In football, there’s the turnover differential, and in basketball, the assist-to-turnover ratio. In hockey, there’s no concrete measurement in the box score for fans to see how many times their team turned the puck over.
But that hasn’t stopped the Michigan coaching staff from letting its players know when they’re being careless with the puck.
“We look at turnover numbers not even after the game, but every period,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “It’s something that we’re always conscious of.”
Knowing they’ve been too reckless with the puck in recent games, the Wolverines are working on playing smarter with and without the puck.
Michigan’s blueliners have taken it to heart.
Flashy stats like goals and assists are harder to come by for the defensive corps. But within Michigan’s group of defensemen, there is always a friendly contest to see who leads in other stats – like fewest turnovers and highest plus/minus rating.
“It’s kind of an unspoken competition, guys are always competing, but we never really talk about it,” sophomore defenseman Chris Summers said. “It’s always there. We’re athletes so we’ve got to be competitive.”
The intensity in practice appears to have translated into the games. Despite the turnovers, Michigan is still off to its best start in program history.
While the entire college hockey world is aware of the top-ranked Wolverines’ 22-2 record, the team is quick to say the win-loss totals don’t necessarily reflect its level of play each weekend.
“Nobody’s that good, and I see that in our team. We’re not that good,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said of his team’s record. “We’re not that bad. But we’re not that good.”
Michigan has simply fought to cover its errors, Berenson said.
“I like the fact that our team, when we make a mistake, we work harder to recover,” Berenson said. “Our second efforts are so much better this year, as a team, starting with our defensemen.”
Last year’s squad struggled with turnovers, too, especially when working the puck out of the defensive zone. But last season’s team gave up one-and-a-half more goals per game.
It’s the second efforts that have set this year’s team apart – the blocked shots, the tipped passes, the diving deflections.
Powers offers a simple explanation for Michigan’s ability to recover this season: fear.
With a huge group of talented seniors and underclassmen leaving after last season, the returning players were worried they wouldn’t live up to Michigan expectations.
“I think with this team, over the spring the guys coming back, the upperclassmen, they were a little nervous,” Powers said. “I think it made everyone focus.”
That extra attention has gotten the Wolverines on the winning side of closely contested games this season. But with the toughest stretch of the conference schedule ahead of it, Michigan still has to cut down on turnovers, because scrambling can only take a team so far.
The coaches have set a high standard for the number of turnovers they expect the team to give up each game – under 10. It seems like a difficult goal to reach, but for Summers, the trick to fewer turnovers is simple.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just hard work,” Summers said.