When college athletes talk about how much they love their school, it usually comes across as canned or cheesy — almost like it was the kind of thing they were encouraged to say, not their true feelings.

But when Jake Gingell tells you how much he loves Michigan hockey, it’s clear he means it.

Sitting in Yost Ice Arena discussing his journey, the normally confident, emphatic freshman defenseman turns quiet. In a voice much softer than usual, he’s happy to talk about what the Wolverines mean to him.

“I still wake up sometimes and feel like it’s a dream,” Gingell said. “I love every second of it.”

Gingell’s journey to play at Michigan started in Sept. 2013, when he committed to play for Mel Pearson, then head coach at Michigan Tech.

But in the fall of 2017, just a few weeks before Pearson began his first season at the helm of the Wolverines, Gingell flipped his commitment to Michigan.

“(Pearson’s) the main reason why I came here,” Gingell said. “(Pearson) and (Michigan assistant coach Bill Muckalt) were both coaches that recruited me originally to go to Michigan Tech, so once they came here, I just thought it would be best that I came here with them as well when they gave me that opportunity.”

What made Gingell’s decision to join the Wolverines even sweeter was the fact that he’s a native of Dexter, Mich., which is just about 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor. After playing four years of junior hockey in the USHL — two years in Omaha, Neb. and two years in Youngstown, Ohio — Gingell was ready to be closer to home.

And the proximity to home wasn’t the only thing drawing Gingell to Ann Arbor. His cousin, Jason Gingell, was a kicker for the Michigan football team from 2005-07.

“I always grew up watching Michigan hockey,” Gingell said. “My cousin played football here, so I’ve just always been a fan of Michigan. He’s a lot older than me, too, so it’s been for a long time.”

When Pearson first started recruiting Gingell, he was impressed with the young player’s attitude. And throughout his junior career, Gingell continued to display the attitude that caught Pearson’s eye. It was one of the biggest reasons Pearson gave Gingell the chance to come to Michigan with him.

“First and foremost, it’s just the character,” Pearson said. “He’s just dripping with character. He’s a hard-working, honest, humble young man. And then to put on top of that, that’s how he plays the game of hockey, too. He plays with some grit and determination. He’s an honest hard worker, and he’s a leader.”

That hard-working character has been tested somewhat this season as Gingell has dressed for only one game, which was on Nov. 3 against Lake Superior State. He was listed as the seventh defenseman — the one who plays without a partner and doesn’t have consistent shifts.

But behind the scenes, in practice, his work ethic hasn’t wavered.

It’s taken Gingell a bit of time to adjust to college hockey, perhaps because of the two years he spent in Omaha playing in the USHL. On that team, his coach largely used him as an old-fashioned enforcer. The majority of his time on the ice — which wasn’t much — was spent fighting.

In 106 games for the Lancers, Gingell totaled 196 penalty minutes.

“He plays tough,” Pearson said. “He plays honest. He plays physical, and consequently, you get a lot of penalties. He’s a strong player. He’s probably, if not our grittiest player, he would be right there.”

Now, at Michigan, Gingell is expected to play with a bit more nuanced style. He’s spent the majority of the season working on his skating and puck-handling in practice.

Keeping a positive attitude when you aren’t getting in games is hard, but Gingell has stayed committed to making himself the best player he can be.

“You’ve just gotta try to improve in some way every day,” Gingell said. “Instead of feeling down on myself, I just try to pick something to improve on in practice every day. I think I’ve been doing that. I’ve been making crisper plays and been better with my hands and feet, and I just feel a lot better about practices.”

And his hard work is not going unnoticed.

“He’s made really good strides,” Pearson said. “He’s made some tremendous improvements so far. He had to get a little bit quicker, had to work on his hands and just handle the puck and do things a little bit faster and quicker and smoother with that, and he’s made tremendous strides in both those areas.”

Saturday morning, Pearson watched Gingell skate before the Wolverines’ game against Minnesota. He was struck by how much more comfortable Gingell looks on the ice. 

“Sometimes, it just takes a little bit longer for some players than others,” Pearson said. “But he’s got all the intangibles you look for.”

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