That’s the average age of the Michigan hockey team, the youngest team in the NCAA.
So it’s no surprise that without the wisdom and experience of age, the Wolverines’ youth makes them prone to mistakes and bad habits. With a dozen freshmen taking significant roles in the lineup, they have to learn tough lessons on the ice while their team simultaneously needs them to produce. The best way for them to learn?
According to their coach, it’s failure.
“I’m letting them fail to see how they figure it out and problem solve,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said Tuesday. “… I have to put the wrong guys on the ice and get burned and lose a game, or put the right guys on the ice and score a goal to figure out who can do it.”
Resilience matters throughout all levels of hockey, especially at the college level. Players come in with raw talent ready to crack the lineup, but they’re bound to run into problems on the ice. In order to forge themselves into better players, they first have to fall into the fire.
This weekend against an inferior Lindenwood team, the Wolverines jumped in headfirst. Players gave up numerous rush opportunities from offensive zone turnovers. Some lines skated long shifts that led to Lions goals. That’s not to mention some extra defensive zone passes that turned into goals against.
All that is to say, Michigan’s young core is learning on the fly. But that’s exactly what their coaches want. By picking out the bad habits and frequent mistakes, they can hone in on what needs to change.
Correcting habits like positioning and shift length might seem like small issues now, but it’s important to get everyone on the same page. All 12 freshmen came from programs that played different systems, and they developed certain tendencies under those schemes. Michigan hopes that a common framework can lead to a better product on the ice.
“If you’re an all-A student in eighth grade, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna get into Michigan because you’re an all-A student,” Naurato said. “It’s all the habits, it’s not the result. … You’re getting all A’s because you have another tutor, you study harder than everyone else, you have all those great time management habits and study habits — that’s what allows you to have success.”
Already, new players are adjusting. Naurato noted that in Friday’s game, freshman defenseman Luca Fantilli struggled to defend the rush. After going over some adjustments with his coaches, he excelled on Saturday. Now, the goal is to replicate that each and every week until it becomes second nature.
“That’s in one game,” Naurato said. “And he’s fixing things, he’s thinking about it, and I think they’re all doing a good job of that, it’s just how quickly it’s going to come.”
There’s a balancing act between winning games and making mistakes, but letting players fail invests in the long run. By stumbling now, players get the hard part out of the way while they still have time to make corrections.
And if they learn those lessons in failure now, that bodes well for when they can’t afford to.