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December 18, 2013

News & Views: J.T. Compher suffers foot injury

The Michigan hockey team is on break this week but will return to the ice Dec. 24 in preparation for the Great Lakes Invitational Dec. 27 outdoors at Comerica Park. Head coach Red Berenson talked about the GLI and other news items Tuesday.

News: J.T. Compher was sent home from World Junior Championship tryouts after suffering a left foot injury. It has not been confirmed as broken pending a doctor's visit upon his return to Ann Arbor, and Michigan lists the rookie forward as week to week, but it is expected he will miss 3-4 weeks with the injury.

Sophomore Andrew Copp is expected to make Team USA and be unavailable for the GLI while rookie winger Tyler Motte has made the first cut of tryouts and could stick with the team also.

Berenson: "I think going into it, Copp and JT had the most momentum. I can't tell you they were a lock, but they were players they were counting on. Tyler was a player that had to show something. He's in that small group they're making a decision on. Tyler could make it at the expense of J.T.'s injury.

"You take out our top two centermen away and it will affect our team. But we've gone through this before and have to find a way to get through it."

Views: If Compher's injury is less serious than first reported that would be huge news as Michigan only plays four games in the next four weeks - the GLI Dec. 27-28 and two at Wisconsin Jan. 10-11 - and he could be back in time for a key showdown with in-state rival Michigan State Jan. 23-24.

U-M certainly needs him, as Compher shares the team lead in points with 14, including five goals, and has been, arguably, the Wolverines' second-best offensive player behind Copp and its third- or fourth-best player overall.

As for the Great Lakes Invitational, if Motte makes Team USA, the Wolverines will be down their top two scorers and three of their top six, which would make it extremely difficult for them to win the tournament, even with a field that does not include a single opponent with a winning record.

Michigan is still a talented team, with a hot goalie, and its entire defensive top six will be intact, but a good number of forwards have to become factors for the Maize and Blue to win the GLI.

"Boo Nieves, Travis Lynch, Justin Selman, Zach Hyman, whether they play center or not, some of the depth players on our team have a chance to step up, and then Alex Guptill and Phil Di Giusppe -- if they have a good tournament, we should have a good tournament," Berenson said.

News: Michigan will be appearing in its fifth outdoor game since 2001 when it meets Western Michigan in a GLI semifinal at 7:00 p.m. a week from Friday. The Wolverines are 2-1-1, beating Michigan State in the 2010 Big Chill at The Big House and Ohio State 4-1 in 2012 at the Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field (baseball) in Cleveland.

U-M was supposed to play in an outdoor Great Lakes Invitational a year ago but when the NHL's Winter Classic was canceled (due to a labor halt), the four teams went back inside to Joe Louis Arena. Michigan's competition - WMU - has never played in an outdoor game, nor has Michigan Tech. Michigan State is 0-1-1 in two contests, tying and losing to the Maize and Blue.

Berenson: "Our experience will take a little bit of the mystery out of it. It's not like we're reinventing the game but circumstances are all different. The coaches have been through it. The equipment manager is an important part of this whole thing - having our players dressed right. I'm sure they will have heaters on the bench.

"It's still going to be a unique experience. This will be a different rink in a different venue, but at least some of our team has played in outdoor rinks.

"The one thing is when you see where the rink is, it looks like it's a mile away from the grandstands. I hope they sell tickets and get a good crowd in there. It could be a good venue if you have a good crowd, and then good weather."

View: The novelty of these outdoor games has worn off some as sites and leagues across North America (and into Europe) have saturated the market.

Michigan and Michigan State got the ball rolling in 2001 with the Cold War played at Spartan Stadium, and then seven years later (with four games in between) the NHL introduced its Winter Classic, which has run every Jan. 1 since.

In the six years since the 2008 Winter Classic, there have been 76 contested, and recognized, outdoor hockey games with 23 more scheduled within the next year, including five NHL games. At some point, enough is enough.

However, each iteration of Michigan players has said how much fun they have had, and certainly this crop of Wolverines will love every minute of it.

Berenson, too, will have a chance to play in an alumni game between Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I could play until I was 80 as long as I was playing against guys my age," Berenson said. "But to play against guys 30 years younger. Maybe 10 years younger I could handle that.

"I'm not worried about the contact. The only part I'm worried about is letting the team down. Being the weak link. Not having the speed or being able to keep up with the intensity they're playing with. You get these young guys in there and they're flying. That's why I say I hope there are some older guys playing for Toronto."

Berenson is a wily old veteran, and even if he doesn't have the speed, he'll use positioning and his smarts to play well in that game.

The whole thing is meant to be fun, and it will be, but the Wolverines are also there to win, and that cannot be lost in the excitement.

To that end, Michigan will practice during the holidays.

"Our first practice will be on Dec. 24 at 7 pm," Berenson said. "You hate to do this but we have to skate on Dec. 25. We'll have two practices, 10:30 am and 3:00 pm. They'll be short practices but they'll be important because you're going to get a lot of rust and travel legs on the 24th. Then we have to get some good structure out of Christmas practices, and then a lot of them will go home for Christmas dinner.

"We'll go into Comerica the next day and have a skate in there, on the 26th in the afternoon. We have another skate the day of the game."

News: Junior forward Alex Guptill is third on the team with 12 points, and second with six goals, but it is a new commitment to defense that has suddenly made him a very tough skater to play against.

Berenson: "I don't want him to be a backchecking forward. I want him to be an offensive player who can play hard without the puck. Rather than go for a skate behind the net when he loses the puck, I want him to stop and chase that guy back up the ice like he wants the puck back. Rather than, 'I've lost the puck so I don't care what happens on my end of the rink.'

"If he wants to be a great hockey player, he has to learn to play the whole game. That's why I'm on him. He has all kinds of offensive talent but he has to learn how to play the game. That doesn't mean he'll score less, but he has to work harder. You have to play the whole shift. Not just when you have the puck."

Views: Guptill is capable of scoring 20 goals - he had 16 in both his freshman and sophomore seasons - but he's always been considered one-dimensional, and seems to get in his own way of reaching his full potential. A stronger work ethic will take him to his max, and the junior seems to want that to be part of his game, discussing his desire and intent to play harder without the puck.

That would be great news for the Wolverines, and bad news for opponents that have been able to take advantage of shifts in which Guptill is on the ice.


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