After six months with little free time, all but four college hockey teams now have plenty.
And although their offseason hasn’t yet begun, the Wolverines have finally earned a few days of rest.
With the day off Monday and an optional skate Tuesday, some used their free time to catch up on schoolwork, play video games and go to the Michigan baseball home game this weekend.
Michigan returned to the ice yesterday for its first organized practice since clinching a Frozen Four berth with a 2-0 win over Clarkson Saturday.
Though every player skated, Michigan coach Red Berenson was in Saskatchewan attending to a family matter. He was not at practice yesterday or Tuesday, leaving assistant coaches Mel Pearson and Billy Powers behind the bench.
“With him not being here, guys are a little more lackadaisical, a little more lazy, and so I guess it’ll be nice to have him back,” senior Kevin Porter said Tuesday.
But after three days without a full practice, Michigan looked re-energized yesterday afternoon. Powers said the team, usually relatively quiet during practice, has been exceptionally vocal while skating this week. He refrained from referring to the practice as “loose,” a term that has often had negative connotations for the Wolverines this year, and instead called the team’s attitude “upbeat.”
“The volume and the intensity and the chatter that was going on today were actually positive because the execution was excellent,” Powers said. “I think they’re still a little giddy.”
The Wolverines’ friendly competition showed near the end of practice, when the team squared off in a 2-on-2 game spanning half the neutral zone. During a break in play, forward Travis Turnbull playfully flung a puck over the glass and into the stands. When defenseman Steve Kampfer scored the winning goal in the mini-game, he raised his arms and skated around while his teammates roared in celebration.
Some of the Wolverines are using this week to improve skills that aren’t addressed during high-intensity practices. Freshmen Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso stayed on the ice after yesterday’s practice, as they and other freshmen often have this season, taking advantage of the extra time to practice slick stickhandling and fancy goals.
And for freshman Matt Rust, who has been playing with a hairline fracture in his fibula since the final weekend of the CCHA Tournament, the low-key practice schedule has meant extra time to continue to heal. He said it’s still painful to put pressure on the leg, especially while stopping and starting on the ice, but this week’s practice schedule has eased the pain of a battering weekend in Albany.
With the Wolverines leaving Monday night for Denver, their intensity will escalate during the rest of the week.
But for now, the low-key practices have kept the young team’s morale high and stress level low.
“(Porter and Kolarik) have allowed (the freshmen) to be young kids the rest of the week,” Powers said. “They goof around. They make mistakes. You can laugh at them for some of the things they do. Nobody’s attempted to take away the newness or try to make them grow up too quickly.”