No. 1 Michigan battles No. 5 Michigan State in a pair of games that figure to go a long way in deciding the CCHA Regular Season Champion. Freshman forward Max Pacioretty, out the past three games, looks to make his return to the Michigan line up for the big time weekend series.
Skating with a 4-0 lead late in the second period against the Western Michigan Broncos on Fri., January 11, freshman winger Max Pacioretty positioned himself along the boards at Yost Ice Arena. Attempting to direct a breakout pass up the ice to a streaking teammate, a seemingly insignificant play resulted in an injury that’s kept Pacioretty off the ice for the last three Michigan hockey games.
“It was just a regroup play. Someone gave me a board’s pass, and I got bumped into the boards and went in at a funny angle,” Pacioretty told GBW. “I knew right away something was wrong with my shoulder because I’ve had so many problems with my shoulders before.”
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound winger didn’t return to the ice for the remainder of the contest. After being listed as day-to-day through most of last week, Pacioretty also missed both games as No. 1 Michigan did battle against No. 8 Notre Dame in a pair of critical games in the CCHA conference race. Fortunately, the top-ranked Wolverines battled to a come from behind 3-2 win on Friday and a 5-1 blowout victory the next night.
“It was real tough, especially the first period when we were down 2-0,” said Pacioretty, who has five goals and 14 assists thus far in his freshman season. “I felt like I needed to be out there, but my teammates proved me wrong.
“They came back in the second period and played unbelievable and it carried over to the next night. As long as we got the two wins, I’m happy with that. I’m just trying to get back into the lineup.
With intrastate rival, and defending National Champion, Michigan State on the schedule for the first time of the season this weekend, it will take a lot to keep Pacioretty off the ice again this week.
Skating through practice near 100% this week, both Pacioretty and Michigan coach Red Berenson expect the New Canaan, Conn., native to be back on the Wolverines top line this weekend. An addition to the line up that comes just in time to add a significant offensive boost as Michigan prepares to renew one of the most heated rivalries in college hockey.
“It looks better every day. It looks good. I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready to play,” Berenson said after practice on Wednesday afternoon.
“He brings a physical game and good puck touches. His passing is excellent. He’s a threat to score. As you’ve seen, he’s one of our more physical forwards. He gives that line some real stature as far as being able to contribute offensively.”
“It’s feeling much better,” Pacioretty continued. “I haven’t had much contact in practice so I can’t tell if it’s really ready to go through a game yet, but it’s definitely an improvement from last week.”
One obstacle standing between Pacioretty and a return this weekend, however, is the conditioning factor after sitting through each of the Wolverines last three games. Additionally, the first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadians also must overcome the rust that could exist with a significant layoff since skating with line mates Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik. Before the second period injury on January 11, Pacioretty skated with Team USA in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship’s and missed Michigan’s 2007 GLI Championship run.
“I’m just trying to get my game endurance back,” Pacioretty stated. “I’m doing some extra sprints and getting on the bike since I took last weekend off. I need to be in game shape by Friday.
“We’re practicing together (Max, Kevin and Chad) and today felt like one of the best practices I’ve ever had. Playing with those two guys, it feels like we just get better and better every day. It might have even helped us a little bit that they got to experience playing with another left winger. I’m ready to pick up right where we left off.”
Michigan next returns to the ice to battle Michigan State for the first of four times in the next 30 days. Face-off on Friday night is scheduled for 7:35 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The teams will meet again at the same time on Saturday night, the later coming from Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. Fox Sports Detroit will provide television coverage of both events.
“I watched a couple on TV (Michigan vs. Michigan State hockey games). You can tell it’s a rivalry by how everyone is playing,” Pacioretty concluded.
“I’ve heard so many times that it doesn’t matter how Michigan State is playing or what type of team they have. They’re always going to come out ready to play against the Wolverines. It doesn’t matter what day it is, it’s always an important game for them when they compete against us.”