Last Friday, for the first time in over five months, the Michigan hockey team returned to action in the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena. Last week”s session began a week of captains” practices, which are led by this year”s appointed leaders captain Jed Ortmeyer, and alternate captains Mike Cammalleri, John Shouneyia, and Jay Vancik.
With 10 freshmen making their debut for the Wolverines, this year”s captains” practices are more important than in years past.
“You never know how long it”s going to take when the coaches get on the ice to get your team in sync,” coach Red Berenson said. “Obviously with a younger team it would take longer to get your team playing the way they need to play. These practices are really a must.”
Michigan”s talented freshman class enters its first season with a small window of time to become acclimated to the fast pace of college hockey. Many of the players will earn a slot in the top four lines, making their development early in the season crucial to the Wolverines” fate in the first few months.
“You”ve got to prove yourself to the upperclassmen,” freshman forward Eric Nystrom said. “They”re more confident with the puck. Being a freshman, you don”t want to hold onto the puck because you don”t want to mess up. We”re just trying to get a feel for the game before the coaches get on the ice.”
Michigan has spent its first practices of the young season getting back to the basics skating, puck and stick handling and intense conditioning have received the most focus from the Wolverines” captains. Michigan has also moved players around on different lines, trying to find the right combination before the coaches join the team on Monday.
While getting back on the ice and skating again is important, the most critical aspect of these captains” practices may be the bonding that goes on between the upperclassmen and the freshmen.
“(The upperclassmen) are really positive,” Nystrom said. “When you make a good play they cheer you on. They make you feel pretty comfortable. We”re all trying to impress them by playing so hard, and they”re there to reassure us every time we do something right.”
Not only are captains” practices the first opportunity for the freshmen to display their skills to their teammates, but they also mark the initial chance for this year”s captains to show their leadership on the ice.
“The captains can get the tempo up a little bit,” Shouneyia said. “The young guys look to the older guys to see how hard we”re working. The first impression is really important. We need to show a good work ethic.”
Adding more pressure to the Wolverines” early practices is their looming clash with Michigan State in the “Cold War” on Oct. 6. The Spartans will host Michigan in college hockey”s first ever outdoor game in Spartan Stadium. With the largest crowd to ever witness a hockey game breathing down its neck, Michigan will have to be prepared mentally and physically for the atmosphere.
“Some guys might have slacked off at the beginning of the season, figuring they”d have time to get in shape before the big game,” Nystrom said. “But right off the bat here we have a huge game, so we”ve got to go hard now to be in the best condition possible.”
“Having a game like that around the corner is going to help us,” Berenson said. “There”s no question that it”s a big game and a game that everyone is talking about. It”ll be a challenge, but it will help us prepare because it”s there.”
Due to the tragic incidents that occurred last week in New York and Washington, D.C., Michigan State officials have declared that the name “Cold War” will be used much more sparingly in the two weeks leading up to the game.