When the Michigan hockey team takes the ice this weekend against
Windsor, it will do so without having had any full practices with
its coaching staff.
A new NCAA regulation, passed in 2001 but implemented this year,
forces coaches to stay off the ice until Oct. 2. For Michigan, the
date coincides with its first of three exhibition games this year.
Michigan head coach Red Berenson is not pleased with the new rule,
which leaves his team’s captains in charge of practices.
“We were not in favor of it,” Berenson said.
“Most coaches in the west — in our league and the WCHA
— were not in favor of that. It was driven mostly by the
conferences in the East. They pushed it through, so we have to
abide by it. Doesn’t matter what I think of it, but I’m
not in favor of it.
“For us, more is better. Our players come to school and
they’re anxious to skate, they’re anxious to play and
they like to play more hockey, not less.”
In the past, coaches were allowed to show up as soon as
captains’ practices began in the middle of September. But
schools in the ECAC, which generally begin their season almost a
month later than schools in the CCHA, were upset that CCHA programs
were getting a head start.
Berenson said that some of the ECAC programs — he
wouldn’t specify which ones — worked hard to make sure
that the NCAA regulates when the coaches are first allowed to come
onto the ice to practice with their teams.
Michigan’s practices, though missing the leadership of the
coaches, are pretty much business as usual. They are led by senior
captain Eric Nystrom and alternate captains Brandon Rogers, Al
Montoya and Jeff Tambellini. These four take the team through the
same activities (stretching, scrimmaging and a variety of drills)
that it would go through otherwise.
“We’re trying to get prepared for our first
exhibition game,” Nystrom said. “We’re trying to
get back in shape, get the chemistry back between the guys on the
team and work on our skills a little bit.
“It’s the same exact thing except it’s just us
running the drills. So sometimes we let them go on a little too
long. We don’t have that coach’s eye for when the drill
is losing its intensity. But it’s the same drills as all
In addition to the captains’ practices, the team can
practice in small groups of up to four players with one coach for
just a couple hours a day. Michigan takes full advantage of this
opportunity, running these “individual” practices in
the mornings whenever players don’t have class.
Berenson does not participate in these practices, but he is
never far away. The regulation forces him to stay away from
practice, and, during practice times, he remains in his office on
the second floor of Yost Ice Arena.
“Well, they have to make the most of it,” Berenson
said. “And the one thing that they need is that they need to
get their legs and get their condition and get comfortable with the
puck and just get into all kinds of game time situations. So, even
without the coaches, it’s a big benefit.”
The players said that practices are obviously more productive
with coaches on the ice. They admitted that their focus does drop a
bit when there isn’t a coach looking over their shoulders.
But Nystrom stresses the importance of players being able to
motivate themselves enough to keep the practices productive.
“If we’re not going to push ourselves each practice,
we’re going to come out in the game and look flat,”
Nystrom said. “And we’re not going to play well.
It’s each player’s onus to step up and go as hard as
they can even though those extra eyes aren’t really watching