This summer, Michigan hockey junior forward Brian Lebler used some strange workout equipment.
“We had big monster truck tires, and outside we had big sledgehammers and stuff, and we just kind of pushed stuff (and) ran,” said Lebler, who has scored six goals in the second half of the season. “We just did a different workout everyday pretty much.”
Lebler, a British Columbia native, while working out this summer in his backyard, followed an unorthodox training plan.
For cardio, Lebler and a friend of his who plays hockey at Mercyhurst would run to a lake 20 to 25 minutes away. They would then swim for 15 minutes before jogging back to Lebler’s house. After lunch, the two would weightlift by flipping tires and racing with them.
“(We would) just do something different, so it’s a little more fun and easier to work hard,” Lebler said.
And it paid off. Lebler, who’s listed at 210 pounds, returned to Michigan last fall in the best shape of his life. He has set career highs for goals (eight) and assists (seven). After a choppy first half, the junior has five goals in his last six games and contributed significantly on the Wolverines’ third line. He had just six tallies all of last season.
“On his behalf, he had to take a step,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He’s a junior. He really hadn’t done anything. He’d been consistently average or below average.
“He has to watch his weight. He has to watch what he eats. He has to work harder than the average player just to keep up. So he made a commitment this summer, which was good. That’s a sign of maturity and a sign of a real, ‘Hey, this is serious. If I’m going to get any better, if I’m going to play at all at Michigan, I better do what I can do in the summer to be more ready.’ ”
This is the first time Michigan has seen Lebler clicking on the ice. Last season, he was scratched for 14 of the Wolverines’ 43 games, including the CCHA Championship game and the entire NCAA Tournament.
Berenson said the scratches may have been due to Lebler’s “heavy” skating and lack of quickness. The junior has always been one of the Wolverines’ more physical players, but playing at a weight of well over 200 pounds while his faster teammates played at around 180 pounds certainly impacted his production.
“The (first) couple falls, he was in okay shape, but this time he came in real good shape,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “He really made a concentrated effort to get leaner, shape his body a little bit more, get in better shape.”
Lebler took the big step over the summer, but it wasn’t until the Great Lakes Invitational in late December that it started to show. With sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj playing at the World Junior Championships, Lebler got the chance to play on the first line alongside offensive playmakers Louie Caporusso and David Wohlberg.
The line exploded, posting four goals, and Lebler returned with confidence in the second half.
Now, Lebler’s adding to Michigan’s biggest strength — its deep offense, in which all four lines regularly contribute to the scoreboard.
“Definitely in the second half, I think he’s got a little bit better role on the team now, and you see that,” Pearson said. “What he did last summer is starting to show up now.”