By ERICK LEHMAN, MANAGING EDITOR
The UM-Dearborn hockey team may not have won a national championship, and may have exited the national tournament in a way they did not expect, but the season was a raging success in head coach Chris Haltinner’s third full season as the head guy behind the bench.
The Wolverines season ended with a stinging 8-1 loss to Central Oklahoma.
Despite the loss, the Wolverines were able to accomplish a lot in the long season.
The team defeated Adrian three times, including a win in the GLCHL playoffs semifinal game.
They swept Oakland on the season,the first time in school history.
The Wolverines won the GLCHL playoffs, a tournament in which they hosted by knocking off the sixth, and fifth ranked teams in the nation in consecutive games.
They also qualified for the ACHA national tournament, and they went 1-1 in the tournament, losing in the second round, or sweet sixteen round of the tournament.
This team accomplished a lot, and put UM-Dearborn hockey on the map, without a doubt.
Haltinner has had winning on his mind since taking over, and his team has won. They have not reached the ultimate prize yet, but he is building a team that is ready to compete.
I am going to make my selections for team awards.
MVP: Nate Ferris, goaltender.
Ferris is the backbone of this team. He finished last season on a bit of a rough note, and lost some time in the last few series to backup goaltender Dave Bryant. This year however, Ferris held steady as the started, and only sat a couple games when a breather was needed. Ferris finished the regular season with a 16-2 record, and added three more wins to his record during the GLCHL playoffs. Ferris finished the season with a 20-3 record after the national tournament. Prior to nationals, he stopped nearly 93% of the shots he faced, and allowed just over two goals per game. Down the stretch of the regular season the Wolverines were without their leading scorer, and Ferris proved to be the anchor of the Wolverines. He stole games, including the final two games of the GLCHL playoffs when they Wolverines defeated Adrian, and Davenport by only one goal each. The sophomore goaltender has earned respect from other teams around the conference as Davenport players commented at the national tournament that Ferris was one of the better net minders in the country, and that he has the capabilities to steal games on a regular basis. Ferris will have two years of eligibility remaining with the team, and will without a doubt be the spine of the Wolverines for his final two years.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff McFarland, Andrew Palushaj, Nic LaBurn, Tyler Groat
Most Improved: Andrew Palushaj, forward
Last season Palushaj earned a player of the week award, and mentioned his goal was to remain healthy for an entire season, as he has had a career filled with nagging injuries. Palushaj ended up sitting a majority of the second half last year, and was poised to make a strong return this year. He did just that, and stepped up when the Wolverines needed him the most. Palushaj finished the year with 16 goals, and 16 assists, tallying 32 total points on the season. Palushaj played majority of the season on the top line for the Wolverines, and his offensive output kept him in that spot. Palushaj went on a hot streak after leading goal scorer Tyler Groat went down with an injury, and he and linemate Jeff McFarland did a fantastic job in leading the offense down the stretch. Like Ferris, McFarland, and Ryan Urso, Palushaj has two years of eligibility remaining, and provides a veteran scoring presence for the Wolverines as they continue to build a powerhouse team.
Honorable Mentions: Nate Ferris
Freshman of the Year: Tyler Groat, forward
This choice was actually quite difficult, so we will be handing out another award as well. Groat went down with an injury in January against Adrian, and missed the remainder of the season from that point on. Prior to the injury, Groat was on a tear. he tallying 25 goals, and 12 assists for 37 total points in only 21 games this season. Groat was the go-to forward for the 21 games that he played, and without a doubt will be the top forward next year when he returns. Teams feared Groat when he was on the ice, and when opponents began to key on him defensively it opened up opportunities for other players on the ice to make a play. Groat will be around for three more years, and will look to lead the Wolverines back into the national tournament.
Non-Tyler Groat Freshman of the Year: Nic LaBurn, forward/defense
LaBurn played a pivotal role for the Wolverines. Late in the season UM-Dearborn began to suffer injuries, and other issues, and LaBurn stepped in played both forward and defense along with freshman Kevin Bechard. He finished the season with 34 points, including 15 goals and 19 assists. Without a doubt LaBurn will be an integral part of the Wolverines roster going forward. The question is, will Haltinner move him to defense on a full time basis if he is able to sign a bevy of talented forwards, or will he keep him as a top line power forward?
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Bechard
Heart and Soul Award: Jeff McFarland, forward
This award goes to a player who consistently gave 110% on the ice. McFarland was a player this season who on a regular basis skated as hard as he could, whether it was at the end of his shift, or the beginning. You rarely, if ever saw McFarland dogging it on the ice. The constant high effort gave McFarland a lot of scoring opportunities. He led the team in scoring as he tallied 18 goals and 20 assists for a total of 40 points in 29 games played this season. Haltinner defined him as a point a game guy, and he has been that since arriving on campus this season. McFarland will be the leader of the Wolverines forwards unit along with Palushaj, Groat, LaBurn, and Bechard going forward and joins that group of player who a coach can build a team around.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Dalton, Andrew Spiegel, John Barlow, Gino Darin
Haltinner has quite the bevy of young talent to build around. The Wolverines will be parting ways with two seniors, Ryan Kelly, and Kevin Filthaut.
If any weakness were found by opponents it would be the lack of defensive depth, and Haltinner knows that. The key for him in this offseason will be to recruit a couple of defensemen who can come in and eat up big minutes on the blue line. Wolverine captain Ryan Urso seemed to get little to no rest during games as he was almost always on the ice due to a depth issue.
If Haltinner can find a few diamonds in the rough, or another pure scoring forward like Groat to team up with his already extremely impressive forward lines, the Wolverines will be a force next season.