With roughly a quarter of the season in the books, Eric Nystrom has captained the No. 2 Michigan hockey team (5-1-0 CCHA, 7-2-1 overall) to a strong start. But the senior recognizes that the team’s toughest tests lie in the immediate future.

“You can’t ever be satisfied,” Nystrom said. “There’s always a little more that you can do. I try my best to lead by example and work as hard as I can every day. Hopefully that rubs off, but there’s always more you can do.”

The Wolverines will need to play their best hockey during an upcoming stretch of games, as it may be the toughest string of contests they will face for the rest of the regular season. Michigan will play a home-and-home series with No. 14 Michigan State (3-3-0, 5-4-1) this week. The first game will be played in East Lansing tomorrow night, followed by a match at Yost Ice Arena on Saturday. If the challenging set against an in-state rival isn’t enough, the Wolverines will proceed to play back-to-back away games at No. 3 Minnesota and No. 4 Wisconsin on Nov. 26 and 27, before returning to conference play with a home-and-home against a feisty Notre Dame squad (2-5-4, 1-4-3) the following weekend. Nystrom realizes that his leadership and attention to detail will be necessary for his team to produce results on the ice.

“I think the younger guys are going to look for some leadership to step up and take charge,” Nystrom said. “This is where I need to emerge as a leader. We can’t have any lapses against good teams.”

That’s not to say that Nystrom isn’t optimistic and proud of the team’s play so far.

“We’re taking strides,” the forward said. “We’ve had some good experiences. This is a great stretch of the season. It’s nothing to be nervous about, especially with all the experience we have on this team. We’ve all played in these big games. Obviously everyone’s going to be a little nervous because that’s just human nature.

“I think we’re definitely looking forward to seeing how we fare against ranked teams.”

But the team’s mood will largely hinge on how the Wolverines fare in East Lansing tomorrow. The team hasn’t won in Munn Ice Arena since Jan. 7, 2000. Not a single player on the current roster has traveled to Michigan State and emerged victorious.

“Thursday night will be a great challenge for us,” Nystrom said. “(Munn) is a tough place to play. This is the last chance (for the seniors to win at Michigan State). They’re going to be geeked up to play us, and we’re excited to go in there and hopefully steal a couple points, so it should be great.”

Nystrom realizes that Michigan has had some trouble getting off to quick starts in games, a problem he has been trying to fix by keeping himself and his teammates on task. The captain also feels his team must be sharper in practice. But he can’t wait to get back on the ice in a game situation after having last weekend off.

“Last week was one of the best practice weeks I’ve had in a long time,” Nystrom said. “I’m anxious to play.”


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