Lockwood finds his stride against Michigan State
DETROIT — This time two years ago, then-freshman forward Will Lockwood was still recovering from a disclocated shoulder when he won his first “Duel in the D” with the Michigan hockey team. While he notched one assist in that game, it was clear that he wasn’t back to the level he was before the injury.
This time last year, a shoulder injury at the World Juniors tournament ended Lockwood’s season in January, just as he was getting back into a rhythm. He was forced to watch from the stands as his team kicked off an eight-game win streak that catapulted the Wolverines to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and eventually the Frozen Four.
Two injuries to the same shoulder in two different seasons cut both of those campaigns short.
Now, Lockwood is doing everything he can to lead Michigan back to where it was last year. This time, he’s not watching it happen from the stands.
“It was tough, definitely,” Lockwood said Oct. 17 of not playing in the Frozen Four. “I mean, you ask any guy, it’s gonna be tough to be in the stands and not to be on the ice with your team.”
This weekend, Lockwood tallied two goals and two assists in a series sweep over Michigan State. For the third time in his career, the Wolverines hoisted the ‘Iron D’ trophy after a 5-2 win on Saturday. But this time, he was a full participant in the victory.
“He had a couple of good looks tonight, so good for him,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson on Saturday. “He’s a really good hockey player and I’m glad for him. I’m happy for him that after all he’s been through the first couple years and not being able to play in the Frozen Four last year that he’s really playing well for us.”
In Friday night’s 5-3 win over the Spartans, Lockwood scored his sixth goal in seven games and added two assists for his second-highest point total in a single game this season. In addition to those points, he tested Michigan State goaltender Drew DeRidder with quite a few ‘Grade-A’ scoring chances.
And on Saturday, he added another goal to his weekend total and again created chances nearly every time he was on the ice.
“He’s our most dynamic player up front by far,” Pearson said Friday night. “He’s having his best year. You can see it. You can see the speed, you can see the quickness, you can see the creativity. He’s playing hard and he’s an exciting player.”
Lockwood’s ability to be dynamic and create scoring chances has played a large role in his recent success, but his willingness to get to what to Pearson calls the “gritty area” of the ice is even more important.
Both goals this weekend came on tip-ins in front of the net as he was battling for position. Friday, freshman defenseman Jack Summers fired a slapshot from the left point that Lockwood got a stick on to redirect into the net. It was a heads-up, skilled play — exactly what Pearson wants to see in that area of the ice.
Saturday night, another shot found Lockwood just in front of DeRidder. This time, it came from sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes while the Wolverines were on the power play. Junior forward Nick Pastujov tried to shoot the puck himself, but Lockwood collected it and sent the puck between Pastujov’s legs and past DeRidder.
Just as Pearson always preaches, getting to the “gritty area” resulted in rewards for his team. And he especially likes to see that grittiness from Lockwood now that he’s fully healthy and back in form.
“This year, he came back from the shoulder, took him a while to get going and now he’s going,” Pearson said. “Once the puck starts going in the net, then your confidence just takes off. He’s going to hard ice. He’s just not coming down and making fancy plays but he’s getting to that hard ice and rebounds, tip-ins.”
Pearson’s system is predicated on getting pucks to the net and having players in that hard ice in front of the goaltender to clean up rebounds and create scoring opportunities.
And Lockwood’s willingness to work in that hard area of the ice has paid off.
“Just getting to the net has been something that I’ve been focusing on,” Lockwood said Saturday. “We’ve got a lot of good players on the ice and they’re doing a great job with the puck and getting it to the net. Just being opportunistic these past couple of games.”
Fighting for pucks in front of the net isn’t the flashiest way to play. Forwards tend to want to create dazzling plays up the center of the ice or score from the wing to show off the strength of their shot.
But it works, and Lockwood — fully healthy down the stretch for the first time at Michigan — is reaping the benefits.