The Michigan hockey team didn’t watch any film of its opponents this week.
Rather, the Wolverines spent this past week working on improving themselves. They didn’t focus on game-day activities — established lines, for example — instead emphasizing individual improvement.
“We can focus on ourselves every day,” said junior forward Dexter Dancs. “It’s an extra week to really figure out some problems we have, go out and solve them.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Michigan avoided a competitive atmosphere this past week. On Friday and Saturday, the Wolverines participated in 3-on-3 drills, organized by Michigan coach Red Berenson to make up for the lack of a weekend series.
The Wolverines also spent the week seeking to maintain their momentum from their shootout victory over Michigan State last Saturday, something that could be challenging during a week with no games. Especially for a team like Michigan — one that desperately needs to improve its record in order to make a run at the NCAA Tournament — playing in consecutive weeks might help its case.
While postseason play may seem like lofty goal for the struggling Wolverines, it is on the minds of the players.
“We’re sitting on the bigger picture right now,” said freshman goaltender Jack LaFontaine. “As this team right now, we’re talking about six weeks down the road, ‘How are we gonna feel? How are we gonna play? What are people going to say about us? What’s gonna be the outcome?’
“Six weeks is the Big Ten Tournament, and we want to be ready. I think with the leadership in the locker room, that’s possible. I think we have the ability to be an elite team not only in the Big Ten, but in the entire country.”
The past week’s time off allowed Michigan’s players to relax their bodies from game action, but not from intense practices. The Wolverines hit the weight room three times this week, an increase from their usual amount.
For Berenson, though, the bye week meant giving his team the opportunity to improve on essential aspects of its game that need improvement — most prominently, its shot selection.
“I want their shots to be on the net instead of over the net or miss the net,” Berenson said. “Let’s work at getting our shots away quicker. Let’s work at taking a pass and shooting it right away without over handling it. A lot of the little details of hockey, we can do some of those things in practice that take a little bit more time than we can afford to give in a regular game week.”
The coaching staff also had the chance to experiment with some new strategies with the Wolverines. The extended practice period allowed the staff and players ample opportunity for trial and error.
Most importantly, though, the bye week gave Michigan a time to rest. While the Wolverines still practice every day, it gave a team seeming to battle with injuries a necessary week to recuperate before the final stretch of its season.
“The body is not getting physically beat up,” Dancs said. “… Some players have problems that it’s good to get a couple weeks off so they can rest their body.”
Added LaFontaine: “(Everyone’s) a little bit tired, it gives us extra time to relax, get our feet under ourselves.”
Because the Wolverines had no opponent Friday night, the players could solely focus on making themselves better. The film watching would come the following week, but fine-tuning the basic hockey skills would come in the present.
This self-improvement might be what Berenson enjoys most of the bye-week. The players never asked their coach who would be playing or who would be starting. They could just focus on shooting, clean passing and aggressive defense.
“(In a game week) you’ve got the pressure of things you’ve gotta get better at,” Berenson said. “Sometimes you’ve gotta forget about worrying about all the other pressure builders or concerns. … We (didn’t have) the mental anxiety of ‘Geez I hope I’m in the lineup on Thursday. I hope the coach tells me at the meeting on Thursday I’m playing.’ No pressure this week. Just practice hard and have fun.”
Added Dancs: “… That’s really beneficial for a player. Things like that can really affect a player. … You’re not thinking about the game on Monday of the first week as much you would on Monday if you’re playing on Friday.”
As Michigan transitions to its game week against rival No. 8 Ohio State, the film watching will begin. Set lines will start to formulate and the focus will turn to the Buckeyes. For the past week, though, the Wolverines focused on themselves and having an enjoyable time, free from the stresses of ranked opponents.
“In this bye week, morale is high,” LaFontaine said. “The boys are positive, coaches are honest, and they are keeping a competitive nature. Honestly, it’s awesome to have a bye week. You get to improve on things you won’t usually do in another week.”
And the Wolverines can only hope that the morale will last for the next six weeks.