Wolverines emphasize shot blocking in practice in anticipation of Badgers

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 27, 2014

Have you ever stopped a solid rubber object flying over 80 miles per hour?

The answer, for most, is likely no. But on Monday, the Michigan hockey team didn’t stop just one object flying that fast. It practiced doing so multiple times.

Albeit the now 12th-ranked Wolverines never fired shots at full strength, using bright orange plastic balls to mimic the action without risking injury, but the message still stood. Blocking shots will be a priority this weekend when No. 9 Wisconsin comes to Yost Ice Arena.

“It’s about having the proper form when you go down,” said junior forward Zach Hyman. “But it is repetition, getting feel for how to get in front of the defenseman in front of the lane.”

Michigan’s style is a little bit different from the traditional form used across several programs. Instead of lying on their stomachs with their arms and legs extended, the Wolverines bend to one knee and approach the shooter. They lower their sticks and keep their body wide in order to close off the most space.

Over and over, a defenseman was fed the puck or ball at the blue line and simultaneously wound up to shoot. Meanwhile, a forward would skate up to put his body in front of the puck.

Afterward, the forwards lined up on the two blue lines, and at the sound of the whistle skated to the centerline in the same formation. According to Hyman and sophomore Andrew Copp, the drill isn’t something that’s practiced regularly.

But against the Badgers, the drill will be important if Michigan looks to avoid a repeat of the last time the two teams played on Jan. 10 and 11 — a sweep.

“At Wisconsin, they were getting a lot of pucks though, and we weren’t,” Copp said. “It was very difficult to get pucks through and that’s something we’ve been concentrating on. It’s something coaches want us to progress and get better at.”

The Wolverines fired fewer than 30 shots on net each night against Wisconsin, thanks in part to its ability to block shots. Michigan finished with a combined 12 blocked shots compared to the Badgers 33 and were subsequently outscored, 8-3.

Against Michigan State last week, the Wolverines showed improvement in limiting the number of open looks and shots that found their way to the net. Michigan finished with 38 blocked shots last weekend, when it swept the Spartans.

Senior defenseman Mac Bennett remains the team’s leader in blocked shots with 36 this season, but it’s forwards JT Compher and Derek DeBlois who face a greater burden. The pair ranks at the top in blocked shots for the Wolverines, but have a larger area to cover in front of the net.

Even Michigan coach Red Berenson got involved in the action, demonstrating to his players from time to time. On several occasions, Berenson sat calmly and quiet on the bench to watch practice, but shot blocking is one of the few events where he remains active.

But what about being hit by the puck? Is it frightening to purposefully put your body in harm’s way?

“In the game, it’s kind of just the heat of the moment and you just have to get in the lane,” Hyman said. “So if you know how to do it, it’s not really a fear of getting in front of the puck.

“In the game, you’re not really thinking about it. Practice is a little bit different.”

Notes Freshman defenseman Kevin Lohan, who has been out with a knee injury since the end of October, consulted with a doctor on Thursday while the Wolverines were in Detroit. Berenson said he will not play against Wisconsin, but is being evaluated still for the following weeks… Berenson called JT Compher one of the best all-around centers he’s had in his time as a coach. Compher was a second-round pick in the National Hockey League 2013 draft.