Maryland's addition of Princeton transfer Mike Chanenchuk this season always carried the potential to invigorate the Terrapins' midfield.
Thanks to knee surgery and its lingering effects, it just took a little while longer for the 2010 Ivy League Rookie of the Year to make that impact.
"We kind of tease him in a good way: 'Hey, you're the worst player in the country now, and a couple years ago you were the best player in the country,' " coach John Tillman said of the scrutiny Chanenchuk's drawn this season. "He just laughs. But then I add, 'We're glad to have you, big fella.' "
It's even easier for Maryland to chuckle about Chanenchuk's production after the redshirt sophomore snapped a month-long drought last week. Not much went right on offense in the Terps' 6-5 ACC semifinal loss to Duke, but receiving two goals from Chanenchuk was especially welcome.
The good-natured barbs might have added up during an 0-for-21 dry spell, a stretch that included one game when Chanenchuk barely played. But even as he was stuck on six goals for more than four games, his past was an indicator a breakthrough was possible.
Chanenchuk delayed enrollment at Princeton for a year because of injury, then led the Tigers with 28 goals in 2010. He then left Princeton and spent all of last season at home on Long Island.
He found his way to Maryland this semester, but not before undergoing surgery in late December. It cost him much of the preseason, and he was forced to work his way back into shape since he couldn't overexert his knee with running in the weeks immediately after surgery.
"I knew I'd eventually break through," said Chanenchuk, whose No. 9 Terps (7-4) visit Mount St. Mary's (4-7) on Wednesday. "If I didn't have a season to go by, it would be a little bit more disappointing. I think laughing it off helped me cope with a little bit of the disappointment."
Chanenchuk managed six goals in Maryland's first six games, not a blistering start but helpful and understandable considering his injury. Then he went quiet for a month, a slump he said was probably the longest of his life.
He and coaches soon discovered his shooting mechanics were altered as he tried to compensate after surgery. A shot requires work throughout a player's body, and Chanenchuk was relying far less on power from his legs — and consequently spraying his attempts all over the place.
"I knew I was struggling, but I also knew in the back of my mind there was a reason behind it," said Chanenchuk, who leads Maryland in shots (63) but ranks eighth in goals (eight). "I couldn't figure out why, but I knew I wasn't 100 percent. That made it a little easier on my mind."
He's closer to full strength now, and the Terps are hoping Friday marks a breakthrough in Chanenchuk's season. If he has found an accurate shot, it would provide a dangerous complement to midfielders John Haus and Drew Snider, who have both scored 11 goals this season.
That would be no laughing matter for Maryland's remaining opponents.
"It definitely takes a lot of time to get adjusted to a new program and new players and see different tendencies on different players and click between each other," Snider said. "There are times in practice we see glimpses of the great, legendary Mike Chanenchuk. There's definitely a lot more to come."
Notes: Virginia attackman Steele Stanwick was named the ACC's offensive player of the year, while Maryland long stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt earned co-ACC defensive player of the year honors. Maryland defenseman Goran Murray was named the league's Freshman of the Year.
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