Standing just outside the left circle, Will Lockwood waited to receive the puck from sophomore forward Josh Norris. Norris rifled a pass right to the junior forward’s stick, and Lockwood fired a shot that found twine.
With one flick of his stick, he halved the Michigan hockey team’s deficit in the first game of the season. And though the Wolverines would eventually fall to Vermont in that matchup, Lockwood’s goal mattered for a different reason.
It was his first goal in a Michigan sweater since 2017 after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in January 2018.
“It was awesome,” Lockwood said of the goal. “Any time you get an opportunity to score in Yost and you end up putting one in, it’s an awesome experience. … To have that one go in was a good feeling.”
It was a long road from the initial injury to being ice-ready. Lockwood worked toward returning for the beginning of the 2018-19 season, nine months after undergoing surgery.
On April 15, just ten days after the Wolverines’ season ended with a loss to Notre Dame in the Frozen Four semifinal game, Michigan coach Mel Pearson tweeted a photo of Lockwood practicing on the ice at a darkened Yost Ice Arena — alone.
“I saw determination, focus,” Pearson said. “He really did a great job getting himself ready to play and making sure he was strong enough to go. He redefined his body … He really committed himself to making sure he could do everything he could to get himself ready for the season.”
After notching 11 points in 16 games last season, Lockwood’s return to the ice promises to help the Michigan offense recover from the loss of last season’s three top scorers.
“It’s great having him back because it gives us so many more options to have a player like him, whether on your power play or penalty kill,” Pearson said. “He can play in all situations. He’s a good player, too, so you put him with other players and he lifts their game up, too. He’s got great individual skills, but he makes people around him better.”
Through their first game — plus two exhibition matchups — the Wolverines have scored 12 goals and given up 15. And at the same point last season, through two games and one exhibition, Michigan had scored 13 goals and given up just five. While the goals scored differs very slightly, the goals against shows a glaring change.
And it’s that increased number of goals against — the sign of a struggling defense — that shows the real offensive issues for the Wolverines. The best defense is a good offense, and Michigan demonstrates that the adage is true.
“The best defense is to be playing in the offensive zone,” Lockwood said. “We’ve been working on that, and a lot of it is puck control and supporting each other.”
When a team has possession in the offensive zone and manages to score, the defense has to do little work. But when a team loses possession entering the offensive zone or leaving the defensive zone, the defense is suddenly on its heels attempting to prevent a goal. And while the role of the defense is to prevent the other team from scoring, a lack of offense makes that job harder.
“You get behind and then you start pressing,” Pearson said. “You do different things. Your style changes, it shouldn’t. … We’ve gotta make sure we take care of our defensive zone first. If you’re giving up four and five goals, you’re gonna have to score more, and that puts a lot of pressure on your forwards to do that.”
As one forward in the Wolverines’ top line, Lockwood stands in position to take on that pressure.
And after sitting in the stands for Michigan’s trip to the Frozen Four, he’s ready to be back competing on the ice. With three points in the Wolverines’ first three games, Lockwood has settled back in as one of Michigan’s top scorers and has made it clear he won’t let opportunities pass him by this season.
“I felt like I was missing a little something in my life (when I wasn’t playing),” Lockwood said. “But to be back — it feels great to be on the ice every day. I have a different mindset. I don’t really take anything for granted.”