Michigan sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski made his presence felt this past weekend in helping the Wolverines to an impressive weekend sweep of rival Michigan State by a combined score of 15-5.
And, Werenski was fresh off playing in the World Junior Championships in Finland where he was team captain and voted as the top defenseman.
Werenski says he is happy at Michigan, talking after Friday’s rout of the Spartans, despite a Columbus Dispatch report speculating Werenski was unhappy in Ann Arbor and thinking of turning pro.
“I’m happy,” said Werenski, the No. 8 overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in last June’s NHL draft. “That was a terrible rumor, bad timing too, especially going on with the tournament. It’s not something you want to see. That’s why it’s a rumor and you have to push it off.
“I was kind of like, ‘What is this?’ when I read it. I just put it behind me. You see all that stuff. It pops up on your timeline. At that point, I just stopped looking at Twitter. I have bigger things to worry about than that.”
Werenski was busy as the U.S. team captain. He was voted top defenseman in the tournament after the U.S. team’s 8-3 win over Sweden in the bronze medal game. He had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven games, then returned to Ann Arbor on Wednesday night.
When Werenski was asked if he would be leaving the Wolverines midseason, he replied: “No, not at all. I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to do at the end of this year or anything like that. I want to win at Michigan. That’s my goal. I came back to win a national championship and I think we have a team to do that. That’s why I’m here.”
The Wolverines (13-3-3) are 8-1-2 in their last 11 games, scoring 56 goals during that span. They have won four straight and are sitting in first in the Big Ten with a 4-1-1 record. Michigan’s last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2012 and its last national title, 1998.
Michigan coach Red Berenson let Werenski decide if he wanted to play against the Spartans.
“There’s no question he’s a high-end defenseman,” Berenson said after the win at Munn Arena on Friday night. “He’s coming off a really good tournament, and I gave him the option that if his head didn’t feel real good after the seven-hour time change and not sleeping for 48 hours, did he feel he could help the team, not just wanting to play, but could he help the team and really dig in and help us. And, he definitely felt he could. I waited until this morning to ask him. Good for him. He adds to our team, obviously.”
Werenski had two goals and an assist in the series and a plus-2 rating. He has six goals and 15 points on the season.
Michigan had nine players score one or more goals in the series with the Spartans. The Wolverines’ top line consisting of junior captain JT Compher, junior Tyler Motte and freshman Kyle Connor combined for seven goals and 17 points.
Connor, who leads the Big Ten in goals (15) and points (31), and Motte (14 goals) are on pace for 30-goal seasons.
The Wolverines have a home-and-home series this weekend with Ohio State, playing the Buckeyes Friday night in Columbus, followed by a Sunday afternoon game in Ann Arbor.