Every Michigan hockey practice follows a similar pattern.

Kate Green
JEFF LEHNERT/Daily
Goalie Al Montoya often takes on teammates in pick-up games after practice.

The Wolverines spend around 90 minutes fine-tuning just about
anything and everything. For a team with expectations as high as
Michigan’s, it’s important that practices run smoothly
and things get accomplished.

They work on special teams and odd-man rushes, and always make
time for a little conditioning.

The team then congregates at center ice, where it chatters and
closes practice with a handful of pushups.

And then, finally, the coaches leave the ice and the fun
begins.

A handful of times, a couple of players have taken off their
gloves and helmets and duked it out it for a round or two. If it
weren’t for the grins on their faces, an observer might think
the teammates were truly fighting.

But most days, the spectacle is at the north end of the Yost Ice
Arena, where sophomore goaltender Al Montoya and a group of five
Wolverines — yesterday it was sophomore Andrew Ebbett and
juniors Milan Gajic, Eric Nystrom, Brandon Rogers and Michael
Woodford — play a game that never fails to result in some
rowdy antics.

Play begins with Woodford firing a slapshot just inside the
blueline. From there, the puck is live until the quintet scores a
goal or the puck hits the boards — in which case Montoya
scores. First to make ten wins.

Montoya usually prevails, but yesterday the group of five was
victorious, and it enjoyed every moment of it. After every score,
the quintet celebrated like they would after a goal in the Frozen
Four.

As for the level of difficulty of the game, both sides claim
that the game is biased against their side.

“It’s a lot easier for a goalie,” Gajic said.
“All (Montoya) has to do is hit the puck into the boards.
That’s it. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover to keep
it from hitting the boards.”

But Montoya shot back with his own reason for why Gajic thinks
that’s the case: “It’s because they’ve
never won a game before. They’re supposed to win every game.
They put together a little powerplay or something and they’re
pretty proud of themselves.”

The “powerplay” is a wrinkle Gajic is proud of.

“We went from a cover-4 to a cover-3 today,” Gajic
said with a smirk. “And we changed up our pitching style from
the point … we needed someone behind the net and along the
boards.”

In this strategy, when Woodford fires the puck, instead of the
other four going in front of the net, one would be at the side
along the boards.

Yesterday’s game was filled with so much emotion that more
than a few times Montoya and Gajic were wildly swinging their
sticks at each other.

“I like getting Montoya pissed off and riled up and off
his game,” Gajic said. “It’s good to finally win
one.

“It’s fun — but we want to get him. He’s
beaten us all year long pretty much.”

While it’s mainly just a chance to grab bragging rights in
the lockerroom for a day, the players are actually practicing
important hockey skills.

“They’re right on top of me and they’re firing
rocket shots,” Montoya said. “It makes me focus getting
my stick on (the puck) so I get it off the ice and on the boards. I
try to put the pucks in the corner because it means the rebounds
aren’t staying in front of the net where guys can score
(easily).”

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