DEARBORN, Mich. - The University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team is coming off its most successful season in years and best under fourth-year head coach Chris Haltinner. The Wolverines come into the 2016-17 season with lofty expectations and a hunger to continue towards the top of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Wolverines finished the 2015-16 campaign 22-5-4, rolling through the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League tournament to earn a berth in the ACHA tournament for the first time since 2006-07. UM-Dearborn won the GLCHL Tournament, hosted at the Fieldhouse Ice Arena in Dearborn, while finishing the league regular season in third place with 36 points.
With the success from a year ago, the No. 12 Wolverines face renewed expectations for the upcoming season, which starts against No. 18 Niagara University at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Fieldhouse Ice Arena. The Wolverines and Purple Eagles will play two over the weekend to break the ice on the season.
"The team's attitude is very determined after last year's success," Haltinner said. "We have a strong schedule this year which will make every game a battle."
Captain Ryan Urso, a junior from Livonia, Mich., returns after an All-American season last year. Urso was named an ACHA First Team All-American, while picking up First Team All-GLCHL and GLCHL All-Defensive Team honors. He is a strong presence on the blue line for the Wolverines and adds punch to the team's offense. Urso finished the 2015-16 season with six goals and a team-high 29 assists, while adding two power-play goals and two game winners.
The Wolverines' leading scorer from a year ago is also back as sophomore forward Tyler Groat returns for his second season. Groat, from Wyandotte, Mich., scored a team-high 25 goals and added 12 assists for the Wolverines in 2015-16. He also had a UM-Dearborn-best five game winners. Groat was named to the ACHA All-Rookie Team, adding All-GLCHL First Team and GLCHL All-Rookie Team awards.
Junior forward Jeffrey McFarland, a native of Grosse Isle, Mich., led the Wolverines in total points a year ago, and returns to continue his leadership role for the team. McFarland scored 17 goals and added 21 assists in the team's run to the ACHA Tournament last year.
Other double-digit goal scorers from a year ago returning include sophomore Nic LaBurn (Northville, Mich.), senior Gino Darin (Allen Park, Mich.) and junior Andrew Palushaj (Livonia, Mich.). Urso has been named the team captain for 2016-17, while junior defenseman Marcus McSweeney (Chandler, Ariz.), McFarland and Darin have each been given alternate responsibilities.
Haltinner also has the luxury of returning junior netminder Nate Ferris, from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, after the goalie earned GLCHL Tournament Most Valuable Player honors in 2015-16. Ferris played in 27 games a year ago, recording a 19-2 record with one shutout and .921 save percentage.
The latest crop of newcomers for the Wolverines also looks to make an impact in the lineup. Haltinner is excited about the group including freshman Justin Dunn at the forward position this season. Dunn, from Trenton, Mich., had 78 points for the Point Mallard Ducks in 47 games last year. Andy Carreras, Christian Ramage, Kyle Schnettler and Ben McPartlin all figure to see significant ice time for the Wolverines in their first season wearing the Block M.
The Wolverines schedule is tough, as Haltinner looks to prepare his team for a deep run in the postseason by putting them up against the toughest competition he could find.
UM-Dearborn plays 14 games against teams ranked in the latest ACHA Top-25 Poll and another 10 games versus opponents receiving votes. The first 12 games, eight of which are at the Fieldhouse Ice Arena, will be played against ranked teams. After the weekend series against Niagara, the Wolverines play a home-and-home with No. 4 Davenport University, the reigning GLCHL regular season champion, on Oct. 7-8. UM-Dearborn travels to No. 7 Ohio University Nov. 4-5 and welcomes No. 5 Minot State University Feb. 10-11. Homecoming will take place the weekend of Oct. 21-22 when the No. 16 University of Illinois comes to town.