There’s a common phrase often heard around the Michigan hockey team’s practices. 

“When the time to perform has arrived,” says coach Mel Pearson, “the time to prepare is long gone.”

Following a split in their first regular season contests — a 3-1 win Friday against St. Lawrence and 3-0 loss Saturday at Clarkson — the Wolverines are looking to take full advantage of fall break and a bye week to prepare for their first home series next weekend against Vermont.

“I’m really looking forward to this week and next week,” Pearson said. “We get nine quality practice opportunities and it’s a ‘get-better week.’ We have to approach each and every opportunity to get better, and we will.”

During the preseason, coaches were allowed just two hours weekly to lead practice, leaving players to finish drills on their own — which Pearson believes may have contributed to a “drop-off” in speed and concentration near the tail end of practices. Before its trip to upstate New York, Michigan had merely four standard practices.

But with the regular season now underway, coaches have begun running practices for up to 20 hours weekly, a valuable teaching and learning opportunity for the new staff.

“You can do a lot more coaching, which is nice,” Pearson said. “You can take your time in doing drills. You don’t have to just rush, rush, rush. Now you have a little bit more time. If you need to slow it down, you can. We want high-tempo practices, but at the same time, we can stop drills and correct them. I felt that in two hours it was hard to do that because you have to go right to the next drill because of the limited time.

“I think the players really feel good about that too. They want to be coached. They want to play at a high level and a high pace all the time. As much as you think they can do that on their own, they still need that leadership or that direction, so now we’ve been able to provide that, which is good.”

A blended team of newcomers and veterans, the Wolverines are still grasping new systems under Pearson. In his first three games — including the 10-1 exhibition victory Sep. 30 over Western Ontario — Michigan experimented with new formations in game speed.

The next nine practices will focus on further developing and executing those schemes.

“A lot of it is new and a lot of it will be a little bit to adjust to,” said sophomore forward Will Lockwood. “But I think it’s going to help us in the long run for sure.

“(The coaches) give us all the tools to succeed on the ice and in the games. And now it’s up to us to prepare and to be ready going into the weekend.”

Pearson is confident his team, specifically the freshmen, will start to grow into a routine of efficiently preparing each week for upcoming series. After focusing mainly on defense one week to puck protection and penalty killing the next, the Wolverines will have ample time to assess and enhance many aspects of their game — especially the power play, after a disappointing 0-for-8 showing against Clarkson — before hosting the Catamounts.

“Well, we’re going to have to continue working on our special teams, especially five-on-threes,” Pearson said. “We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work on those … but those are huge momentum swings in the game, and if we can score one on that, then we’re right back in.”

So, when it’s time to perform and win games and the time to prepare is indeed long gone, Pearson hopes his motivational maxim will resonate with his team.

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