One Stick. Two Sticks. Red Stick? Blue Stick?

Ice Hockey
(PHOTOS BY RODRIGO GAYA AND MIKE HUSLEBUS)

The beginning of Andrew Cogliano’s career in Maize and Blue was tougher to decipher than the reasoning behind a Dr. Seuss book. After the freshman notched 102 points in 49 Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League games last year, he couldn’t quite figure out why he couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net in Ann Arbor.

So before the Wolverines faced off with Merrimack in their fourth game of the year, Cogliano received a special delivery – the stick he used in juniors, an Easton Synergy with a red bottom. It wasn’t a far cry from the Easton Synergy with a blue bottom that he had been using at Michigan up until that point. But magically, the goals and points started coming, starting with two that afternoon.

“I think it’s just a psychological thing,” Cogliano said. “Maybe just try a new thing. A lot of hockey players do that when things aren’t going that well. I tried to switch things up, and it worked out.”

These days, it doesn’t matter what stick is in the Woodbridge, Ont., native’s hand – he has compiled a six-game scoring streak, knocking in 7 goals and dishing out 8 assists for 15 points over that span.

“In the first few games, I was trying too hard,” Cogliano said. “But then I settled down a bit and got accustomed to what I did before. When I did that, I started to find my touch again.”

A scorer’s touch doesn’t come from a new stick or a change in luck, it comes from hard work and finely tuned skills – both of which have helped Cogliano become one of Michigan’s leading scorers.

Shooting star

When Cogliano arrived at Michigan, one of his most noticeable flaws was his shot. In practice, Cogliano would fly around teammates, find the open space and create the shot. But the goaltenders turned them aside easily.

“Once you step up into the college level the goalies are that much better,” Michigan captain Andrew Ebbett said. “When you get a chance, you just have to get a quick shot. We have three great goalies out here every day, so he’s had a good chance to work on it.”

Seeing that the goaltenders had his number in both practice and his three scoreless games, Cogliano set out to improve with each opportunity he had to skate in practice.

“I’m working extra hard during and after practice on it,” Cogliano said. “I push myself to score on every shot when I do shoot. I’m just trying to improve it for the game.”

In the Merrimack game, Cogliano’s efforts finally paid off, when he found the back of the net for the first time in a Michigan uniform. The puck came to him in the right circle, and he one-timed it past Warriors’ goaltender Jim Healy before Healy knew what had happened.

“I think I was both excited and relieved (to score that first goal),” Cogliano said. “I just saw the puck hitting the net and it was a relief to know that it went in. Hearing the place go crazy and hearing the fans go crazy was a good feeling. You definitely keep that in your memory for the rest of your life.”

When Cogliano was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with the 25th overall pick in this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft, they knew he had the speed to be a dangerous player. Now that he has further developed his shot while playing against elite college goaltenders, Cogliano has a new weapon in his arsenal. If he had jumped into Major Junior hockey – which features a completely different environment – he may never have developed such a blazing shot.

The big decision

Growing up in Ontario, every young, elite hockey player is pushed to aim for the Canadian Major Junior hockey leagues like the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. Because the American college game doesn’t receive the same exposure on television and in the media, many players forgo the opportunity to play NCAA hockey and receive an education. But for Cogliano, the college game was a better fit.

“A lot of people in Canada don’t really know the college game,” Ebbett, a Vernon, B.C. native, said. “You don’t get a lot of games televised up there. The Major Juniors are where you’ve been told you should go since you were 12 or 13 years old. It’s a faster game, and it’s better suited for smaller guys like Cogliano and I – we can use our speed here.”

For Cogliano, some of the selling points for Michigan were the environment at Yost Ice Arena and in Ann Arbor. Even when OHL teams began calling him before their annual draft, he never wavered in his decision to join the Wolverines.

“Ever since I came down to see Michigan play, it was the atmosphere and the school that caught my attention,” Cogliano said. “Right from the beginning, when I was 15 years old, I wanted to come to Michigan. I played juniors for two years and then came down here. I kept my word and didn’t really think about the OHL too much.”

Another advantage of coming to Michigan was the education that Cogliano knew he would receive.

“I’m taking sports management classes, and I’m hoping to major in that,” Cogliano said. “School is going pretty well right now, and I’m looking to stay in school for four years. Education is a big part of my life. Hopefully, I can finish my degree and finally major in sports management.”

Though balancing hockey and school is always a challenge, Cogliano said he can’t picture what life would be like without hitting the ice every day.

“I’ve been thinking about what else I would do,” Cogliano said. “I look at a lot of students and they come here and just go to school. It’s weird to think about that since hockey has been such a big part of my life. I really don’t know what I’d be doing without hockey. I think I’d take the same courses since sports interest me, but I definitely enjoy being an athlete and playing hockey.”

