The college hockey season is longer than most other sports. Spanning from the beginning of October to the end of April, there is plenty of time for players to get fed up with one another.
But that’s what the Michigan hockey team can’t afford if it is going to end its three-year drought without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Last season, and the two years before, multiple players said the team culture wasn’t strong enough. Cliques formed, and not everyone had each other’s back. But this summer, when junior forward JT Compher and senior forwards Boo Nieves and Justin Selman earned roles as the team’s captains, they immediately set out to create a new team culture.
“In my first few years, there were some cliques and some guys weren’t friendly enough, I believe,” Nieves said. “What Selman, JT and I have tried to do is take some guys you normally wouldn’t to lunch, that kind of thing.”
And according to sophomore defenseman Cutler Martin, the new culture is noticeable.
“Guys are getting along really well,” Martin said. “I could call any one of my teammates to go have breakfast, and that’s a good feeling. You can’t always do that. You can talk to anyone about anything.
“The season is super long, and it’s important from a day-to-day perspective to be friends, because you want to have a good relationship together and (be) united in the same cause.”
But how exactly does off-ice chemistry translate to on-ice results? According to Nieves, a stronger friendship leads to greater trust, so when Michigan is down late in the third period, each player knows he can lean on another.
“When you’re struggling, you can always look to a friend, not just a teammate,” Nieves said.
Junior forward Tyler Motte agreed with Nieves, and added that the pace of practice has been outstanding. Michigan just hopes that it will translate into wins.
COLORADO COMPHER: JT Compher had a strange offseason. He was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Colorado Avalanche before he even suited up for an NHL game.
The junior captain was part of the Ryan O’Reilly blockbuster trade. When Buffalo drafted Compher in 2013, he was expected to be a centerpiece of the future. That’s why it was a strange feeling for Compher when he heard the news.
“It was a weird experience,” Compher said. “It’s much different and easier when you’re 20 years old and in college. It’s not like I was living (in Buffalo) with a family or anything like that.
“It does change my future a little, but right now it doesn’t change too much. I just went to Colorado for prospects camp and just tried to get the know the staff there.”
As an added bonus, Compher said, the Avalanche’s director of player development is a Michigan alum. That familiarity helped him ease into Denver.
NHL CAMPS: Last summer, just a few Wolverines attended the team’s NHL prospect development camps. According to Motte, players wanted to stay in Ann Arbor and work with each other in Michigan instead of travel to camps.
This past summer, though, the game plan changed, and 15 Wolverines attended NHL development camps.
“Last summer, most guys thought it was best for them to stick around and focus on what was going on in Ann Arbor,” Motte said. “But this summer, guys are getting closer to making the jump and want to become comfortable with their team.”
Not only that, Motte reiterated, but there are “huge positives” to attending these camps.
“You compete against bigger, stronger, older guys,” he said. “That never hurts.”