Statistics: 42 GP, 2-21—23, +33
The CCHA coaches didn't vote Mark Mitera,
Michigan's standout junior defenseman, to the all-league
first team. Which begs the question, what were they
Sure, Miami's Alec Martinez and Tyler
Eckford of Alaska deserved recognition for their outstanding
performances, and their offensive totals were superior
to Mitera's. Still, Mitera has reached single-season
bests in goals and assists, and he's done it while
serving as the stabilizing force for the Wolverines'
callow defensive corps.
Consider that Mitera, a first-round
pick of Anaheim in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft had played
alongside the likes of Matt Hunwick , Tim Cook, and
Jack Johnson during his first two years in Ann Arbor.
When Mitera, who entered the season with 80 games
of collegiate experience to his credit, took the ice
for the Wolverines' season opener against Boston College
in early October, the other five defensemen in the
lineup that night had played in a combined 76 games.
While Mitera's improvement on offense
— he's scored at least one point in eight of
Michigan's last nine games and has 1-13—14 during
that span — has been a boon to the Wolverines'
effort, his leadership and sound play in his own end
have been his most significant contributions. He plays
an average of nearly 25 minutes a game and, in spite
of all the ice time, has had a negative plus-minus
rating in just two of his team's 42 games. He's been
on the ice for roughly one quarter (14 of 54) of the
even-strength goals U-M has allowed this season. And
he entered the NCAA tournament as the team's leader
in blocked shots with 62.
Of course, Mitera is physically gifted.
He's a towering presence on the blue line at 6-foot-3
and has the strength and toughness to match, yet skates
remarkbly well for his size. Combine those tools with
his consistently heady play, burgeoning leadership
skills, and continued improvement from season to season,
and you've got the recipe for an elite defenseman.
Runner-up: Jack Hillen, Colorado