With dreams of a national championship, earning a degree and eventually suiting up in the NHL, Cogliano certainly has his hands full with opportunities for growth during the next four years. And he never doubted Ann Arbor was the right place to work toward his goals.

The right decision?

Hoping to leave with an NCAA Championship, Cogliano has his sights set high for his time in Ann Arbor. And he’s convinced that this year’s team has a shot to achieve that dream.

“Our league is particularly better this year,” Cogliano said. “So we will be prepared and the guys in the locker room know we can win. You can see it in the older guys like Ebbett and (senior Brandon) Kaleniecki – that they want to win a national championship. They are definitely leading us in the right direction.”

Ebbett said he believes the freshmen such as Cogliano provide the energy necessary to propel the Wolverines to the top.

“The enthusiasm that the young guys have is just rubbing off on the older guys,” Ebbett said. “We’re having a lot of fun right now.”

Because players like Cogliano and freshman Jack Johnson committed several years before joining the Wolverines, Ebbett believes they have developed a passion for the program that translates onto the ice.

“The love that they’ve had even before they arrive at Michigan has been a great contribution to the team,” Ebbett said. “Cogliano told me about how he watched us play in the Frozen Four when I was a freshman and how he’s seen our regional games.”

Even if the enthusiasm does not pan out into a national championship, Cogliano’s play has improved by leaps and bounds in his first months, giving him an even better shot at playing in Edmonton down the road.

“(The Oilers’) game is based on speed and skating so I would fit in well,” Cogliano said. “I just want to develop here and get better. Hopefully I can be an Oiler one day. I’m definitely here for four years. That’s why I came here. I think the Oilers respect that and that’s what I’m looking forward to now.”

The Edmonton organization is also comfortable with him playing for Michigan, Cogliano added.

“I haven’t really talked to (the Oilers) at all,” Cogliano said. “They will come down and watch a few games, but I don’t keep in contact that much. They really like the idea that I’m here at Michigan.”

Because the college game is more similar to the NHL with this year’s NHL rule changes, Cogliano can use the experience he gains from playing at Michigan to make an impact at the top level.

“I was really excited to hear that the new (NHL) rules passed because it definitely opens up the game for players like me,” Cogliano said. “You can see during the games that smaller guys are part of the play.”

Already a veteran

Knowing that he has a long way to go in his first year at Michigan, Cogliano plans to continue improving his game, analyzing his faults like a seasoned veteran rather than a rookie freshman. Now that he has found his shot and compiled a team-best six game scoring streak, Cogliano plans to focus on his intensity – an asset essential for a smaller player like himself.

“I just need to play with more intensity,” Cogliano said. “Sometimes during games I get a little lackadaisical. I just need to keep up that intensity for 60 minutes and play hard.”

After improving his shot, it’s clear that Cogliano has begun to establish a track record of making good on his plans for improvement. Ebbett said he believes that Cogliano is putting less pressure on himself then he was in the first few games of the season.

“He’s just not worrying about putting the puck in the net,” Ebbett said. “He’s focused on winning the battles and winning the races to the puck. He finds open spaces on the ice, and when he gets the chance he puts it in.”

Ebbett also credits Cogliano’s laid-back personality, which prevents him from getting down on himself for his faults.

“(Cogliano) is just an easy-going Canadian,” Ebbett said. “You could say that we’re all kind of the same – mellow and relaxed. We give him a hard time here and there, but he’s just a relaxed guy.”

Aside from the lessons that Cogliano has learned from his veteran-esque analysis of his mechanics, he likes to look ahead at upcoming opponents. While many freshmen might wonder how to counter an opponent in their first meeting, Cogliano makes sure that he knows what to focus on in the coming week. Heading into next weekend’s series at Northern Michigan, Cogliano has already looked at lessons that he has learned about playing on the road thus far.

“The first night (a 4-2 loss in Fairbanks) was an eye-opener for me and the rest of the 11 freshmen,” Cogliano said. “You play a road game like that and see how intense it is. It opened my eyes to see the league and how competitive it was. But the second night we calmed down and played the way we needed to play.”

Cogliano also noticed that his skills were well-suited for an Olympic-sized ice sheet, which is 15 feet wider than the typical college rink. He plans to use the extra space in Marquette – just as he did in Fairbanks.

“I really enjoy playing on the Olympic ice because of my speed,” Cogliano said. “I try to take advantage of it as much as possible. I know Northern Michigan has a surface like that, so I’m looking forward to that too.”

With his hot hand and great foresight, fans shouldn’t be surprised if Cogliano can extend his scoring streak in the series against Northern Michigan – even if he breaks the last of his red sticks.

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