Health is pivotal for any team to succeed.
This season, there’s an obvious emphasis on staying healthy and continuing to test negative for COVID-19. So far, the Michigan hockey team has done its part. On Monday, Michigan coach Mel Pearson confirmed there have been no cases since full practice resumed in September.
But with the season set to begin this weekend, the Wolverines must also confront a challenge they face every year, pandemic or not — maintaining their physical health.
This year, players’ recovery will be even more critical because the schedule includes weekday games.
“Everything’s different but the main thing for our players is to understand that this won’t be normal,” Pearson said. “We have to embrace it and just be thankful we get the opportunity.”
The Big Ten announced the first part of their conference-only schedule last week. With no fans in attendance, schedule-makers chose to break away from two-game series in the traditional Friday-Saturday spot and play weekday games, too.
Players only recently found out that weekday games would be a part of this season. In addition to COVID-19, it’s another hurdle the Wolverines must navigate.
“I guess there’s really no way to prepare to be playing a game on a Saturday and then three days later, having to play again,” sophomore forward Nick Granowicz said. “I think it’s just something we’re going to come out to be mentally ready for, but I think physically we’re doing a good job.”
Added sophomore defenseman Cam York: “(It’s) going to be a big challenge for us but at the end of day it’s just about taking care of your body and treating it the right way.”
How Michigan handles the schedule crunch will be put to the test right away. The Wolverines open the season with two games against Arizona State this Saturday and Sunday and then after just three off days, they’ll take on Wisconsin. Following that series, Michigan plays Notre Dame on Nov. 27 and 28 and then takes on Penn State just four days later on Dec. 2 and 3.
“You’re playing four games in seven days instead of four games over the 14 days,” Pearson said. “In practice, it’s going to be completely different, we will not have the preparation time that we normally do. So that’s why it’s been so important to have a good fall.”
The lack of practice and increased intensity of games will put a strain on the team. Players are making a concerted effort to stay in shape as the grind of the season will quickly pick up.
The coaches are preaching a simple motto: rest and recovery. How the team carries this out is a matter of personal preference.
“Some guys get needles in their legs, some guys get cupping on their back, rolling out,” Granowicz said. “Everyone kind of has their own thing. Whatever is going to make them the most prepared to get in the next game.”
Getting lots of sleep and stretching are more good habits players follow. Some — including York — like to hop in the ice bath.
Players must also handle the mental fatigue of the season. They’ll have to push through every game, even with the ever-present threat of outbreaks and cancellations.
There is a lot of uncertainty, but ultimately they’ll just have to roll with the punches — as long as they recover accordingly.
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