The Michigan hockey team is now in the second half of its season, and that second half implies quite a bit of preparation.
It’s now crunch time for the Wolverines. Sitting second-to-last in the conference and 32nd in the PairWise Rankings, they must prepare to fight each weekend to have any hope at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid or to get a better seed in the conference tournament.
The latter half also signifies that Michigan (9-11-2 overall, 4-7-1 Big Ten) must now prepare to play series against each conference opponent for the second time. How the Wolverines prepare for these meetings will be somewhat different than the first time.
“You know a little bit more about them,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Some of the newer players and maybe nuances. Most teams have the same structure they’ve had over the years, and some teams have gotten better. Some teams have grown and the freshmen, they’re not freshmen anymore.”
The extent to which preparation changes varies depending on the opponent. For instance, Pearson notes opponents with younger rosters often adapt more throughout the season and one must game plan accordingly. This is evident in comparing Penn State and Wisconsin.
“(The Nittany Lions have) got a couple young players but they don’t rely on them as much as all their vets,” Pearson said. “So you have a pretty good idea how they’re going to play what they’re going to do. Where a team like Wisconsin has got all those high-end young players. And the next time we see them they’re gonna be a lot more mature, play a little bit different and probably be a lot more dangerous.”
Playing a rival for a second series can impact what goes on in the film room. This past weekend, the Wolverines swept then-No. 14 Notre Dame on the road in the first meeting between the two sides this season.
Prior to the series, Michigan had to balance relevancy with recency. On one hand, it’s helpful for a team to see how it fared against a particular opponent in the past. But at the same time, it’s critical to understand the intricacies of an opponent in the current season. So before the series, the Wolverines studied clips from last season’s contests against the Fighting Irish, but also made sure to analyze tape from Notre Dame’s most recent series against Western Michigan.
From here on out, though, striking that balance is easier. Now that Michigan has faced all its conference opponents, it has tape that is both recent and relevant.
“You learn some things when you played them once and so this time around we can show film against when we played them this year versus maybe another team,” Pearson said. “I think that sometimes players watch it a little more intent because it’s us against them. It’s not Niagara against Penn State. We don’t know their players. We know our team, so that’s good.”
Pearson doesn’t have a preference in terms of playing a team for the first or second time, while freshman defenseman Cam York does. York has experience in playing the same opponents multiple times throughout a season, as the U.S. National Team Development Program — which he played for prior to joining Wolverines — follows such a schedule.
“I’d probably say I like it better the second time,” York said. “Just because you kind of have an idea of how they play and areas that you can try to expose them.”