For Michigan hockey players, the academic expectations are lain out during the recruitment process.
Coach Red Berenson doesn’t take the subject lightly. If his athletes are becoming Wolverines on the ice, then they’re going to have to put in the work in the classroom as well.
“I’ve made it a priority that school is important,” said Berenson. “You’re not coming here just to play hockey, you’re coming here to go to school and I want you to get something out of this. This is a great school, and you’ve got to work hard to do well, and if you’re not interested in school, don’t come here.
“So we tell them that in the recruiting part of it, and then when they get here, they realize we mean it. Over the years, I have sat players out from practices or games or given them a week off and said, ‘Stay away until you get school straightened out.’ Whatever it takes so they know to me, school comes first.”
Michigan’s players face the ultimate challenge, then — not only do they have to balance the hectic and intense schedule of being a Big Ten athlete, but they also need to take their schoolwork seriously. And at a school like Michigan, that schoolwork can be exceptionally demanding.
Junior defenseman Sam Piazza can attest to this. As a student in the College of Engineering, Piazza has to take classes based heavily around math and science. He is also a student majoring in mechanical engineering, which means that he has to participate in labs with other students. These labs give students the project of building something, and are expected to complete the projects within their groups.
“I always grew up liking math and science, and when I applied here, I just applied to engineering, because I thought that if I didn’t like it, I could transfer out of it more easily than transferring into it,” Piazza said. “I ended up liking the intro classes and chose mechanical partially because they had the most class availability time-wise, but I do enjoy it. It’s working out really nicely.”
When Piazza was a freshman and sophomore, it was easier to balance his time between his academic schedule and hockey. This year, though, Piazza has found himself on the ice much more than he had his freshman and sophomore years, even notching the game-winning goal for the Wolverines’ first away game at Ferris State. So far this year, he’s tallied four assists and three goals.
There are days such as Tuesday where Piazza can be found in the lab for time frames as long as four hours before hockey practice. And on Fridays and Saturdays, Piazza can be found on the ice, battling for pucks and attempting to generate good opportunities for his teammates.
Despite the stark differences of these situations, though, Piazza has handled these responsibilities with maturity and dedication, and that is exactly what Berenson expects out of his players.
“He’s a good example of what we’re talking about, a kid that is totally engaged in a tough curriculum,” Berenson said. “We’ve had kids in the business school, we’ve had other engineers, we’ve had pre-med, and good for them. That’s what their passion is and they’ve been able to balance it with hockey. I’ve given them time off if they need it, (Piazza) hasn’t asked for any time off, but if they need time off for a study session or whatever, I’ll give them time off.
“He’s quietly just going about his business and doing really well. He’s a real good student and a serious player.”