You likely feel like you’re dating yourself, but if you remember 1990s college basketball, you’ll likely also remember the “Fab Five,” a talented group of freshmen at Michigan in the 1991-92 season that helped lead the Wolverines to the national championship game.
Those who had a chance to watch Michigan’s hockey team this season witnessed another quintet of freshmen – forwards Thomas Bordeleau, Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson along with blueliner Owen Power.
And while this group of five never got a chance to play for an NCAA championship after positive COVID tests led to the last-minute removal of Michigan from the NCAA regional tournament in Fargo, N.D., this class features a special level of talent.
With such a talented freshman class, it made it near impossible to choose which one is best. But the men’s Division I writers and editors of USCHO selected Michigan’s Thomas Bordeleau as this year’s USCHO Rookie of the Year.
The selection follows Bordeleau earning the Tim Thomas Award during the Frozen Four, which is presented to college hockey’s rookie of the year as voted on by the coaches.
Bordeleau finished his rookie campaign by leading the Wolverines is scoring, posting eight goals and 22 assists in 24 games. The 30 points led the nation in freshman scoring and points per game. Along with Johnson and Beniers, as well as Robert Morris rookie Randy Hernandez, Bordeleau was one of just four freshmen to average a point a game or better.
“It was quite a group,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I’ve been doing this, I’m going into my 40th year in college hockey and Division I, and I don’t think I’ve seen a group of freshmen like the ones we had this year.
“It wasn’t just the depth of five – and we had more – but those five were so talented. It was quite evident the second half that they made us go.”
As for Bordeleau, in particular, Pearson says standing out among such talent carries with in another level of superlative.
“The point totals, he led that group in points, he did it with flash,” said Pearson. “He played in every situation for us. That’s the other big thing for us. He killed penalties. He was really good on faceoffs. On the power play he had the puck a lot. He played in key situation and he played against the other teams’ top lines.
“When you say he catches your eye, he played a lot, he played in a lot of situations. He had the puck a lot because he played center. And then he had some ‘wow’ plays that made him stand out.”
One ‘wow’ moment that stands out for Pearson was an early-season overtime game winner he scored on the road at Wisconsin. The poise and patience he showed moving around defenseman and eventually the goaltender opened a lot of eyes.
Michigan wins in OT
Thomas Bordeleau scores to beat Wisconsin pic.twitter.com/MIQ2F6NO9j
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 21, 2020
“It was one of those SportsCenter Top 10 plays. That catches your attention. He’s that type of player. Your eye is drawn to him because he has the puck a lot.
Pearson credits Bordeleau’s preparation at the U.S. National Team Development Program for building a 200-foot player, one who can flash in the offensive zone but also backcheck responsibly. Bordeleau was a +18 this season for Michigan, second among forwards only to Beniers, who led the Big Ten in that category.
“He came in and had already played 20-something games [against] college teams last year,” Pearson said. “The [USNTDP] a year ago, when we played against them, Thomas was the best player on the ice. He’s a very smart player, very capable [defensively]. Right from the get go, he was playing a 200-foot game.”
When asked if he is surprised by the national recognition that Bordeleau has received this postseason with both the Taylor Award and now USCHO Rookie of the Year, Pearson says he is and is not surprised.
“He’s a very talented players, so no, [not surprised],” Pearson said. “But yes, because the other four [Michigan] guys all could’ve easily been national rookie of the year. He had some stiff competition.”
An embarrassment of rookie riches for Michigan and a very deserving recipient as USCHO Rookie of the Year.