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When then-freshman forward Nick Granowicz arrived on campus last fall, he wasn’t in perfect game shape. His mother’s passing mere weeks earlier had understandably put him behind in offseason workouts. 

As a result, he struggled to earn playing time early in the season. But as he continued to work himself back into shape, he slowly started to show up on the ice more and more. Soon enough, he became a regular part of the Michigan offense, and things started to click for him.

“I wasn’t too nervous to play (late in the season),” Granowicz said. “And I wasn’t trying to do too many things, I just kind of stuck to what I felt like I was good at and what I could do best to help the team, and kind of just got rewarded for going to the net.” 

In mid-January, the rewards started to show. He scored two goals in a 4-4 tie against Penn State on Jan. 18 — his late mother’s birthday. Three weeks later, he netted a hat trick against Wisconsin, and on Feb. 29, he scored a late goal that clinched home ice for the Wolverines in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Before COVID-19 cut the end of the season short, he was a player getting hot at the right time. 

This season, Granowicz is set to take a big step forward. With a full offseason of work under his belt (albeit one complicated by the pandemic), he is primed to contribute more offensively and earn more time on the ice. 

“He’s so much farther along than he was last year,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Now that doesn’t guarantee anything, but he looks good. Stronger, in a better place mentally.”

That added strength will be key if Granowicz does take that next step. Most of his production came from down low last season — his first career goal literally bounced off his head while he was jostling for position in front — so his ability to out-muscle opponents and get situated outside the crease should pay dividends for the Wolverines’ offense. 

Of course, his competition for playing time could also be much tougher this season. Michigan’s lineup will feature a top-ranked freshman class that includes five forwards, and players and coaches have emphasized that the competition level is higher this year than in years past. 

“We think the practices have been through the roof,” sophomore defenseman Cam York said. “I think we have a lot of skill on this team. I think last year we had a lot of size and were kind of focused on trying to wear teams down, and I think this year we’re gonna wear teams down with our skill and playmaking abilities.”

On the other hand, there are also plenty of spots for Granowicz to fill in. The Wolverines’ top three scorers from last season — all forwards — have graduated. While he might not have the same elite potential as the team’s freshmen, Granowicz brings a full season of experience and could definitely turn some heads while the youngsters adapt to the college game.

And this time, Granowicz won’t need the first few weeks of the season to get back into shape. If he’s able to keep up the rhythm he developed near the end of last season, he’ll be a dangerous part of Michigan’s offense. 

“Once he got in shape, he really turned the corner,” Pearson said. “ … Obviously, he’s in great shape now, so he’s ready to go.”

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