Four rows from the ice at Munn Ice Arena, Will Lockwood laid back in his chair, forced to watch the game, once again, through the glass and from the stands. 

To his immediate left and right sat other teammates, extra players who weren’t dressing. But being grouped with fellow teammates who couldn’t make an impact wasn’t where Lockwood wanted to be.

Where he really wanted to be was a section over — where the visitor’s bench was filled with the remaining Michigan hockey players as they prepared for the Michigan State matchup.

He watched as his teammates warmed up without him for the third straight game. He watched alternate captain Luke Martin skate over to the referees and shake hands — a role normally reserved for Lockwood. 

And as he watched the puck drop and the battle between the two teams begin, that’s when it hit him. 

He’d lived this before, watching his teammates take the ice while he looked on from the sidelines. Lockwood missed the second half of his sophomore year due to a shoulder injury that kept him from his team’s run to the Frozen Four.

Back then, he felt resentment, unsatisfied by the defined success he was not a part of. But now, as senior captain, the emotions of being sidelined hit harder.

“I hate it,” Lockwood said. “I absolutely hate it, I go to the games and it’s really hard to watch especially when the team’s not doing well. I feel like I could be out there making an impact for my teammates.”

Unlike two years ago, Michigan needs his impact. Through six Big Ten games, the Wolverines have managed to earn only one conference point and sit 14 points behind first-place Penn State.

The struggles have been capped by a lack of offense, which, as a natural goal scorer, is where Lockwood’s impact would lie. Last year, Lockwood lead the team in scoring with 16 goals. This year, he’s tied for the lead with three despite missing the last three games. 

“It’s hard on Will,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “He’s really disappointed that he’s not in the battle with his friends and his teammates. I know it’d be nice to have our leading returning goal scorer in. But you can’t use that as an excuse. We have to find ways to win hockey games, but I know it’s tough on Will.”

Last Saturday’s loss was particularly hard for Lockwood to watch. Sitting in the stands, he couldn’t do anything but watch as his team surrendered a goal in the opening two minutes of the first period. He slid a little deeper into his chair. 

And being in Munn Ice Arena presented a unique challenge for him. Before the game, a throng of familiar faces came to greet him before settling down and sitting in adjacent seats. In addition, friends and family not only of his own but his teammates as well began to surround his seat. The noise and distractions naturally followed. But Lockwood wanted his full attention to be on the Wolverines on the ice. 

So, when he disappeared from sight after a period, it was apparent where he was going. He found a different point of view to watch from.

“Well, I was sitting in the stands,” Lockwood said. “And I couldn’t really focus on the game. I actually went over to the zamboni doors and watched for a little bit. Then I watched the third (period) from the bench to have the best view of the game and as little distraction as possible.”

His dedication to the team didn’t end with him playing pseudo-equipment manager behind the bench for a period. During the intermission, he followed the team into the locker room and addressed them.

“I just told the team we have to be a hard team to play against,” Lockwood said. “It’s a rivalry game. I thought a lot of guys worked really hard. I don’t think that’s exactly our issue. I think when you’re playing in a game like that, you’ve kind of got to have a chip on your shoulder. And play towards that rivalry. But have a bit of a chip on our shoulder and a bit of an ego during the game.” 

This weekend, he’ll return to the lineup and skate alongside his linemates, freshman forward Johnny Beecher and sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert. Having Lockwood back is no instant fix for Michigan’s offensive woes, but his presence can only help. 

The Wolverines need Lockwood. 

Shifting from the stands to the zamboni doors to the tunnel leading to the bench, Lockwood, inch by inch, worked his way back to his team.

As his health followed the same gradual progression, the team couldn’t be more ready for him to be back. And Lockwood’s ready to prove that he returned for a reason.

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