Addressing faceoff struggles
Some people get a thrill out of the chase –– whatever that chase entails.
That is, unless you’re Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson and what you’re chasing is the puck.
Despite having won 52 percent of its draws this season, the No. 16 Michigan hockey team (5-4-0 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) has lost the faceoff battle in each of its previous three games. And it’s no coincidence that the Wolverines’ two top faceoff winners, sophomore forward Josh Norris and junior forward Nick Pastujov, both struggled this past weekend against Notre Dame.
Norris –– who was nursing a minor hand injury last weekend –– won just 13 of 39 faceoffs over the weekend, while Pastujov took seven of 22 puck drops in the circle. The two forwards have taken 54 percent of the draws thus far for Michigan, so in many senses, the team goes as they go.
“When you’re not playing with the puck, you’re chasing,” Pearson said after Tuesday’s practice. “You have to try and get it back instead of having possession, so you’re chasing the puck a little bit. And part of that is intensity too. Just the preparation and being ready to play.”
Pearson made it clear that the blame cannot always be placed solely on whoever is taking the faceoff. The team that retains possession after the draw is recorded with the faceoff win. So, in instances where there is a 50-50 puck, the team to gain control records the win. This is where the overall intensity that Pearson addressed comes into play –– another issue that the Wolverines have struggled with early on this season.
Perhaps overshadowed by the team’s recent faceoff woes is the performance of junior forward Adam Winborg. While Michigan has won 85 of 190 draws in its last three games, Winborg has quietly won 18 of 26 draws over that same stretch –– the only games in which he has seen significant ice time this season.
“It’s one of those things that will help keep him in the lineup when you’re winning faceoffs like that,” Pearson said. “It gives me a lot of confidence to play him against anybody –– especially in draws in our zone because I know he has more than a 50 percent chance to win those faceoffs.”
Winborg played in all but one regular season game last year, so his lack of ice time thus far may come as a bit of a surprise. But given his success in the faceoff circle, particularly in light of the Wolverines’ recent struggles, Winborg is a silver lining and figures to continue receiving ice time moving forward.
Though Michigan has won two of its last three games, faceoffs are an area of play that need to see improvement. As a result, Pearson stated that one of their big focuses in practice recently has been the faceoff: taking more of them, addressing strategy on draws and ensuring that skaters “are dialed in and ready for the drop of the puck.”
This is especially important with its upcoming matchup against No. 5 Penn State this weekend –– which leads the Big Ten with a 62 percent faceoff-win percentage this season.