Brandon Naurato might have a one year contract, but his goals lie beyond the horizon.
Now captaining the ship for a Michigan hockey team that had a tumultuous offseason, Naurato doesn’t currently have a lengthy legacy, but he’s no stranger to the Wolverines. Naurato served as the assistant coach for Michigan last year, making his mark as an analytically driven innovator.
Innovations that he hopes will let him stay for the long haul.
“It’s so cliche,” Naurato said. “Everyone wants to love their job and show up every day and enjoy it, but we’re just really trying to build that.”
Naurato already has a vision for the foundation he’s laying. Though he was not the Wolverines’ head coach last year, the seed of his impact has already been planted. Last season, Michigan ran a prolific offense, thanks in part to Naurato. The Wolverines netted 167 goals, their most since 2015.
Naurato’s future success — and tenure — lies in his proven ability to get the most out of his players, something he hopes to continue.
“If we create a learning environment,” Naurato said. “Whether it’s the data or the video analysis or style of play, whatever, if they can take all these new things, and it’s, you know, everyone’s getting better.”
Getting better will be key. Naurato has already enlisted a mini-regiment of analytical foot soldiers. Comprised of analytics head Anthony Ciatti, four other consultants and a handful of Michigan students, Naurato expects results — results he knows he can get.
Naurato isn’t a fan of flashy gimmicks either. To him, analytics represent more than a shiny new tool; they’re the end game.
“If we build (an analytics department) internally, versus like the new $30 million rink and the underwater treadmill and all this fluff — like that’s great, like it sounds cool,” Naurato said. “But like if we build it up internally with the data, the video, the player development, the style of play … you have everything.”
With the departure of a variety of last year’s talent to professional hockey, “everything” could be a tall task. But if the Wolverines want to get there, Naurato believes this is the step in the right direction. It’s also a first step into relatively uncharted territory.
Under former coaches Red Berenson and Mel Pearson, the Wolverines’ analytics department was nearly, if not totally, nonexistent. Changing that could mean everything for Naurato.
In truth, Naurato’s future at Michigan means more than a couple of extra pucks in the back of the net this upcoming season. The Wolverines will be, inevitably, an offensively competitive team.
For Naurato, building an analytics department means cementing himself as the institutor and foundation of an entirely new institution. Naurato must build data-driven programs that are not only successful, but necessary, and predicate his presence as the leader of the team.
Any interim coach can manage a program. Naurato wants to build one.
“I’ve got this interim tag and I don’t think about it much, but I’m thinking about proving it this year,” Naurato said. “But also building for the future … taking as many steps forward as we should with doing all the other stuff.”
For a maligned program, steps forward are a breath of fresh air. Looking forward, whatever it may bring, is integral to both Naurato’s future, and Michigan’s.
Because you can bet Naurato is looking forward to the horizon, and he’s bringing his analytical style of hockey with him.