Jimmy Lambert remained on the ice.
Long finished was practice, players had come in, completed their drills and left thereafter.
Long gone were the coaches, who hurried off the ice to prep for the Michigan hockey team’s upcoming matchup.
But the sophomore forward was far from done.
He worked on shooting, rifling shots into the empty net. When he ran out of pucks, he collected them back up, and went again. And again. And again. Sometimes he’d spend up to 30 extra minutes on the ice, just firing the puck on target.
If you look at Lambert’s numbers, it’s clear why he’s putting in extra time.
He only has one goal this season, and he scored it almost three months ago. With just four total points, he’s tied for eighth on the team. Last year, he led the freshman class with 11. His name hasn’t been featured on the scoresheet since assisting on an empty net goal against Wisconsin on Dec. 1.
Lambert’s offensive statistics are emblematic of how the first half of the season went for the Wolverines: rough.
“Obviously the puck hasn’t gone in as much as I’d hoped,” Lambert said. “But when it doesn’t go in the net you’ve got to contribute in other ways.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done.
During the middle of November, Lambert switched positions from right wing to center. While not a transition he’d been anticipating, the Michigan coaches made sure their forwards were prepared to play in whatever role the team called upon them to play. Despite this expectation, having the trust of the coaches to fill a gap in the lineup gave Lambert the confidence boost he’d been in search of.
With a new role and a scoring slump, he decided to focus on the aspects of his game he could control. His backchecking and forechecking habits, faceoffs and ability to set up opportunities for his teammates.
“I think I made a lot of improvements in my game defensively,” Lambert said. “I think I’ve done a good job in the D-zone winning draws. I recently played on the penalty kill. Think it’s been good, really the only thing that could go a little better is scoring some goals.”
Last weekend at then-No. 14 Notre Dame, with the Wolverines leaving a prominent penalty killer in Dakota Raabe home in Ann Arbor, Lambert saw significant ice time on the man disadvantage. Prior to the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI), he’d seen little to no time killing penalties. But in South Bend, he fit in seamlessly on the unit. He was getting his stick in passing lanes, taking away angles, even blocking shots.
In the circle, he’s been averaging just over 50 percent on faceoffs with 68 won and 66 lost. Some of Lambert’s success on faceoffs can be credited to a new strategy Michigan has been using since the GLI — watching their opponents take draws.
“It’s always good when you can have a little bit of an edge on the opponent,” Lambert said. “Being able to watch all four of their centers, and the guys that go in when they get kicked out. Just being able to know what they do. It’s really good for us to have a plan going into each faceoff.”
This weekend, as Lambert and his teammates turn their attention towards the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions, his defensive improvements will be beneficial.
Penn State’s offense is tied for second in the NCAA, averaging 4.00 goals per game while the Wolverines sit at 44th with an average of 2.32. While Michigan’s scoring numbers, much like Lambert’s, aren’t overly promising, the team’s defense is solid.
Allowing just 2.05 goals per game on average, Michigan’s defense is ranked fifth. With that in mind, the key to this pivotal series for both Lambert and the Wolverines will be what they do without the puck — with Lambert noting that the most crucial aspect of the weekend is to play solid defense.
“One way to keep the number-one scoring team off the scoresheet is by playing offense ourselves,” Lambert said. “And keeping them in their own end. If we can be heavy on them in the forecheck and get pucks in deep and just be relentless all night, I think we should have a pretty good weekend.”
Coming off a weekend road sweep of the Fighting Irish that catapulted it out of last place in the Big Ten Conference standings, Michigan has an opportunity to prove itself. Its success will depend largely on Lambert and the rest of the team to make strong defensive plays, especially if the offensive woes of the first half creep in.