Defenseman Jon Merrill to return for Friday night Michigan hockey exhibition
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill, out since the preseason with a fractured vertebrae, will return to the lineup in the Wolverines’ Friday night exhibition against the US National Team Development Program, the team announced Friday.
Merrill, a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, was X-rayed Wednesday and met with a doctor Friday to determine his status. The team said his role in Friday night’s game is undetermined, but said he will dress.
After having his neck stabilized through most of the fall, Merrill returned to practice over Christmas break. Michigan coach Red Berenson said Thursday he doesn’t expect much rust in the junior defenseman’s game when he returns, and he doesn’t expect the prospect of reinjury to have an effect.
“He plays a kind of game where he’s not putting himself in a lot of tough spots like that,” Berenson said. “I think he’ll move on from that. He’s just got a way about him that is special, and I think he’ll be a special player when he gets back.”
This marks the second year in a row that Merrill has joined the Michigan lineup midseason. Merrill missed the first 22 games of last season with a suspension. Merrill returned to the team in its first contest after the first of the year last season as well.
“I remember last year when he came back, that kind of gave us a huge boost and we kind of went on that roll in the second half of the season,” defenseman Mac Bennett said Thursday. “I think that’s a similar situation here, especially right now where we’re hurting right now.”
“To get him back that would be a huge, huge boost to our defense.”
Merrill was a CCHA Rookie of the Year finalist in 2010-11, finishing tops among Wolverines defensemen with 25 points and 18 assists. He had two goals and nine assists in 19 games as a sophomore.
Despite Merrill’s return, the Michigan defensive corps will still be thin for Friday night’s exhibition, with Jacob Trouba at the World Junior championships and Kevin Clare out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Forward Jeff Rohrkemper will suit up as a defenseman for the game.
Kyle Austin covers sports for AnnArbor.com.