Even with losses in goaltending and leadership, Michigan has high expectations

Michigan was picked second in the CCHA preseason coaches poll, first in the media poll, third in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll — with three first-place votes — and there’s a guarantee that someone brand new will start in net this season.

“We lost all our captains,” coach Red Berenson said. “Luke Glendening, Greg Pateryn, David Wohlberg and Shawn Hunwick, and those were all key players and played big roles on our team and the leadership they provided and so on.

“You’ve got new leadership; that’ll be a question. New goalie; that’ll be a question. Then you start looking around. Who’s going to score the goals? How’s our power play going to be? The usual questions, but this is the first year we’ve had a big question about our goalie.”

So what do the Wolverines have left? Oh so much that may not be immediately apparent.

There’s pretty good offense in Ann Arbor. Sophomore Alex Guptill, last year’s CCHA rookie of the year, had 16 goals last season. Senior A.J. Treais — who has improved in each of his three previous years at Michigan — had 15. Guptill’s classmate Phil Di Giuseppe had 11.

Junior defenseman Jon Merrill returns healthy — and he elevates the play of every single player around him whenever he takes the ice. Merrill leads a veteran defensive corps that welcomes just one freshman.

But the beauty of the program that Berenson has built, though, is that even with the known quantities, there’s always someone who turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

“This time of year, last year, if you asked me if we had any impact freshmen, I did not mention Guptill because I did not think he’d make an impact,” Berenson said. “Guptill was coming off a very lackluster two years of junior hockey — he was injury plagued and so on — and I did not think he was ready for this. He had about seven goals about Christmas, then we changed lines and he ended up leading our team in goals.

“Di Giuseppe, we knew would come in and play well. I expect both these guys to be key players on our team this year.”

It’s a strong team, but is it strong enough to stand up in front of a green net? That’s the big question — and there’s a question on top of that right from the start. The Wolverines brought in Jared Rutledge from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program to start right away, but there’s a hitch. Said Berenson, “He had some adjustments with his contacts in the early going so he’s not ready to take shots yet.”

That leaves two other goalies at the start of the season. “We’re looking at Steve Racine, another newcomer, along with Adam Janecyk,” Berenson said. “He’s got some experience and he’s had a chance. He’s a junior. Racine has got more experience than any of them. He’s an older freshman. We’ll see how that shakes out.”

Um, make that three other goalies. “This’ll be the first year that we’ve carried four goalies,” Berenson said. “Luke Dwyer’s our fourth goalie. I’ll mention his name because I don’t think I mentioned Hunwick’s name for the first three years he was here. Now I’ve mentioned [Dwyer’s] name and we’ll see what happens.”

The element of surprise in what happens next will probably not be whether the Wolverines find success this season, but how they do so.

About the Wolverines

2011-12 overall record: 24-13-4

2011-12 CCHA record: 15-9-4-1 (tie, second)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Second

Key losses: F Luke Glendening, F David Wohlberg, D Greg Pateryn, G Shawn Hunwick

Players to watch: F Alex Guptill, F A.J. Treais, D Jon Merrill, D Lee Moffie

Impact rookie: Goaltenders Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge

Why the Wolverines will finish higher than the coaches poll: The only team that can prevent Michigan from finishing first is Michigan.

Why the Wolverines will finish lower than the coaches poll: They will have someone new in net.