At 4:18 Monday afternoon, just a few players remained at Yost Ice Arena. Many of the members of the Michigan hockey team had departed. Their participation in practice had ended. The ones who remained did so because of their in-game absence in Madison this past weekend.
While some of these players could be recognized by certain fans of the Wolverines, such as senior forward Alex Kile — who was injured last weekend — or junior forward Niko Porikos, one player would likely leave spectators wondering.
Alex Talcott spent that Monday practice as one of the last athletes on the ice.
Unlike Kile, Porikos and his other peers, the junior forward has yet to appear in a game during this season. Michigan coach Red Berenson has penciled Talcott in the lineup just eight times in his three years and just twice as a sophomore.
But despite Talcott’s lack of in-game experience, he still manages to impress Berenson with his work ethic.
“He’s a depth player,” Berenson said. “He knows that if we get a couple guys hurt, he’s gotta be ready. He hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do this year except in practice.”
While the active players dress and participate in pregame skates, Talcott and the other inactive players have different roles. They still eat the pregame meal with the team and practice in the early afternoon, but once the game begins they head to the weight room and prepare for the weekend’s second game.
It might be difficult to seemingly prepare for nothing, but Talcott has found his niche. He spends his time during practices and off the ice developing relationships with his teammates. It’s an area that he has dedicated himself to improving over his three-year career.
“To be a good teammate is a really important part of what I do,” Talcott said. “(To be) someone that one of the other guys can come to and talk to about things, to show them support. That way they’re confident when they’re playing.
“I try not to have any negative relationships. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m dragging anybody down or dragging the team down as a whole. I try to be positive and upbeat, and if I’m not playing then I reinforce that behind the guys that are playing.”
For Berenson, it is likely rewarding to see Talcott succeeding in this role. He explained that Talcott encountered some difficulties during his first years in Ann Arbor and that “some guys would’ve maybe just quit.”
Berenson praised Talcott’s determination to thrive, something he sees daily at practice.
“Alex, he’s had a tough time here,” Berenson said. “… The good thing is we’ve stuck with him and the other part of the good thing is that he has stuck with it. He’s in a much tougher position than being (freshman forward) Will Lockwood or (senior defenseman) Nolan de Jong who are playing every night.
“He’s gotta say to himself ‘I’ve got to play better than these guys to be in the lineup. I’ve got to do that every day in practice.’ So there’s a challenge (for him.)”
One of the challenges for Berenson is how best to motivate Talcott when he will rarely see the ice during games. It’s a dilemma he faces not only with Talcott but other players such as sophomore goaltender Chad Catt, who rarely crack the rotation. He urges them to focus on their academics and again emphasizes their time spent in practice. While other players have opportunities to impress the coaching staff in games, for Talcott, it is imperative that he strives for excellence every other day of the week.
But even then, it’s difficult to find opportunities. Because of his status on the depth chart, Berenson will place Talcott on defense if the Wolverines lack a blueliner at practice, another obstacle in his desires to make an impression on the coaches.
That’s why Talcott remained at practice that Monday afternoon when most others moved on to homework or other activities. It was an opportunity for him to play some offense, showcase his shooting, passing and skating skills.
For the near future though, Talcott will continue giving assistance and motivating to his teammates. It might not be on the ice, or even during game time, but Talcott has carved out a role for himself.
“The relationships that I build with my teammates are built around respect and showing them that I really care about them and care about their success as if it was my success,” Talcott said. “And then in return it kind of is contagious. (It leads to) a better relationship with everyone on the team and then it manifests itself from there.
“I feel like that’s something I can bring to the team to influence it. Even if it’s in a small way, I’m still happy with that.”