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6A - Thursday, March 31, 2011 A

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com M

Freshmen elevate expectations in playoffs

By CASANDRA PAGNI
Daily Sports Writer
After Michigan's NCAA West
Regional draw against Nebraska-
Omaha, senior forward Louie
Caporusso said that in order for
Michigan to make it to the Fro-
zen Four in St. Paul, Minn. the
younger Wolverines would need
to mask their youth.
"Your freshmen have to play
like they're not freshmen," Capo-
russo said early last week. "That's
the key if you want to win. And
the seniors have to play like pro
hockey players. Everyone's got
to up their game, they've got to
leave their comfort zone. That's
how you win games, getting out of
your comfort zone."
And now that they've made it
to St. Paul, the Wolverines are set-
ting even higher expectations for

their younger players.
In last weekend's NCAA
regional matchups against
Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado
College, No. 2 Michigan played
two freshmen forwards - Luke
Moffatt and Derek DeBlois - and
three freshmen defensemen -
Jon Merrill, Mac Bennett, and
Kevin Clare.
Now, with two NCAA Tourna-
ment victories under their belts,
the underclassmen have not only
gotten a taste of the playoff atmo-
sphere but are ready to make
these victories contagious.
"It's kind of wild, but now that
we're here, this is what we expect
the rest of the way," Bennett said.
"The rest of my three years, if we
don't make it to the Frozen Four,
it's a disappointing season."
Added Merrill: "It's pretty
crazy, it's pretty lucky. Some of

the other guys were talking how
spoiled we were to come in as
freshmen and go to the Frozen
Four right away. It's pretty awe-
some."
While Michigan's seniors are
the only class to have made a Fro-
zen Four appearance on the cur-
rent roster, the 5-4 overtime loss
to Notre Dame in 2008 has been
used as motivation to help pre-
pare the younger Wolverines for
the game - potentially two games
- ahead.
The freshmen know every part
of the game is under a microscope
during the Frozen Four, and that
they will need to find a way to
make their play virtually flawless.
As Caporusso alluded to on
Selection Sunday, each player
needs to elevate his individual
game, regardless of prior experi-
ence, for Michigan to have a col-

lective chance.
"Once we hit the playoffs,
there's less room for error," Mich-
igan coach Red Berenson said.
"I need to be able to trust them
when they're on the ice, that they
can be responsible defensively,
that they're not going to get out
muscled or out hustled. I'm not
worried about if they score or not,
I want to make sure they don't'
get scored against and they know
exactly what they're doing out
there, that's huge.
"They can walk around and
their eyes are like, 'Oh, wow.' Well
never mind the wow factor, let's
get over that and play the game."
Merrill and Bennett have
locked down spots on defense, but
Clare, Moffatt, DeBlois and soph-
omores Lindsay Sparks and Jeff
Rohrkemper are fighting for the
last remaining lineup spots, even

at this point in the season.
While the Frozen Four isn't
an ideal time to have to wonder
whether or not they'll be on the
ice, the level of competition this
uncertainty has brought out in
the freshmen in the week leading
up to St. Paul is a good thing.
"Really, I need to trust them,"
Berenson said. "That they can
play the game at this time of year
against this type of competition
and not hurt our team. And they
should play well, that's why we
brought them to Michigan, but in
the meantime, that's the bottom
line."
Leading up to the Frozen Four,
most seniors have tried to convey
to their younger teammates how
special the experience truly is.
From a Frozen Four loss in 2008
to two consecutive NCAA region-
al and regional final exits, the

seniors are taking their last crack
at a national title seriously - and
making sure the rest of the Wol-
verines do as well.
"(The seniors) said they were
there when they were freshmen,"
Merrill said. "And they ended
up losing the first game there.
But something like this is some-
thing that doesn't come around
often, so really take advantage of
it. Before you know it, you'll be a
senior too."
Added Bennett: "Everyone
just says, 'Be ready.' With play-
off hockey, I don't think it mat-
ters what level you're playing at,
everyone steps it up. We saw that
this weekend, we saw that in the
CCHA playoffs. You've just got
to be ready to play every night
and you've got to give it your all
because you never know which
shift could be your last."

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RELEASE DATE- Thursday, March 31, 2011
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41

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