Wolverines Confident in Second-Half Improvements
He started last season by splitting starts with classmate Jack LaFontaine. But he started every game from Jan. 2 onwards, raising his season save percentage from .893 to .908. His stellar play was a key reason behind Michigan’s at-large NCAA tournament berth as well as its Frozen Four appearance.
So Lavigne earned the first two starts of the season. But he surrendered 10 goals on the weekend, which allowed for Strauss Mann, a recent USHL champion, a chance to start.
So what changed?
Lavigne said confidence was key to his success last year. But this year, instead of simply confidence, he found that battling hard on every play in practice gave him his best performances the following weekend.
“The two might be similar and being confident might result in making some of those battle saves and plays that don’t really happen. At the same time I think that battling aspect also correlates to giving me more confidence,” Lavigne said.
“I tend to over-think sometimes during practice, which is a lot of times my downfall in certain drills. It kind of gets me, that’s kind of the way I’ve always been.”
He started both games against Wisconsin, where he allowed a total of three goals. That performance earned him a start Friday night against Michigan State, where he gave up four goals in the loss.
“I thought he got off to a slow start this year,” Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said. “I’ll be honest, I thought he would’ve been probably a little bit more consistent early. … I saw a difference in practice the week going into the Wisconsin series. He was much more focused, competed much harder in the net. He made some changes along with (goalie coach) Steve Shields and hopefully Hayden has found that groove that we expected him to be in.”
Mann started on the next night, stopping 17 shots in a 1-1 game. Mann’s .881 save percentage rests just .004 points above Lavigne’s. Both goaltenders have started eight games.
“He’s found a way to win some games and he’s finding some inconsistencies being a young goaltender,” Pearson said. “But I really like his athleticism and his compete level. We think he’s got a pretty good future here.”
Despite not having a goaltender with a save percentage above .900, the Wolverines have managed to hold their own both in conference and interconference play. The Wolverines are tied for third in the conference and have six wins on the season, breaking even at .500. But the reason for that comes from the offense, which has helped Michigan earn some big wins despite the loss of scoring from last year.
One game was a 6-5 win over Western Michigan, another a 5-3 win over Lake Superior State and another was a 6-4 victory over Penn State. Against Western Michigan and Penn State, the Wolverines allowed 10 and 11 goals total, respectively.
While the offense is holding up for now, Pearson said the Wolverines need goaltending if they want to repeat their NCAA tournament success from last season.
“Goaltending is still tops,” Pearson said. “Teams are going to pack it in and you’re going to (see good) goaltending. You’re not going to be able to score so you can’t give up 5, 6 and expect to outscore your mistakes.”
Like most goaltending tandems, Lavigne and Mann are competitive on the ice and friends off it. The pair room together on the road and enjoy discussing professional hockey and equipment. But nearly everything else is different.
“Strauss is very keen on his diet so we have a little bit different routine on when we eat and what we eat,” Lavigne said. “I like to nap for a long period of time on game days. Typically he takes a short nap and he’ll be doing homework and stuff in the room.”
The next step will be finding that chemistry on the ice.