After months of uncertainty, the Big Ten has a plan. Last Wednesday, it announced that Michigan’s hockey season could start as soon as Nov. 13, giving the team as little as 38 days to get ready for its first faceoff.
But as soon as the announcement was made, the mentality was there. The Wolverines have been preparing for this moment for months, increasing practice schedules and changing the structure as regulations change. Still, nothing quite compares to getting ready for a first game.
“It was tough without the start date because everyone wants to play so badly,” freshman forward Kent Johnson said. “Some days you get to the rink, you're just not as excited because you don't know if you’re gonna be playing or when. So now that there is a start date, I think you can just that kind of tell the vibe around the dressing room and on the ice, everyone’s just a little bit more excited.”
Before this week’s announcement, Michigan coach Mel Pearson said the biggest challenge was keeping the players motivated day-to-day and week-to-week — a difficult task when he was just as much in the dark as everyone else.
With no set timeline, Pearson juggled making sure the players were improving every day with preventing burnout.
“You’re trying to have some sort of schedule in place,” Pearson said. “If you know when your start date is — your first game — you usually work backwards, set how much time you have, what you need to work. But, in this case, with not knowing what the start date is, it’s become a little more demanding.”
Freshman defenseman Owen Power has been conscious of possibly burning out, but it’s not a major concern. He really just wants to play, and with a definitive start date now in mind, knows that the team needs to make every second count.
Pearson and his team kept the pressure up with weekly intra-team tournaments, but there’s no denying it — pandemic practicing hasn’t been the same.
“There’s no such thing as game shape unless you’re playing games, so everybody’s gonna be a little bit slower, ” sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini said. “Everybody’s gonna be a little bit out of shape.”
Ciccolini thinks the Wolverines will have a bit of an advantage because Michigan has been proactive about COVID-19 testing and he feels confident about the amount of ice time they’ve been able to have.
While Pearson also feels confident, he knows that there’s a time crunch, especially considering there are 10 freshmen on this year’s roster. It’s been difficult to be patient when he’s seen teams in other states — or even other parts of Michigan — practice with looser regulations.
Now that the Wolverines are back to a full practice schedule in Yost Ice Arena, it’s imperative that they make the most out of the time remaining. And everyone knows it.
“We’re just going to have to ramp it up even more probably,” Power said. “The competition level is high and probably only going to get higher.”
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