It goes without saying that to win hockey games, a team must score.
Goals can come from a variety of channels, from breakaways, one-timers and penalty shots to quick wristers, wraparounds and sometimes sheer luck.
That said, power plays are key to generating a bulk of the scoring chances. And the teams that make the most out of the extra man are often most successful.
Take last season’s NCAA Tournament as evidence. Eleven of the 16 teams in the field finished the season converting on more than 20 percent of power play opportunities. Consider Massachusetts, Providence and Minnesota-Duluth — three of the Frozen Four squads. The former led the nation with a 29 percent clip, while the latter two excelled as well, at 22 percent each.
The Michigan hockey team didn’t share that success last season. The Wolverines capitalized on just 16 percent of their chances with a man advantage, ranking 45th out of the 60 teams nationally — and failing to make the NCAA Tournament.
Though the preseason is well underway, Michigan didn’t start focusing on special teams until this week. Midway through practice on Tuesday, the Wolverines split into two groups, practicing 5-on-4 drills repeatedly on both sides of the ice.
“We haven’t really done any special teams because of the time constraints,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson following Tuesday’s practice. “Today was the first day we really introduced it. All we were trying to do today is teach some basics and then drill it and then just watch different players — who can do what.”
Pearson noted that during those drills his attention was mainly on the penalty kill, rather than the power play, due to a schematic change on defense. But he plans to shift his attention towards the attack soon.
Regardless, he still learned plenty about his offense through observing the special teams drills.
“We just wanted to give them a system and see how they handled it,” Pearson said. “You see some things — some players look really good in certain situations. You can tell the hockey players, you know, who have some really good creativity and offensive instincts on the power play. But it was good. It was a good, good exercise for all the players.”
With the departures of power play stalwarts Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris to the NHL, there are gaps to fill. Fortunately for Michigan, many new names come to Pearson’s mind to fill the voids.
“Well, (freshman defenseman) Cam York, I mean he comes off of a team that put up a lot of goals and he was a big catalyst on the power play — did a good job,” Pearson said. “He’ll be one of those pieces that makes up for some of the loss with Quinn. As far as Josh is concerned, we have a number of guys. Like (redshirt sophomore forward) Emil Öhrwall is really smart, creative offensively. (Freshman forward) Johnny Beecher, who has tremendous skill and talent.”
The list also included sophomore forward Jack Olmstead and graduate transfer defenseman Shane Switzer. Pearson thinks certain aspects of their games could mesh well on the power play, but that he needs to finalize the lineup first before he can assign roles.
Senior forward Will Lockwood mentioned with this potential depth of talent, multiple lines should be real threats on special teams. To him, quicker puck movement and having players think in unison are critical to a more effective power play.
“Last year, we didn’t have the greatest first power play or second power play,” Lockwood said. “That was just missing a couple key elements. And I think we got that with some of the guys that have come in.”
Pearson looks to first simplify things on the man advantage, noting that last season, players often passed too much and tried to be fancy rather than just getting shots on goal and bodies near the crease.
“I think we have to understand that especially early in the year we just have the basic, simple,” Pearson said. “And then you can build off of that once you get your confidence, your timing and chemistry down.”
The numbers don’t lie. Success on the power play usually dictates postseason success. And if Michigan’s special teams simplification yields significant improvement, perhaps this season could have a different tone for the Wolverines.