Michigan made: Calumet native Rowe excited for future with Wolverines

Calumet native Rowe excited for future with Wolverines

01/26/2024 Michigan ice hockey vs. Wisconsin at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, MI.

CALUMET — Breaking into a college hockey lineup that featured NHL draft picks like Gavin Brindley, Rutger McGroarty, Seamus Casey, Dylan Duke, and Frank Nazar was not going to be an easy task for any player, let alone a 6-foot-1, 179-pound, freshman forward from Calumet, but don’t tell that to Tanner Rowe. Rowe, who originally committed to the University of Massachusetts, but then changed his mind and decided to go to his dream school, the University of Michigan, played in 26 of 41 possible games as a freshman.

Not bad for a young man from the Copper Country.

“It’s always been like a dream school growing up, just playing,” he said. “Everything just worked out in the end.”

For him, getting to stay in-state also meant that his family, including his father, Kenny, and his mother, Molly, could make multiple road trips to see him play.

“(For) my parents and all my family, it’s just awesome, because it’s in the same state,” he said. “So, they can come down all the time and support. So, that’s like the really the cool thing about it, just being able to have them down there.

“Going to school in the same state that I grew up in, it’s really cool.”

While being extended an offer to play for coach Brandon Naruto and the Wolverines was a huge accomplishment in itself for Rowe, he still had to find a way to earn ice time alongside draft picks of teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks. Taking the ice alongside Brindley, Nazar, and the others, even in practice, was an experience that is hard to describe.

“It is really surreal when you’re practicing with them, because, obviously, they’re high-level talent,” Rowe said. “Just watching the stuff they do in practice is crazy. You’re just like, ‘I don’t know how we did that.'”

Despite how talented his teammates were, Rowe said that what meant more to him was the fact that every player on the Wolverines was just as excited about having him as a teammate as they were about playing with other high draft picks.

“They treat you like you’re any other hockey player,” he said. “They’re not like going to downgrade you or anything. So, they’re your teammates. They just play the game, and they treat you just like another player on your team.”

Breaking into the Wolverines’ lineup meant that Rowe had to prove himself in practice every day. That challenge was made easier by the fact that Naruto asked his players to be at their best every day in order to earn their ice time on the weekends.

“Obviously, you have to be pretty dialed in,” said Rowe. “You’re not going to just go through the motions out there. Everyone’s trying to get better each day. I just like knowing that, because you’re trying to get better too, and work your way up the lineup as much as you can.

“So, just going into practice every day, and you know you’re going to get better, is always something that I’ve always tried to achieve. (It’s) my little goal for each day.”

With so many talented players around him, Rowe said that the expectation level for each player is very high.

“So, that has always been something that is really cool at Michigan, because the practices are just so intense, and high level, because of these high-level players that are at Michigan, too, so it’s very elite,” he said. “Everyone’s expectations for each individual is very high.”

At the same time, Rowe feels that Naruto wants every player on his roster to be constantly improving.

“He cares about every single player on the team,” Rowe said. “He wants to make you a better player going up to the next level.”

Rowe’s first game was on Oct. 7, 2023, against Providence, a game which the Wolverines lost 4-2. Still, the experience of stepping on the ice at Yost Ice Arena while wearing the block ‘M’ on his chest was otherworldly for him,

“It’s an honor to put the block ‘M’ on and go out there with your teammates and brothers,” he said. “My parents and all my relatives were there for my first game, so it was just a surreal moment, just taking all in.”

Having his family there meant so much to him.

“It was just such an unbelievable moment, just to play in Yost, and have all the family members there,” he said. “It was awesome.”

After getting through that first game, hearing the student section, the “Children of Yost” cheering him on, he settled in and played in 13 more games before finally picking up his first point in a win over Stonehill on Jan. 12. He was in on a faceoff in the offensive zone alongside Kienan Draper, son of former Detroit Red Wings center Kris Draper. Draper won the draw to him, and he quickly fired a shot that found the net, beating the goaltender to the low blocker.

“It was an unbelievable moment,” said Rowe. “My mom and dad were there, so that was really cool. They got to experience that, and I think it was a little emotional for them up in the stands.”

Rowe had the chance to experience the rivalry that is Michigan-Michigan State first hand on Jan. 19 in the Wolverines’ lone win against the Spartans during the regular season. Playing at Munn Arena, Michigan emerged with a 7-1 victory in the contest.

“It was packed in there,” he said. “There were no seats open. I remember standing on the blue line for the national anthem, and just seeing all the people wearing white shirts, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s packed in here tonight.’

“Just being able to experience that, and also getting the win in Munn, that’s something hard to do, being on the road.”

While the Wolverines lost the remaining three regular season games against the Spartans, and the Big Ten championship game to them as well, they did defeat them in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Even though he did not got to play in that game, or at all in the NCAA Tournament, Rowe loved being a part of the entire experience.

“It’s hard to keep beating a team over and over again,” he said. “So, we just came together as a group and said, ‘It’s our time now. This is do or die. Our season could end if we don’t beat these guys.’

“We wanted to stay with each other as long as we could. So, I think, we all came together as a group, and, really, the practice before, everyone was just really dialed in. The game came, and I just felt like I just knew we were going to win.”

Rowe admits that not getting to play in the NCAA Tournament was not what he was hoping for, but he knows that his time will come if he keeps working hard to improve himself.

“It’s hard to be not playing when you’re in the stands watching from above, but you want the team to do well and excel, obviously, no matter what,” he said. “My time’s coming, and I know, this year, I’m going to put in the work, and next year, hopefully, we’ll be back there and winning the national championship.

“It was hard to see, not being out there, but at the same time, you hope for the best for the team. Next year, I’ll be ready to go.”

Despite not playing, Rowe enjoyed getting the chance to attend the Frozen Four with his teammates.

“It’s crazy how we get treated there,” he said. “The hotel is very nice that we stayed at. Minnesota, the state of hockey, you couldn’t have asked for a better place for it, because the games were packed. Just being a part of the team, it was a very fun experience. You just can’t wait for it next year.”

After completing his freshman year, Rowe knew Michigan is exactly where he wants to be. He did not consider jumping into the portal to look for a different opportunity.

“Michigan is where I want to be,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a grind no matter what, because it’s such an elite team. I just wanted to be a part of a winning program, and I know nothing’s gonna be easy, because if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Getting to see Nazar and Brindley sign NHL contracts with the teams that drafted them was really exciting for Rowe and his teammates. Rowe had returned to Ann Arbor sitting alongside Nazar, so after he scored his first NHL goal for the Blackhawks, Rowe texted him to congratulate him.

“It’s just kind of crazy, because I was sitting right next to him on the plane ride back from the Frozen Four, and two days later, he’s playing in the NHL,” said Rowe. “So, it’s just like, everything happens really quick.

“It’s crazy, but it’s life. It’s awesome that they got to live their dream up. So, I was really happy for them.”

Seeing his teammates play their first NHL games has motivated Rowe to work even harder.

“Playing in the NHL is, obviously, every hockey player’s dream,” he said. “So, yeah, it really motivates you.”


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