Tony Calderone found himself with the puck and a clear view of the net halfway through the second period of No. 20 Michigan’s game against Lake Superior State.
Sandwiched between two defenders, the junior forward had merely a split second to get his shot off — something he might not have been able to do last year.
But this season’s version of Tony Calderone spent all summer working on his timing, shooting an endless number of pucks to speed his shot up. He had noticed while watching his former teammates Tyler Motte and Kyle Connor last year that while the duo didn’t necessarily have the hardest shots, they were able to get it off quickly when under duress, and he wanted to add that to his offensive repertoire.
So on Friday, armed with a quicker shot, Calderone took the touch pass from linemate Dexter Dancs during a power play, spent just the briefest of moments controlling the puck with his stick and threw it on net as quickly as he could to beat the Laker goaltender five-hole.
It was his fifth goal of the year — he would score his sixth the following night — and while he is now tied for the team lead in goals as Michigan begins conference play, it hasn’t been easy for Calderone to transfer his work from the offseason to scoring goals. After all, shooting pucks on an empty rink is a bit different from the real thing.
In order to see the results he wanted on the ice, Calderone first had to fix his mindset.
“I was worried about making mistakes too much at the beginning of the year,” Calderone said Monday. “And (now) I’m kinda just starting to relax and making some confident plays, and it’s worked out.”
Added Michigan coach Red Berenson: “We’ve seen a little bit of (his new shot). That comes and goes with his confidence. Some players get the shot away quick and they don’t know where it’s going. When Tony is dialed in, he gets his shot away quick and he knows where it’s going. He can place the shot, he can beat the goalie with a good shot, top shelf or stick side or wherever he wants to shoot in. When he’s not dialed in, he gets his shot away and it might not hit the net. So that’s a part of it, too.”
Berenson and his staff had a preseason meeting with every player, and in Calderone’s case, the plan — a vision — was clearly laid out: Michigan needed him to produce.
Scoring goals is familiar territory for Calderone. After all, he had arrived in Ann Arbor with a reputation for lighting up the lamp. In 2012, he was the United States Hockey League’s first overall draft pick, and in 124 games between two seasons, he scored 53 goals.
That output failed to follow him to his first two seasons at Michigan, but it seemed only a matter of time before Calderone broke out. After the departures of players such as Motte and Connor, Calderone was in line for more playing time and more chances to display his new shot.
But goal-scoring wasn’t the only thing Berenson wanted from Calderone. He needed Calderone, one of the older and most experienced players on the team, to show the younger players the ropes. So Calderone sought to emulate the style of last year’s captain JT Compher, who Calderone says was “one of the best captains ever.”
“… (Calderone’s) an older junior, he’s probably the same age as our seniors, and so I think he’s got respect on the team,” Berenson said. “He’s a likeable guy, and I would say he’s a popular person in the locker room. So we need him to be a leader any way he can, even though he’s not a captain.
“… If you’re going to say something, you’ve gotta do it. You can’t just be a talker, and Tony knows that. It’s important, if you’re talking to another player about, ‘We gotta do this, we gotta do that,’ it starts with me.”
It may have taken some time for that transformation to take place, but it appears Calderone has got the hang of it now — and he just so happens to be seeing an uptick in production as well.
“When he scores, he gets more confidence, and then he plays better,” Berenson said. “Saturday, I thought, was his best game of the year. And he could’ve had four or five goals, the way that he worked hard, he was in the right place and the line was playing well. So I think it rubs off from what he does in the summer. And he’s a honest kid. He’s a kid that tries hard every day to be a good player, and when it all comes together, it shows up in his goal-scoring.”