Coming into his freshman year with the Michigan hockey team, Frank Nazar III was expected to be a key contributor. A forward who put up 70 points in 56 games last season with the US National Team Development Program, he seemed destined for a top six role.
But injuries had another idea.
A lower body injury Nazar sustained in the offseason requires surgery, and he could be out of the lineup until February — the final month of the regular season. While he fights to rejoin the lineup, he’s also approaching another battle.
“We want to make sure his mental health is good,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said Tuesday. “It’s a big, big piece.”
Injuries take a physical toll on players, but the mental strain they cause has a similar effect. Naurato compared it to someone leaving home for college or being away from their family — a core part of Nazar’s life is temporarily inaccessible. Instead of lacing up his skates and throwing on pads for practice, Nazar is stuck at home. When his team leaves for road trips, he won’t be able to go with them.
Those changes add extra sting for any injured player, but they especially matter considering Nazar has never played in a game for the Wolverines. Not only is he unable to play, but he’s simultaneously trying to find his place on the team.
Out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, Nazar can still help his team in new ways. Michigan plans to have Nazar devote his time to film study once he’s recovered enough from his eventual surgery.
“(We’re having Nazar) keep watching his teammates, watching NHL clubs, maybe watch some of his old clips from last year,” Naurato said. “Just see what he did well and just start wrapping his brain around that as he starts training his physical body, mentally he’s gotta be good.”
Nazar can’t work on the ice with his injury, but the Wolverines hope he can stay involved behind the scenes. In addition to his time in the film room, Naurato told The Athletic’s Scott Powers that Nazar will help Michigan’s stats department during games, and Naurato explained the reasoning.
“Honestly (we’re) just trying to be there for him,” Naurato said. “And make sure that he’s good as we go through and keep him involved.”
While Nazar certainly wants to be back on the ice, his time in the video and stat rooms could shape his game in the meantime. Both allow him to explore the decision-making behind playing the game at high levels — from positioning and playmaking to the way he approaches a transition.
Considering the way scouts describe his game, honing in on his ability to draw defenders and create offense through his positioning and footspeed, Nazar should have no problem gleaning new perspectives from that work.
While scouting reports tend to pump up players’ abilities, spending time in the video room could also enhance the calculus behind Nazar’s game. More importantly, though, it allows him to be around his team during a difficult recovery. No player wants to face a long-term injury, but being near his teammates should ease the anguish.
For almost the entire season, Michigan will go without Nazar’s cerebral play and fast skating. It’s an irreplaceable loss, and while he hasn’t played a game yet, it will impact the lineup almost the entire season. But right now, the Wolverines aren’t focused on that loss.
They’re more worried about keeping Nazar involved.