Following an impressive 10-1 routing of Western Ontario last Saturday in the season-opening exhibition, the Michigan hockey team is determined to build on its momentum in the opening games of the regular season against St. Lawrence and Clarkson on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Despite the blowout in its preseason tune-up against the Mustangs, Michigan coach Mel Pearson won’t let his team rest on its laurels, noting the potential for the Saints and Knights to play the role of early-season spoilers during the Wolverines’ trip to upstate New York.
“The games are going to be tougher this weekend, going on the road, going into two smaller buildings, hostile buildings,” Pearson said. “Michigan, we haven’t been to either one of those places since I don’t know when, so I’m sure they’re going to be packed and we have to understand that we have to go in with a real good mentality. But we’ve had a good week, we’ve worked hard, we’ve put in a few things that we think will help us have success this weekend.”
Part of this level-headed attitude means all players need to be on the same page. While newcomers may tend to show their flashier side in their inaugural collegiate contests, Pearson and veterans alike aim to tame that approach.
“We tell the freshmen, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go put on a show, especially on the road. You’re there to spoil the party, so to speak,’ ” Pearson said. “We’re not in there to put on a show and necessarily entertain, we’re going in there to try to win a hockey game and send everybody home unhappy.”
When approaching practice after a matchup that saw Michigan outshoot Western Ontario 60-20, Pearson hoped to strike an appropriate balance between celebrating victory and pinpointing areas for improvement. Instead of constructive criticism, he coins it “constructive coaching.”
“I think you have to compliment your players when they’re doing things well, but at the same time, we have to continue to get better,” Pearson said. “10 goals are nice, but as a coach you want 20. One goal against is nice, but as a coach you don’t want any. Power play, 4-for-11, but you want to go 11-for-11.”
Forward Will Lockwood shares a similar sentiment as his coach. The sophomore believes the Wolverines should remember the win and what led to it, but also focus on their missteps.
“We had a good game and it showed up on the scoreboard, but just like any game there’s going to be mistakes,” Lockwood said. “We’re going to learn from those mistakes and try to perfect our game a little more coming into the weekend, into games that are real important to us.”
Puck protection, penalty killing, the team’s overall competition level and other minor details were stressed in this week’s practice. Most notably, after losing 52 of 86 faceoffs in the exhibition, the coaching staff spent extra time working with its centers in this “glaring” area of weakness.
Preparation for this weekend’s games intensified due to a major schedule change. With the regular season near, coach-led practices have expanded from two hours during the preseason to a maximum of 20 hours weekly. The big jump allows for more intricate drills and instruction in an unrushed environment.
“I think it’s good for our team, we just saw that today,” Pearson said after Wednesday’s practice. “We only went for an hour, but the pace was really good from start to finish. I think when we were out last week and we’re out there for 30 minutes, and then they have to do the rest on their own, we could see a drop-off or feel one. It’s been good, you get to know your players better, you get to see a lot more of them, so it’s been fun, but it’s also been educational.”
After firing on all cylinders last Saturday, Michigan will be hoping the issues of last year’s 13-19-3 campaign won’t continue to haunt them. This weekend in upstate New York, the Wolverines will look to use their intense preparation for that to happen.
“(The coaches) give us all the tools to succeed on the ice and in the games,” Lockwood said. “And now it’s up to us to prepare and to be ready going into the weekend.”