For Michigan, every weakness is a new learning experience
Just days after the No. 12 Michigan hockey team’s 5-4 loss to Western Michigan, coach Mel Pearson harped on a troubling trend for the Wolverines.
On Saturday night against the Broncos, Michigan was plagued with a bad case of turnovers, especially in the defensive zone — three of which resulted in Western Michigan goals. For a team that, at times, looks like it can score at will, Michigan didn’t do its defense and freshman goaltender Strauss Mann any favors.
Pearson, though, has three different remedies ready for his players come practice time to iron out wrinkles like turnovers. The first one is just approaching players one-on-one, and making sure they know their mistakes, quick and direct.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” Pearson said. “You have to understand where you are on the ice, the situations on the ice, and those turnovers were all in bad spots. So we have to continue to work on that.”
If that doesn’t work, or if Pearson senses the team could benefit from looking at a player’s mistake, he isn’t afraid to show the mishap on tape in front of the whole team. Pearson breaks down the errors to his players, educating the entire team on how to improve.
“We don’t want to embarrass anybody, but the video doesn’t lie,” Pearson said. “It’s right there.”
Once the issue is sniffed out, Pearson and Michigan fix those mistakes by playing them out exactly as they happened on the ice. With the turnovers specifically, the team practiced more full-ice situational drills, which emphasize decision-making with the puck.
On Michigan’s first turnover that led to a Broncos goal, the Western Michigan defense cornered Michigan’s wings. Rather than quickly clearing the puck, Michigan waited for the support that never came. Naturally, the Broncos stole the puck, forced an odd-man rush and flicked in the first goal.
“It’s situational,” said junior forward Jake Slaker. “I think when we do breakouts out of the zone, a lot of our turnovers are in the danger areas, whether that’s the blue line in the offensive zone or the blue line in the defensive zone.”
Whether it’s a freshman coughing up the puck or junior forward Will Lockwood — whose game on Saturday was only his third in almost a year after a season-ending shoulder injury — going through the motions of how to better a certain facet of the game helps to fix novice or rust-induced mistakes.
“A lot of our daily drills are predicated on in-game situations, so we always show them how to do it and why we do it,” Pearson said. “Practice is practice, but when you get in games, the speed is different, the situation is different.”
While mistakes are evident in the Wolverines’ play — resulting in a 1-2 record to start the season — Pearson is confident these problems can be mended.
“The beauty of that is that it’s fixable,” Pearson said. “I’ve been around a long time, and some things you see and just go, ‘Wow, we’re just not going to be able to fix that, but other things like this you can fix.’ A bad read or a bad play.”