In the past month, Mac Bennett discovered a newfound respect for the Michigan hockey team’s coaching staff.

It dates back to Jan. 8, when the junior defenseman sustained an upper-body injury in Michigan’s game against Bowling Green. Since then, Bennett could do nothing but watch from the stands as the Wolverines stumbled their way through the rest of January.

It was during this month-long absence that he gained a new perspective on some of the team’s problems.

“If anything, it’s frustrating,” Bennett said. “I’m helpless standing up there, you want to yell down to the ice and grab someone and say, ‘Do it this way,’ but you can’t do that.

“Now I understand what it would be like to be a coach … when they’re trying to get through to us and tell us to do things certain ways and we’re just not doing it. It’s frustrating to watch.”

The bulk of the Wolverines’ injuries this season have been to their defensemen, so Bennett’s absence on the blue line was a big enough blow in itself.

But even more worrisome for the Wolverines was that the absence deprived them of one of their alternate captains. And for a team that’s been struggling to find consistent leadership to guide it through its rough patches, that perhaps was the biggest blow of all.

The captains say time and again that the best way to lead is by example. But with his injury, Bennett had to find a way to direct the Wolverines in lieu of playing.

“If I can’t be a presence on the ice, I just have to up my presence in the locker room,” he said. “Just be around the guys, make sure everyone’s happy. That was kind of my role while I was out.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson knew this off-ice leadership could only do so much. Though Bennett tried his best to carry the team off the ice, just being a presence in the locker room didn’t seem to be enough to get the team back on track.

“I can tell you through these last eight games of hell that our team has gone through, it’s been just as tough on (Bennett),” Berenson said. “I know he couldn’t wait to get back on the ice and do what he does best to help influence our team.”

Though Bennett started skating by himself a few weeks ago, he only had a couple days of full-contact practice with the rest of the team before returning to action in the Notre Dame series last weekend.

Berenson admitted that the timing of Bennett’s return might have been a little premature — had the Wolverines been faring a little better in their games, the coach would’ve waited until after the bye week before putting Bennett back in, giving him another two weeks of practice to fully regain his legs.

His rustiness definitely showed — a poor turnover in front of Michigan’s goal let in the Fighting Irish’s fifth goal of the night on Friday. Though his defensive-zone coverage did slightly improve the next night, it was still too little, too late for the Wolverines, who ended up surrendering 13 goals on the weekend.

After Saturday’s game, Bennett admitted that though he had physically recovered, he still wasn’t mentally where he needed to be in order to productively contribute to the defense. He said having to take time to think about his actions as a result of losing muscle memory over the past month slowed down the pace of his game.

That’s why the upcoming bye week couldn’t come at a better time for Bennett.

“It’s coming back,” Bennett said. “I want to get back to the point where I don’t think, I just play.”

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