ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Al Montoya is in goal. Eric Werner is scoring. And Michigan’s freshmen are, so far, living up to the hype.
All of that added up to a 5-3 Wolverines victory over Mercyhurst Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
Montoya, who toyed with the courtship of major juniors, stopped 23 of 26 shots.
“This is the best situation for me to develop,” said the sophomore goaltender, who had a .911 save percentage and 2.33 GAA last season. “I like the academics. I like the way my whole life isn’t revolved around hockey.”
Werner, who sat out the second half of last season due to academic problems, had a goal and an assist. The junior defenseman took classes in the spring and summer to regain his eligibility
“Most of his work has been off the ice — that was a commitment he made that I supported and was impressed with,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
Michigan’s freshmen class of seven is littered with highly touted players. And most of them got off to a good start. T.J. Hensick and Mike Brown are already playing large roles. And defenseman Matt Hunwick looked impressive playing on the top defensive pairing with captain Andy Burnes.
“He definitely had a great game,” Burnes said of Hunwick. “He didn’t look like a freshman out there. He made me look good at times.”
Mercyhurst played well on just four full days of practice. The Lakers, who started practice Monday, have an exhibition next weekend and don’t play again for three weeks – an Oct. 24 matchup at Ohio State. But coach Rick Gotkin thought it was important to play the Wolverines, even if it was before their regular schedule. So he accepted Michigan’s offer last winter.
“We competed real hard,” Gotkin said. “They have 10 NHL draft picks. Obviously, the better team won. It helped that they played (Friday) night.”
Michigan came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat Mercyhurst, 4-3, in the 2001 NCAA Regionals at Grand Rapids, Mich. Saturday’s game wasn’t as close
The Wolverines, who had exhibition games the past two Fridays, took an early lead. Dwight Helminen scored on the power play at 10:09 to make it 1-0. That brought a football-depressed, late-arriving Yost Ice Arena crowd to its feet. Many of the 6,000-plus fans were still bitter about the football team’s loss to Iowa.
Mercyhurst’s Erik Johnson tied the game less than two minutes later before Andrew Ebbett scored to make it 2-1.
The Wolverines took over in the second, outshooting the Lakers, 13-4. Goals by Werner and Eric Nystrom put the game out of reach at 4-1.
Hensick’s unassisted tally, which hit goaltender Andy Franck’s shoulder and clanked in off the post, made it 5-1. Hensick’s goal was the third U-M power play tally of the night.
Midway through the third, Mercyhurst’s Mike Carter and Dave Borrelli scored in a 1:37 span to make things interesting. But Franck received a roughing penalty, knocking off Mike Woodford’s helmet, with just under four minutes left, and that ended the Lakers’ momentum.
Franck stopped 38 of 43 shots.