Limited ice time, no locker room access and lots of Tik Toks.
It’s been an unprecedented and longer-than-usual offseason for Michigan as it continues to await the announcement of a hockey season. The Wolverines will get ready to face tough Big Ten competition — and a lot of it. While no schedule is set, the expectation is to play a conference-only season at some point this winter.
“When the game gets taken away from us in a situation like this did, it makes you hungrier,” associate head coach Bill Muckalt said. “I think there seems to be a genuine enthusiasm with our players to get back on ice.”
The coaching staff has emphasized that they’ve been focusing on the things they can control. That doesn’t just mean staying in shape and keeping attitudes positive — it’s also about testing negative. The captains have created protocols to try to keep a bubble as much as possible.
“So far they’ve done a great job,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I’m really proud of the job that they’ve done, and to this point. They’ve been excellent.”
At least some semblance of normalcy is returning to Yost Ice Arena. This week, Michigan will go back to a full 20 hours of ice time — up from just four hours per week allotted by the last round of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Obviously with only the four hours you gotta select the things that you want to do and use all your time towards that,” junior forward Jimmy Lambert said. “We’ll have a little bit more time to work on systems, power play and other special teams stuff so that’ll be a benefit to get ahead of a couple other teams in the Big Ten.”
Trying to practice amid the pandemic has been an evolving task. When they could get on the ice, they were playing in smaller groups with masks on. Outside of the rink, players prepared for the season by lifting in their garage and playing roller hockey.
Michigan is working diligently to make up for the ice time they missed the past few months. But they also must be careful about staying safe because otherwise they’ll be set back further.
“You know how important it is to do the right thing away from the rink, so that we can have a season and we don’t have to get shut down like you’ve seen in some other schools and programs,” Pearson said.
Another challenge for the Wolverines is preparing for a season when they don’t know the start date. The team wants to be ready for game action, but not over do it too quickly.
“If you know when your start date is for your first game (you) usually work backwards. You know how much time (you have) and what you need to work on,” Pearson said. “But in this case, with not knowing what the start date is, it’s become a little more demanding and what you need to do is try to make sure we’re not burning them out here before we start.”
It’s difficult, but the team is using its imagination to help make things work. The players and coaching staff are all committed to instilling the team culture and also holding everyone accountable to try and stay healthy. With the team being able to hold full practices again, there is at least some sense of normalcy returning to Yost Ice Arena. The next step is getting an actual season to prepare for.
“We just want to get going,” Pearson said. “Tell us when and where and let’s drop the puck.”
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