At the midpoint of the first period in the USA’s first post-cutdown game at the 2014 National Junior Evaluation Camp, Team USA defenseman Michael Downing took a pass from University of Michigan teammate J.T. Compher and fired a point shot past Sweden goaltender Jonas Johansson to score the opening goal in what would be a 7-1 romp for the U.S. squad.
After the game, Downing was happy about the team’s win, but was mostly self-deprecating when it came to his goal that got the U.S. started on their impressive showing.
“Yeah, it was a good power play,” Downing said of the events that led up to his lone exhibition goal of the camp. “It was a good pass by J.T. (Compher), he kind of set me up really well, and I just kind of ripped it and got lucky.”
But Downing’s reference to luck doesn’t necessarily mean that he sees himself as strictly a defensive defender.
“I wouldn’t say I’m not a scorer, I would just say that it doesn’t happen as much as other defensemen,” stated Downing. “But I’d say my game is mostly being a defensive defenseman, but I join the rush and I create plays, especially this week I’ve been joining the rush. So yeah, I’d say I’m mostly a big, physical defensive defenseman.”
Prior to the camp roster cutdown, the U.S. had dropped a pair of exhibition games to the Swedes in which the U.S. iced split squads. Downing acknowledged that he and his teammates wanted to put forth a good showing with a full squad against an opponent that, along with the U.S. and Canada, will likely be considered a contender for gold at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
“Yeah, we played really good down low, we kind of wore the “D” out, wore the forwards out,” said Downing. “We have such a good team that it’s almost hard to stop us. We worked hard, were relentless, we hit, ’em, so all around it was just a good game.”
Prior to the NJEC, Downing hadn’t competed since late March, when Michigan dropped a 2-1 upset decision to Penn State at the 2014 Big Ten Men’s Hockey Tournament. While the Canton, MI native enjoyed his freshman campaign with the Wolverines, he also knows that some opportunities were missed along the way that could have helped to extend the Wolverines’ season.
“It was a lot of fun, the coaches were really good to me,” said Downing of his first NCAA campaign. “I played with Mac Bennett, and he made my job really easy. We had a good team, but we made a couple of mistakes during the year and it cost us from making the tournament. But we’re going to have a really good team this year….just guys getting older, and we’ve got good freshman coming in, we’ve got a good class, a bunch of guys who can score, so it’ll be good.”
Prior to the 2013-14 season, Downing spent two seasons competing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. That team won the league’s 2013 Clark Cup in Downing’s second and final USHL season, a season he remembers fondly.
“(Former Saints’ head coach) Jim Montgomery was a good coach, he’s probably one of the best coaches that I’ve played for,” Downing said of his former coach who is now the head coach at the University of Denver. “We were a team, everybody liked each other, there was nobody on the team that anybody disliked. We were together every day, we would do anything for each other, and I think the championship really showed it.”
With USA Hockey’s NJEC now completed, Downing, a Florida Panthers prospect, will turn his attention to his sophomore season at Michigan. While his focus is on helping the school improve on last season’s showing, he also is taking his own future one season at a time.
“I’m planning on going to Michigan next year (2015),” said Downing. “But I’d like to be there four years, but you never know what happens. I’m just looking forward to this year, and the team we have coming in.”
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