Rian Ratnavale: Finding a rhythm
If one thing is certain after the Michigan hockey team’s first five games, it’s that Wolverines coach Mel Pearson and his team are doing more than just trying to kill bad habits — they’re actively looking for rhythm and routine.
Look at Michigan’s series against St. Lawrence, for example. Sure, the Saints aren’t nearly at the same level that the Wolverines are, but Michigan came into the series with concrete issues it wanted to work on — and executed.
After a series against Western Michigan where the Wolverines accumulated 12 total penalties, Pearson and some players mentioned that they strived to be one of the least penalized teams in the country. Michigan responded with just three penalties in 120 minutes of ice time against St. Lawrence, and through the season, only have 18 total penalties to their opponents’ 34.
Having that stability has also helped the Wolverines stay disciplined with the puck. While Michigan was plagued with untimely turnovers deep in the defensive zone in both games against Western Michigan, the Wolverines significantly cut those down against St. Lawrence. Likewise, when sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes saw the Saints clogging the ice near the goal on Saturday, having that puck discipline kept him attacking from the left side of the zone, and he points three times.
The Wolverines have a few different options to keep that rhythm on a day-to-day level. Players have the option to see a sports psychologist to help them stay sharp over the course of a game.
“Some guys just need to relax and take a nap,” Pearson said. “Other guys need to keep active and stay busy… The thing that we’ve learned over the years is that you’ve gotta find a routine. Get in the routine that works for you, to not only be ready physically, but mentally as well, and be prepared to play.”
Another part of that newfound rhythm may well be because of continued chemistry. Michigan has seemingly settled in on a top front line of sophomore forward Josh Norris and junior forwards Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker. On Friday night Norris and Slaker each assisted each other on goals, accounting for two of the team’s three goals that night. It might not be the “DMC” line from last year, but settling in on these combinations early will serve the Wolverines well.
Lockwood, of all people, knows the importance of finding a routine since he himself hasn’t had much of an opportunity to do so after suffering a season-ending injury last year.
“I’ve kind of gotten in a routine for things,” Lockwood said. “I like to stay relaxed and loose throughout the day… once you enter the rink it’s all intense, and you’re not really thinking about anything else besides the game … Personally I’ll come to the rink, take my stick right away and then go out.”
Establishing a groove is important because Michigan is no stranger to slow starts — last year the Wolverines were under .500 as late as January — and time will tell if Michigan can find another groove.
If the St. Lawrence series is any indication, the Wolverines are off to a good start in that regard.