Alaska trip presents challenges, bonding opportunities for Michigan hockey team
The mere mention of Alaska draws a quick response from Scooter Vaughan.
The groan is unmistakable. The one-word description of this weekend's destination for the Michigan hockey team is simple: depressing.
As if playing away from the cozy confines of Yost Ice Arena doesn't come with its own set of challenges, the annual 3,695-mile trek to Fairbanks is unique.
The 12-hour, three-stop flight that left Detroit on Wednesday morning is the first step. Between now and Friday, the No. 5-ranked Wolverines will adjust to a four-hour time zone change and a much different climate before playing two games against the 15th-ranked Nanooks this weekend.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
"This is like Florida compared to what we'll be going to," Michigan coach Red Berenson said this week. "It's the dead of winter up there, and it's a whole different world.
"But the good thing that comes out of that is that you're away from everything and you get a chance just to focus on hockey."
Berenson will use the trip as an educational and team bonding opportunity. On Thursday, the Wolverines will spend time curling before going on a sight-seeing trip to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and then skate as a team Thursday night.
"It's important just to be with the boys," senior forward Carl Hagelin said. "We usually don't get the chance to spend so much time so close, but up there, you only have the boys on the team and you spend a lot of quality time together."
By Friday, Berenson expects his team's focus to be locked into the business at hand. Michigan (4-1-3, 3-0-1 CCHA) faces an Alaska team that is unbeaten at home. The Nanooks (5-2-1, 2-1-1 CCHA) are coming off a sweep of Bowling Green in which they outscored the Falcons 8-2.
Alaska plays in an Olympic-sized rink, which offers more open space in the neutral zone. Berenson said if the Wolverines don't skate well in space and take advantage of the extra room, the Nanooks will, making winning in Fairbanks even more difficult.
Breaking its recent trend of opening-night disappointments - a 4-2 loss to Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 22 and a shootout loss to Ferris last week - is a priority for the Wolverines. Berenson said his players understand the importance of starting series with more desperation. It's a trait the Wolverines have demonstrated the past two Saturdays, each which have produced Michigan victories.
But in order to get into the rhythm Berenson wants his team to play with, the Wolverines know they can't afford any more slow starts.
"We just have to have the right mindset," Hagelin said. "We have to get ready for Friday and come out strong. We know (hockey) is the purpose we're going up there for. There's no other things going on up there, so we just want to go up there and play a good couple of games."