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Goaltender position still in question for Michigan

Paul Sherman/Daily
Freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge, who is rotating in net, has strugged in is first few starts for Michigan this fall. Buy this photo

By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 29, 2012

Coming off a series split with Miami (Ohio) last weekend, the No. 8 Michigan hockey team still has some uncertainties at the goaltender position.

But with two freshmen goalies, uncertainties are expected. Michigan coach Red Berenson has played Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge equally so far.

On Friday against the RedHawks, Racine recorded 30 saves and allowed two goals to earn his third win of the season. A day later, when the Wolverines’ third-period collapse allowed a Miami victory, Rutledge took the loss after allowing four goals on 35 shots.

“I thought (Racine) battled hard throughout the game and made the saves that he’s capable of making and maybe a couple that he shouldn’t have made,” Berenson said after Friday night’s victory.

And he had a similar sentiment on Saturday in regards to Rutledge’s play, even after the Chicago, Ill. native allowed four goals in the loss.

“(Rutledge) gave us a chance,” Berenson said. “I thought he played a good game and we just didn’t give him the kind of support you need to give your goalie.”

During Saturday’s loss, there were some defensive lapses that allowed Miami to have an advantage deep in the zone. But a couple of the goals came off of shots that Rutledge possibly should’ve stopped.

Miscues or not, both goalies’ statistics are beginning to speak for themselves. Racine is 3-0 and has allowed 2.33 goals per game on the year. In comparison, Rutledge is 0-2 with 4.52 goals allowed per game. Berenson has said throughout the season that he is looking for a goalie who will give the team the best chance, and that is exactly what Racine has done. Berenson wouldn’t comment specifically on whether Racine will be the starter for both games this weekend when Michigan travels to play Northern Michigan, though.

“We’re looking for our goalies to get better in all of the things — I can give you a laundry list of the all things the goalies have to do to get better,” he said. “(Volunteer goaltending coach Josh Blackburn) will work with them tomorrow and maybe Wednesday, and then we’ll make a decision of who looks most ready and so on. But coming out of the first five games, Racine definitely has shown that he can play.”

This is the first time that Berenson has even hinted that Racine might have an edge. Berenson said that the goalie dilemma isn’t the main problem, though. He is more concerned with the entire team getting on track than his two freshman goalies’ performance, especially since this weekend marks the first road series of the year for the Wolverines.

And what does the constant question mark of who will start and who will sit do for the two young goalies?

“It actually keeps us pretty focused because any opportunity you get you need to be at your best,” Racine said.

Berenson insists progress on that laundry list will help determine who the starter is, but that’s not necessarily the only determinant.

“I’d say that things like positioning, puck-handling, quickness, being alert, being ready for a quick shot and not being surprised by shots and being aware of what the situation is,” he said.

One of those aspects which Racine said he needed to work on was his puck-handling. On more than one occasion Friday, he errantly passed the puck behind the net, which resulted in a defensive-zone turnover. The puck went directly to an opposing player one time, and that turnover ultimately led to a Miami goal.

Despite both goalies’ freshman status, the 21-year-old Racine has an age factor over the 18-year-old Rutledge. Racine played two years in the United States Hockey League with three different teams, and then last year was the starting goalie for Georgetown of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Berenson insists neither has the edge, but as the season progresses, one goalie will likely grab the starting position for the long haul. Until then, they’ll likely split the starts in goal.

“They’ve got a lot to work on,” Berenson said. “But I can tell you I like both these goalies and there’s some things that each one of them has to clean up.”