Sitting in a waiting area outside of his office, Mel Pearson’s mind wandered to Mo Farah.
Farah is a distance runner who represented Great Britain in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, running the 10,000 meters.
He came in the favorite and came out winning gold — his fourth.
The track event, the distance runner and his accolades have little to do with the Michigan hockey team, yet when Pearson brought up the athlete while discussing the team’s offensive struggles, there was no confusion on why.
The Wolverines are no favorites, nor has this group of players won it all even once — let alone multiple times. But it was the events within the race that drew the comparison from Pearson.
Farah had fallen midway through the run after getting clipped on the back of his heel by another runner during the 10th lap. It wasn’t intentional, nor was it Farah’s fault. But as a result, the British runner fell, costing him his pace and place.
“He could have just laid there,” Pearson said. “Already had his gold, was knocked down, but he got up and ended up winning.
“Once you get knocked down and sometimes it seems like it’s hard to get back up, but that’s all we have to do.”
It was the type of tenacity Pearson has seen in the Michigan players during their current power-play slump.
Against Minnesota, the Wolverines went 0-for-9 on power plays, reflecting the pains of their overall lack of offensive production for the weekend. Four of the man-advantages went without a single shot on goal for Michigan. The team just couldn’t find a breakthrough on offensive special teams.
And it derives from a multitude of reasons. There was no single answer, as Pearson liked to put it, or else he would have it fixed. But something that stuck out to him was the unnatural way the puck moved — “choreographed,” in his words.
Having things forced goes hand-in-hand with the mentality of players as the goals refuse to drop. There’s a hill to climb for players, forwards in particular, when their role is to score goals, and they can’t. So, to combat the mental stain the scoring drought has, the team practices with more figurative weight on their sticks so that when gametime comes, those weights are removed, and feel a little more natural.
“I just say a little bit more of a sense of urgency to do the little things right in practice,” said sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg. “So when it comes to the game, we’re not gripping our sticks too tight or then we can just go out there and have the confidence to make the right place and not be nervous or anything.
“I think we’ve just been preaching, ‘Yeah, you know, to talk going our way can’t feel bad for ourselves.’ ”
It’s easy to get crestfallen when the losses start piling up, and the goals don’t. But the team mentality on the crux of the struggle is the same. Play through it, because the process is exactly what it’s supposed to be.
“But I think soon it’s gonna start coming,” Blankenburg said. “The offense and we just gotta stick to good team defense and the rest will come.”
Pearson had seen it before, even in his most successful year as Michigan’s coach. Coming in with seniors Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone on the power play, it wasn’t hard to see why that unit brought so much success. But even that dominant line had its times of trouble, as Pearson likes to remind the team. No matter how good you are, adversity is going to hit even the best of players.
“And even at times when you’re rolling and know you have a good power play it struggles at times,” Pearson said. “I think my first year, Cooper and Tony and those guys are really good. But we went through, you know, moments where we weren’t very good, and we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Added Blankenburg: “Sometimes the pucks just aren’t going in and that’s on the power play, even strength. I think it just happens. And that’s part of the adversity that we’re going to face (as) the year goes on.”
And it’s more than just not scoring goals.
Part of adversity is the doubt — the fear that the gameplans, the strategies, the systems just aren’t working. But as Michigan falls deeper in the hole, it’s the belief in the process that keeps them running on through.
“There’s a ton of example, you know, adversity,” Pearson said. “I mean, if you call this real adversity by not scoring any goals? We’ll be fine.”