May 15, 2014
It took four days for the Michigan ice hockey team to close the book on the 2013-14 season -- a short period of time to reflect on how close they were to reaching the NCAA Tournament. One spinning puck on the goal line, kicked away at the last moment by a Penn State defenseman, an image fresh in the minds of players and coaches, but many other moments contributed to Michigan narrowly missing the NCAAs for the second straight season.
"Those first weekend games of the NCAA Tournament, I felt it should have been us there," newly voted junior captain Andrew Copp said. "But it just lights the fire a little bit more for next season."
On the Monday following Team 92's painful conclusion to the 2013-14 season, a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Penn State on March 20 in the first round of Big Ten Tournament, Team 93 met for the first time with eyes on 2014-15.
"That meeting kind of closed out Team 92 and now it's Team 93," senior forward Zach Hyman said. "We turned the page on last season and we're not thinking about it anymore. We know what happened and we're ready for next year."
Captains were announced -- Hyman and sophomore forward JT Compher as alternates, and Copp wearing the "C" -- and goals were set.
"We said it starts now, even though teams were still playing in the tournament," Copp said. "We're already building towards next year, and we have a day-by-day process and mentality."
With the tone set in the first team meeting, the Wolverines gathered again early last week for the first of many workouts during the spring term with strength and conditioning coach Joe Maher. But for Compher and his teammates it was an extension of informal workouts that began weeks before, after Team 93's first meeting in late March.
"For me it kind of put a light in the fire," Compher said of Michigan's early postseason exit. "It pushed us to start working out at the end of the season. Other teams were still playing hockey and we're focused on getting ready for next year. I think [the captains] agree and the team agrees that we don't want to be watching next year, we want to be playing in [the tournament]."
It comes as no surprise that Copp, Hyman and Compher are captains of the 2014-15 Michigan hockey team. All three play the type of gritty, two-way game that is noticeable, and not surprisingly they were three of the Wolverines' most consistent players this past season. While the three captains play a similar game, each has a different perspective on being a captain this season.
Compher, the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, led the Wolverines with 31 points (11G, 20A) and logged ice time on Michigan's top line and as a key cog on special teams.
"Being a young guy last year you come in and feel your way on the team and see where you fit in," Compher said. "I always try to lead by example on the ice by working hard and competing every time I'm on the ice. I'm just trying to bring the same thing, because I think that's how [the captains] got to this point. It seems like guys notice that, and I think that's why I'm in this leadership position."
Hyman had his best season at Michigan in 2013-14, with 17 points (7G, 10A) in 35 games. Michigan's lone senior captain next year, Hyman recalled the way the seniors made him feel welcome in Ann Arbor during the 2011-12 season.
"It's really special to get a letter, and I hope to come in next year, get to know the freshmen, and guide them like the seniors did when I came in," Hyman said. "Luke Glendening, David Wohlberg, Greg Pateryn and Shawn Hunwick -- those guys did a great job when I came in and they were seniors. I just want to lead the way for all the young guys, the freshmen, sophomores and the juniors, and to set an example by working hard on and off the ice and showing the younger guys what it means to play at Michigan."
Copp enters his second year with a letter on his jersey, but the Ann Arbor native talked about how wearing a "C" is a little bit different that wearing the "A," particularly as an upperclassman this upcoming season.
"As a sophomore captain, you're definitely in more of a lead-by-example role, kind of like JT is this year," Copp said. "You don't want to speak up too much in the locker room and upset the older guys, depending on the dynamic of what we're talking about. I think this year I can definitely be a little more vocal and I think I have been, but first and foremost being a leader is leading by example and being the first guy in, last guy out, and the mentality that you're bringing everyone with you."
With spring workouts under way, the three captains have a unified goal of keeping the team's focus on the day's task. Under the guidance of Maher, the team has a newly structured offseason program including strength training, lifts and distance runs on the Ferry Field track. Each day has a number, a theme that will continue into the 2014-15 season.
"I think today was Day 39," Copp said. "We're keeping track of that and everyone knows what day we're on. If we conquer each day, we'll conquer the entire year, and that's our mentality this season."
At the conclusion of the spring term, players will go their separate ways. Many will stay in Ann Arbor for informal workouts, while others will head home or, for a week, to NHL development camps with teams that own their draft rights. But the team goal of preparing for another season of college hockey remains, with thoughts occasionally turning to Michigan's season opener in October as motivation.
"For me, every once in a while you need that reminder why we're doing all of this hard work, why we're going so hard in the spring, and that first game is usually a game you circle," Copp said. "For us last year, I can tell you the Boston College game was circled for a while. JT texted me randomly last July about that game. It will slowly creep up as we keep going, but day by day, you can't get there without taking on the day in front of you."