).
Other key departures such as last year’s team captain and emotional leader Nick Blankenburg, second-line lightning bolt Thomas Bordeleau and sniper Brendan Brisson will have an impact early on. But Team 100 has turned the page with 12 new freshmen entering the fold, and first-year interim head coach Brandon Naurato taking over after Mel Pearson was not retained.
The Wolverines are an exciting, young team inundated with talent and potential, but can they repeat as Big Ten champs? Can they return to the Frozen Four for the second straight year, or go a step further and bring Michigan its first national championship since 1998?
Here’s everything you need to know before the season gets underway this weekend. Ice is ready!
This will be the centennial season of Michigan Wolverines hockey. In 100 seasons, the Wolverines have won nine NCAA Championships, 19 Big Ten regular season titles, 11 Big Ten Tournaments, and appeared in 36 NCAA Tournaments and 26 Frozen Fours.
To celebrate, Yost will look a little different this season with a new commemorative logo at center ice.
Introducing Interim Head Coach Brandon Naurato
Once it was announced Aug. 7 Mel Pearson would not be retained, it was too late to start a search for a new man behind the bench. Brandon Naurato had only been an assistant coach at Michigan for one season before his promotion, but his reputation precedes him.
A former Wolverine (2006-09), Naurato became a consultant and player development specialist following his four-year professional career. Naurato worked with Team USA hockey from 2012-2020, opened and operated his own player development company, Naurato Consulting, and worked with the Detroit Red Wings as a Player Development consultant (2018-2021).
Naurato is known for his analytical and detailed approach and his ability to implement individual skill development into the team identity. Naurato’s season-long job interview starts Saturday.
Sophomore D Luke Hughes (preseason First Team Big Ten)
2021 Stats: 39 points (17 G, 22 A)
2021 Accolades: No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year, Second-Team Big Ten, set Michigan program record by a freshman defenseman for goals and points in a single season, led all NCAA defensemen in points, led all NCAA rookies at any position in points
Junior G Erik Portillo (preseason First Team Big Ten)
2021 Stats: .926 SV%, 2.14 GAA, 1,111 saves
Sophomore F Mackie Samoskevich (preseason First Team Big Ten)
2021 Stats: 29 points (10 G, 19 A)
2021 Accolades: No. 24 overall pick in 2021 NHL Draft, Big Ten All-Freshman Team, Big Ten All-Tournament Team
F Adam Fantilli (preseason Second Team Big Ten)
-Projected to be a top three overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft
-Led the Chicago Steel in goals last season with 37 (second most in Steel history) as a part of his 74-point season in only 54 games
F Frank Nazar III
-No. 13 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft
-Scored 127 points for the USNTDP (United States National Team Development Program) the last two seasons (101 games)
F Rutger McGroarty
-No. 14 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft
-Scored 110 points for the USNTDP (United States National Team Development Program) the last two seasons (107 games)
Learn about the entire freshman class HERE (caveat: Tyler Haskins, Hunter Brzustewicz, and Fin Williams decommitted, and TJ Hughes signed later).
Sophomore F Mark Estapa
With Nick Blankenburg gone to the NHL, Estapa will shoulder some of the burden as an enforcer on this team. Estapa was an eraser on lower lines last season and developed into a deceptively good passer late in the season.
Freshman D Johnny Druskinis
A limited offensive player, Druskinis accepts and embraces a physical, defense-first mindset. To paraphrase They Live, Johnny Druskinis has come to Michigan to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he is all out of bubblegum.
Freshman F TJ Hughes
A late bloomer, the 20-year-old freshman exploded last season for 150 points (78 G, 72 A), in 71 games as a member of the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits. Hughes became the first AJHL player to reach the 60-goal mark in the regular season since 2000-01 season. He also led the Bandits to claim the 2022 Inter Pipeline Cup as AJHL Champions, and the Centennial Cup.
If Hughes can shorten the inevitable learning curve at the college level, his third line play-making abilities could be an X-factor for the Wolverines.
Read more on TJ Hughes here.
Senior F Nolan Moyle (C)
Sophomore D Luke Hughes (A)
Junior D Jacob Truscott (A)
Senior D Keaton Pehrson (A)
Key Conference Games
Notre Dame (USA Today Poll Preseason No. 8)
2021 Result: Lost in second round of NCAA Tournament 1-0 to Minnesota State.
No team gave the Wolverines fits last year quite like Notre Dame. The Irish gave Michigan four of its nine regular season losses by sweeping both regular season series. The Wolverines finally got revenge, defeating Notre Dame 2-1 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal.
Minnesota (USA Today Poll Preseason No. 2)
2021 Result: Lost in the Frozen Four of the NCAA Tournament, 5-1, to Minnesota State.
Last season, Minnesota and Michigan split their season series 2-2. Due to two losses to Notre Dame to end the regular season, Minnesota claimed the regular season Big Ten title.
However, Michigan got the last laugh by defeating the Gophers, 4-3, in the Big Ten Tournament final.
Entering 2022, Michigan and Minnesota are the only two Big Ten teams with four players on the preseason All Big Ten teams. Furthermore, Michigan’s Luke Hughes and Minnesota’s Matthew Knies were the only unanimous selections.
Despite the USA Today rankings, the Big Ten Coaches Preseason Poll ranked Michigan third, Notre Dame second and Minnesota first.
Key Non-Conference Games
Harvard (USA Today Preseason No. 11)
2021 Result: Lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 4-3, to Minnesota State (I’m sensing a trend here).
The Crimson come to Ann Arbor for a two-game home stand Nov. 25-26. Probably one of the easiest tickets to get of the season because of the conflicting football game with some team from Columbus also on Nov. 26.
Michigan and Harvard last played in 2001, with the game ending in a 3-3 tie.
Western Michigan (USA Today Preseason No. 12)
2021 Result: Lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament 3-0 to Minnesota.
The Wolverines and Broncos split the home-and-home season series 1-1 last year, with the subsequent rubber match at the Great Lakes Invitational canceled due to health and welfare protocols within the Wolverines’ program.
What are your predictions for Michigan hockey in 2022?