This past weekend for the No. 4 Michigan hockey team, a familiar face returned to the lineup. On Friday against Lake Superior State, sophomore defenseman Ethan Edwards took the ice for the first time this season. A defensive stalwart last season, Edwards suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for the opening month of play.
Shaking off the rust quickly, Edward’s presence hardly went unnoticed. The defenseman made his mark early and often in his first game back, engaging in his high-flying style of play that the Wolverines have missed since last year’s Frozen Four.
Still, Edwards feels as though he has yet to fully regain all aspects of his game. In his second season, the key for Edwards to fully rejoin the team is not just about his health, but also to hit his stride.
“I haven’t played a game since Boston last year,” Edwards said. “So it’s been a long time. I got not only jitters, but I just gotta start working on dialing my game back in.”
At first glance, it seemed as though Edwards’ game was fully back. The defenseman wasted no time flashing his signature speed against the Lakers, notching two breakaway opportunities through his first two games. Though he was unable to capitalize on both chances, Edwards’ physical health was apparent.
For Edwards though, his game transcends purely physical aptitude. Edwards plays his game best when he harnesses his speed selectively, employing his physical talent at his own discretion.
“Last weekend I was a little bit jumpy,” Edwards said. “A little excited — a little too excited, in some cases — to get up in the play. And that’s a big thing for me, this coming up weekend is just let the game calm down a little bit and that’ll really help out my game.”
At his best, Edwards doesn’t jump at every chance he sees. He lets the game come to him, and when he does, results follow. When Edwards works fluidly, so does everything else.
His excitement after so long off the ice is understandable. Being away from competitive hockey for over five months, Edwards chomped at the bit to rejoin his teammates. Nevertheless, the path back to being full-strength is a process — a mental and physical one.
And though his body may be in tune to the rigors of collegiate hockey, training the mind for what happens in-game is more tedious. And Michigan coach Brandon Naurato has emphasized that regeneration comes with time and discipline.
“Just try and don’t overthink it,” Naurato said. “Just play, make the simple plays and just do what you’re great at. Don’t try and do too much.”
Edwards’ mental grasp of the game is evident; however, in returning from an injury, especially while watching Michigan’s recent success, it is easy to run the risk of trying to play the hero. While Edwards’ talents give him the ability to be a threat at any moment, it’s his decision making and restraint that truly make him dangerous.
And in a small sample size, Edwards’ high caliber qualities have flashed. Late in the first period of the Wolverines second game of the series, Edwards showed the skills that bring his game to the next level: his ability to make the right play.
Collecting a pass at the blueline, Edwards flung a shot from the point that ricocheted above the net. Landing at sophomore forward Dylan Duke’s feet, a scrum of rebounding shots led to a goal by freshman forward Adam Fantilli.
Though Edwards didn’t power the goal alone, it’s the little decisions that lead to the largest differences — death by a thousand cuts. Edwards plays his best when his minute playmaking ability compounds into results — results, which for graduate forward Nolan Moyle, will come sooner, rather than later.
“He’s a great talent,” Moyle said. “And (he) works really hard and (is a) really good guy for our team. He was awesome last year and he’s going to continue to get better this year.”
Just two games into a new season of his own, Edwards is happy to be healthy again.
But he’s excited to hit his stride.