As the Michigan hockey team wound down practice Wednesday, Will Lockwood, as usual, was one of the last players to leave the ice.
According to his coach, Mel Pearson, that’s no surprise. It’s why the Wolverines’ new coach has gained an even greater appreciation for Lockwood since watching him from the opposing sideline while coaching Michigan Tech last season.
“That’s how you define a true hockey player,” Pearson said. “When they enjoy practice and they can’t wait to get to the rink and get on the ice.”
Due to a nagging shoulder injury, though, Lockwood wasn’t on the ice quite as much as he would have liked last season. As a freshman, the forward quickly made a name for himself, finishing with 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists — good for second on the team in all three categories. But the injury kept Lockwood out of five games, and restricted him at times when he did play.
During the offseason, Lockwood had surgery on his shoulder, undergoing a multi-stage rehabilitation process he described as “pretty tedious.”
“After you get the surgery, a lot of it is getting your motion back, so that’s the first month,” Lockwood said. “Then getting some strength into the muscle is the next couple of months, and then after that it’s strengthening it past what it was so you can prevent it from happening again.”
But Lockwood did see a silver lining in being limited, and at times, sidelined last year. The injury helped him understand the need to continue adding facets to his game and fine-tuning his technical skills alongside his raw athletic attributes.
“I like to play a very physical style,” Lockwood said. “(I) kind of have to shy away from that a little bit more this season. It’s not going to change the way I play in the corners or the way I have confidence going into the dirty areas, but I think the game’s changed a lot, where it’s a lot of speed and skill. So that’s something I want to focus on a little more this year.
“The game’s always changing, and that’s the side of the game that everyone’s adapting to right now, so I’m going to try to use my strength, my speed and skill to my advantage.”
And Lockwood has plenty to use to his advantage. He’s one of the Wolverines’ fastest skaters — Pearson describes him as “explosive” and “dynamic.” Pearson’s new offensive system also plays into Lockwood’s biggest strengths by emphasizing quick movement.
Michigan caught a glimpse of that Saturday against Western Ontario. Halfway through the second period, Lockwood tore after the puck on a breakaway and was brought down near the Mustangs’ goal. On the ensuing penalty shot, Lockwood smoothly sped towards goal, deked right and calmly deposited the puck into the net for a 4-0 Wolverine lead.
Considering his substantial physical gifts, a more refined — not to mention fully healthy — Lockwood has the potential to be a dominant offensive force for Michigan this season. But even if that were not the case, his passion and work ethic have already won Pearson’s endearment.
“A lot of guys think they’re players or want to be a player,” Pearson said. “But you have the guys that really, really, really want to be players, and there’s a difference.
“He’s full out. There’s no halfway or taking drills off, he’s full out all the time. He’s just a hockey player.”