ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It wasn’t the fast-paced skate-a-thon that Michigan coach Red Berenson wanted, but the fourth-ranked Wolverines still earned some extra experience Tuesday night with a 4-2 victory over the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program.
“It wasn’t the game I was hoping for,” said Berenson, whose team will take a 17-day break before competing in the Great Lakes Invitational. “It turned into chippiness, and that’s not why we played this game.”
The real benefits of playing the exhibition were to give the USA team a chance to earn extra experience, while Berenson could get a look at three players of his 2001-02 class who currently play for the Americans — forwards Eric Nystrom, Jason Ryznar and Dwight Helminen.
“They all had their moments out there tonight,” Berenson said.
Nystrom’s first few moments will be memorable for at least a couple days as Michigan’s 6-foot-3, 225-pound defenseman Jeff Jillson smashed him into the boards in the opening minutes.
The USA team seemed a little awestruck for awhile, giving up a little too much ground in the opening period. Michigan senior Josh Langfeld took advantage on the Wolverines’ first power play, with a point-blank tally on a centering pass from senior Mark Kosick to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.
After Langfeld’s goal at the 4:22 mark, J.J. Swistak scored to make it 2- 0 just six minutes into the game.
But like Nystrom, who eventually took Jillson’s helmet off on one play later in the first, the team of teenagers fought back.
“We got over the [awe] in the second and third period,” Team USA coach Mike Eaves said. “When we are able to play at a higher level, it draws us to that level.”
The Americans kept up with the Wolverines, as the two teams battled it out in a unusually physical exhibition.
“It’s like your little brother syndrome — if your brother is pushing you, you’re going to get involved and fight back,” Eaves said.
Michigan freshman Mike Komisarek, a graduate of the development program, enjoyed showing the new recruits a little chin music.
“We went at it a little bit,” Komisarek said, referring to his scraps with Nystrom. “But it was fun — the Long Island boys, we go way back.”
The Under-18 team didn’t back down, but neither did Michigan, as Jed Ortmeyer scored to put the Wolverines up 4-1 at the 7:11 mark of the third period. Team USA’s Rob Flynn added a late goal to end the scoring at 4-2.
“You better play hard [against these guys], otherwise you’re going to get embarrassed like State did,” said Komisarek, referring to Michigan State’s 6-4 loss to Team USA earlier in the season.
Eaves helped adjust the trio of Michigan recruits at the beginning of the game by starting all three of them to give them a quick taste of what to expect next season.
“It’s kind of a ceremony or passing of ritual,” Eaves said.
Berenson also was able to give his players some extra benefits.
Senior walk-on Rob Kohen earned his first significant minutes in a game, playing as a defenseman. Usual healthy scratches all got playing time as well.
But it was still tough for the Wolverines to get overly excited, as injuries and exam week lingered over Berenson’s players.
Goaltender Josh Blackburn left the game after six minutes to study for an exam. Craig Murray, in the midst of four exams over two days, also didn’t play much with a groin injury.
Mike Cammalleri already has left for Canadian National Junior Team tryouts. Meanwhile, Scott Matzka, Andy Burnes, Dave Huntzicker and Brad Fraser all did not play with injuries.
Mark Francescutti is a sports editor for the Michigan Daily.