College hockey is back.
It’s taken eight months, a delayed start date and drafts upon drafts of schedules, but we’re finally here. On Saturday, the Michigan hockey team will play its first game since Mar. 7.
For nearly the entirety of those eight months, it was obvious that whatever form the 2020-21 season took, it would look a lot different. There will be no fans in the stands. No non-conference games, save for four against Arizona State, essentially an honorary member of the Big Ten this season. No highly-anticipated return to Michigan Tech for Michigan coach Mel Pearson.
We could dwell on all that we’re going to miss this season. But instead, let’s focus on all of the positives this season will bring. Because there are a whole lot of them.
Sure, there’s nothing like the atmosphere at Yost on a Friday or Saturday night. But with no fans allowed in arenas, there’s no need for every game to be played on a Friday or Saturday night. Six of the Wolverines’ first 10 games will be played on Sundays through Thursdays. And that means much more TV exposure for this Michigan team.
“Hopefully we’ll have more than our share of games on television,” special advisor to the commissioner and former Michigan coach Red Berenson said when the Big Ten first released its plans for the season on Oct. 6. “You might be able to get back to playing midweek games if your opponent weren’t too far away.”
Of the Wolverines’ first 10 games, four will be televised on Big Ten Network or Fox Sports Detroit — all four on non-traditional playing days. That number should increase in the winter, too, when football season is over and Saturday games have less competition for air time.
And what better year than this one to be able to watch these games? Besides the obvious reason that fans can’t attend in-person, this Michigan team should be a fun one to watch.
The Wolverines have one of the most talented teams in the country, with a highly-touted freshman class highlighted by forwards Matty Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau, Brendan Brisson and Kent Johnson and defenseman Owen Power, as well as returning first-round NHL draft picks in sophomore forward Johnny Beecher and sophomore defenseman Cam York.
We’ll get to see Power tap into his full potential, the potential that has led to comparisons to Victor Hedman. We’ll get to see York run the power-play and Beecher step into the role of top-line center. Maybe we’ll even get to see Johnson score a Michigan goal.
Early on, these guys should have plenty of opportunities to show off their immense skill. Pearson expects some mistake-ridden hockey at the beginning of the season which will lead to high-scoring games.
“Summer hockey habits, it’s hard to correct those in practice with your players,” Pearson said. “You can work all you want, but we got to play some games and then you can see where you’re at, see the mistakes, and then show your players.”
And with the addition of Arizona State to the Big Ten schedule this year, we’ll never have to go a week without Michigan playing hockey. In years past, the seven-team makeup of the conference has resulted in one team not playing each weekend.
“I was happy for it. I think our players were happy too,” Pearson said. “They don’t want a weekend off. They want to play. We’ve had enough time off. Between March 12 and now, we don’t need any more time off from games, we all want to play games.”
There’s no doubt COVID-19 has put a bit of a damper on the 2020-21 season. There’s always the risk that games are postponed or canceled due to an outbreak. There won’t be an opportunity to see how the Wolverines stack up against the rest of the country until the NCAA Tournament, if they qualify. There will be no Children of Yost at home games to throw traffic cones on the ice after a hat trick.
But this unique season promises to bring lots of excitement — maybe more than in a normal year. So let’s shift our attention away from all that’s lacking this season.
Let’s enjoy what we’ve got.
Kingsley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @j_kingsley13.
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