Last Saturday, you wouldn’t be able to find Jack Becker on the ice.
Instead, you would find him sitting on the fifth floor of Yost Ice Arena, in the press box, with the remaining players not dressed for the game against No. 10 Clarkson.
He wasn’t injured. He wasn’t suspended. He just wasn’t what Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson thought the team needed to win that game.
“You have to make tough decisions,” Pearson said. “We’ve got a lot of good players. He knows.
In response, Becker upped his effort, his physicality, his game — both the little things and the obvious — against Lake Superior State. He wanted to play and he made sure Pearson knew.
The junior forward closed last season with six goals and nine assists, an overall disappointing performance after many had anticipated a jump in production from his freshman to his sophomore year. Instead, he matched his freshman year point total and left many uninspired by his play.
And he picked up where he left off with his season debut against the Golden Knights last Friday. Neither the effort nor determination was there, let alone production. In turn, Pearson chose to sit him for the Saturday matchup of the series, which resulted in a loss.
Afterwards, Pearson sought him out and made sure he understood the reasoning behind the decision.
“We want to make sure we have open lines of communication,” Pearson said. “Door’s always open. We want the players to understand why they’re not playing. I think it’s important that they hear that from the coach and then you go from there.”
Becker listened to the critiques. He heard the concerns about his game — including about his effort and work ethic. To Pearson, every second of every shift matters. And Becker wasn’t maximizing his time on the ice.
So he spent the week working on what needed to be done.
“He did a real good job of reevaluating his game and the things he needs to do,” Pearson said. “And it’s not scoring.”
Ironically, working on the small things helped Becker tally three goals against the Lakers, one Friday and two Saturday. The two goals in the second matchup proved essential in a tight-knit one-score game.
“I think just focusing on things that lead to goals,” Becker said on what was clicking for him, “like intensity, physical play, just getting to the net. I think that’s what contributes to putting pucks to the net. Focusing on the little things.”
One of those small things was battling hard. And to score his first goal Saturday, he fought hard for position in front of the net. After freshman Keaton Pehrson centered the puck into traffic, Becker secured the puck out the reach of pursuing sticks and backhanded it into the net.
Lake Superior State called for the play to be reviewed for offsides, but after a few minutes of deliberation, it was ruled onside, and Becker, sitting on the bench waiting for the decision, couldn’t help but turn his head to the Lakers’ bench and chirp.
The message he told them was unclear, but the message of his gritty play spoke for itself. He came ready to play.
“He got three goals on the weekend, but he played harder,” Pearson said, “played more determined, played more physical, won a lot of the 50/50 battles, got to the net, so he did a lot of the small things, the little things that maybe he wasn’t doing last weekend.”
His second goal came from another hard fought battle in front of the net. On the power play, freshman forward Eric Ciccolini brought the puck from the blue line to freshman forward Johnny Beecher, who was waiting glove-side of the Lake Superior State goaltender. Making a cross-crease pass, Beecher delivered the puck to Becker. He whiffed on his first attempt at a shot. Recovering instantly, he tried again — this time finding twine.
It was a bounce-back performance for a player whose wasted shifts forced him from the ice to the press box, left to watch his team suffer in his absence.
“We like Jack,” Pearson said. “It’s nothing personal.”
It wasn’t personal. And on Saturday night, Becker made it strictly business.