In the two-day series against Lake Superior State last weekend, the Michigan hockey team played like two vastly different teams.
Caught off guard by the Lakers’ physicality on Friday, the Wolverines were reeling after losing their early 1-0 lead in what looked more like a heavyweight bout rather than a typical collegiate hockey game. Regardless, the team lacked intensity on both ends of the ice.
“We went into the game Friday and I guess you could say we weren’t really ready for the level of physicality,” said sophomore forward Michael Pastujov. “We hadn’t really seen that yet this year.”
Adjustments ensued. On Saturday, Michigan looked more prepared for Lake Superior State’s physical style of play –– embracing it even. Players looked to finish their checks while still staying true to the team’s strengths. From the opening faceoff, it was evident that the Wolverines’ approach was different. However, Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson and his skaters know that the fervor exhibited on Saturday should be the norm, not the reaction.
To replicate and sustain a high level of energy, Pearson is striving to create healthy competition among his roster.
Last weekend, freshman forward Nolan Moyle saw significant ice time in what were his second and third regular season appearances. Freshman defenseman Jake Gingell and junior forward Adam Windborg dressed for their first and second times, respectively, on Saturday in lieu of freshmen forwards Jack Randl and Jimmy Lambert. And freshman goaltender Strauss Mann received the start in the net over junior Hayden Lavigne.
With the exception of Michigan taking eight penalties, Saturday showcased the level of effort that Pearson expects from his skaters. To some, the penalties may even be viewed as an indicator of the uptick in intensity.
Pearson has expressed that he wants interchangeable pieces in the lineup. That means ice time is up for grabs, especially with the addition of a 19th skater under the new NCAA rule implemented this season.
“We weren’t happy with some of the efforts on Friday and more importantly it was to reward those guys because they –– and Nolan Moyle –– had looked good in practice,” Pearson said. “You have to reward guys, you have to continue to reward guys if they’ve earned an opportunity to play.
“Those guys are proud, they want to play and so they’ll come in the way they did today (in practice) and work hard to try and get back in the lineup. We want to be able to … create that competition and try to give them some incentive to continue to work hard and continue to compete to get in a game or get in games.”
Few players on the roster this season know the difficulty of cracking the rotation like Gingell does. The freshman is a part of the group of players that has recently garnered attention in practice –– leading to his insertion in the lineup for the second game of the series. Knowing that they are vying for playing time, the pressure is on to compete in practice and make an impact every time they step onto the ice.
“It’s just a whole different game, you know,” Gingell said. “When you sit in the stands, you don’t feel as into it but when you’re on the bench, everything just comes together, and you know the hockey that you’ve been playing your entire life.”