When Joseph Cecconi sat down for a press conference after Saturday’s shootout loss to Michigan State, he was clearly disappointed in the weekend’s results.
The senior defenseman knew that the No. 15 Michigan hockey team had expected to come away with more than one point in two games against the Spartans, who entered the weekend firmly at the bottom of the Big Ten.
“We just talked to the team, it’s unacceptable,” Cecconi said Saturday. “It’s a big rivalry against Michigan State, and you want those six points and you only come out with one. (It’s) not where we wanted to go with that.”
The Wolverines have fought for team-wide commitment throughout this season. It was this weekend’s series, however, that may have been the proverbial last straw for Cecconi. According to Michigan coach Mel Pearson, Cecconi doesn’t speak his mind to the team very often, despite being its captain.
But after this weekend’s series, he had something to say.
“After the game, me and the other captains and then (senior forward) Brendan Warren, we all had a little bit of information, our little piece of mind that we wanted to let the team know,” Cecconi said. “The weekend was unacceptable in all of our minds, and we just wanted to talk and figure some things out. Lay a foundation and things like that, just so we know our expectations going into next weekend.”
The expectations, both from Cecconi and from Pearson, are fairly simple. Each member of the team needs to buy in to Pearson’s system and commit to team defense.
Both player and coach believe that once individual buy-in comes, the consistency will follow and Michigan will start to perform at the level it was expected to when the season began.
“We have a lot of skilled players,” Cecconi said. “We might need some of them to buy into the system a little bit more. Same with the younger guys, same with pretty much everyone. Everyone needs to get on the same page and once that happens, we’re gonna be a very good team, because we have the skill.”
Getting players to buy in to the system has been something Pearson has talked about since the first game of the year. Especially now that the Wolverines are facing some adversity, it seems that is more important than ever.
“We still have to get the buy-in from everybody,” Pearson said. “I think we’re still — sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you try to take things into your own hands and not just play within the systems and whatnot. We have competitors, and they want to win. They have to understand that we just gotta keep playing together and then we’ll be okay.”
The Wolverines are now in a similar place to where they were last season at this time. They haven’t won a game since Nov. 16, but each game has been close. One of the losses came in overtime, two came in shootouts and one was in regulation. All were decided by one goal.
Last year, they started stringing wins together in January and ended up in the Frozen Four. It was then-captain Tony Calderone who called the team together at that time and told them that they needed to start winning or they wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Cecconi hopes he’s the one that turns things around.
“I think he had the whole team and just told them that winning can become a habit, but so can mediocrity, and we just want to make sure that doesn’t — they just don’t accept that,” Pearson said. “I think that’s what he’s trying to say, and that’s our message to them.”