Friday night’s 3–0 drubbing at the hands of No. 8 Penn State certainly left much to be desired for the No. 3 Michigan hockey team.
The Wolverines suffered a biting shutout result in their second loss of the season. The Nittany Lions domineered every aspect of the game, giving the formerly No. 1 program in the nation a taste of its own high-powered medicine. Michigan suffered a blow it had yet to experience this season.
Surrendering an oppressive 49 shots, the Wolverines ran the risk of letting their opening-night depression sink even deeper the following day as they faced Penn State again. But for Michigan, living in the present gives a presence of mind.
“Kent (Johnson) always used to say: ‘Be a goldfish,’ ” sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich said. “Like how their memories are short term, … you just gotta leave it behind you.”
It would appear that the Wolverines had much to remember. After finding themselves out-battled for 60 minutes on Friday, there were ample mistakes to hold onto. Allowing previous mistakes to dominate the Wolverines’ outlook could have destroyed their confidence, dooming them to suffer another loss. Yet Kent Johnson’s goldfish mentality prevailed.
For Samoskevich and Michigan, failure is never final. And in the case of Saturday’s matchup against Penn State, the only way to move forward was to look forward.
“You don’t learn about yourself when things are going well,” assistant coach Rob Rassey said. “It’s when you get knocked down. It’s when you get punched in the face.”
After the Wolverines took a knock-down punch, they had to stand back up.
It began with the coaches. As the post-game process concluded, Michigan coach Brandon Naurato and his staff analyzed the game film, preparing their narrative for the following day’s team meeting. After every game one, the coaches formulate a through-line and build a context for the players to understand what went right, what went wrong and where to go next.
“You kind of find what you’re made of a little bit in those moments,” Rassey continued. “One of the things we had talked a lot about to our team going into the game was how our guys were going to respond.”
That response didn’t come at the next game’s puck drop. Rather, the preparation for Saturday began Friday night. After the final whistle blew, the next 18 hours became almost as important for winning as the game itself.
Players engaged in post-game recuperation of different varieties. Some slept, some relaxed, but all worked to recalibrate in order to succeed. Once the morning rolled around, players and coaches reunited for film review and a team meeting. From there, the goldfish mentality becomes the growth mentality.
At the three o’clock pre-game meeting, Friday’s game turns into a tool as the film session evolves into a pregame amp-up. Growth is the priority and mistakes don’t sting — they instruct.
“Part of being an athlete is you have to be able to live in the present,” Rassey said. “Just be in the present and focus on what’s in front of you. I think being able to learn from the past and have that mindset of learning and having a growth mindset of, ‘How is that going to help me get better? And what do I need to do to get better?’ And then I’m going to go execute it.”
The growth mentality is integral to Naurato’s philosophy. And his penchant for failing forward received its first true test this past weekend. After a night of poor execution on Friday, Saturday presented an opportunity to rewrite the narrative.
And although it may have not been written exactly to plan, 60 minutes later, the Wolverines rebounded with a win. Cutting Penn State down to 35 shots, Michigan aligned its defense and regained its footing. On the other end, where they had once found a shutout, the Wolverines netted four goals. The film review, the team meetings and the goldfish mentality paid dividends.
“Obviously we didn’t start the weekend like we wanted to,” senior defenseman Jay Keranen said. “But we had a big bounce back and a little lapse there in the third, but we found a way.”
When the dust settled, Michigan reclaimed the bounce-back it needed.
Nevertheless, the growth mindset never leaves. It goes both ways — win or loss, the past is the past, and the path to success lies in the present.
They didn’t let the loss drag them down. Like a goldfish, they just kept swimming.