Earning the job was the hard part. Keeping it? Well, that’s just a confidence booster for Hayden Lavigne.
The junior goaltender, this time last year, was fighting tooth-and-nail for playing time, competing practice after practice just to see who would start.
But this season is different. With the job firmly in his possession, Lavigne’s attention is elsewhere. He doesn’t have to worry about competing for playing time, but rather can focus on improving himself and preparing for upcoming games.
“It definitely kinda just adds a little bit of confidence and calmness to every day, coming in and knowing what I’m going to be doing is focusing on Saturday, and I know Saturday, I’m going to be starting in between the pipes,” Lavigne said. “So it’s just a little bit of confidence, little bit of calmness, plus I know I can worry about just getting ready for Saturday and not so much on out-competing each practice.
“Not that I don’t do that, but I don’t have to worry about earning my game time during practice, which allows me to work on a couple things I want to without hesitation of kinda not making saves that I should.”
For goaltenders, confidence is everything. The difference between a lucky, shaky goal can be as simple as thinking you can save it. And even if that random bounce happens and a goal occurs, the stability to know you won’t get pulled only helps.
“The goalies that question themselves, there’s a lot of times that there’ll be goals that go in that the confident goalies won’t let in,” Lavigne said. “The confidence just leads to not just your performance, but your team, your teammates really see that, especially in a game.
“You’re kind of the backbone being the last man back there, so I think being confident shows a lot; just kinda team momentum, your momentum, and it helps in preparation knowing that you’re confident about what you’re going to do.”
Lavigne’s confidence can be attributed to building momentum from last year, when Wolverines coach Mel Pearson named him the starter midway through the season. After former Michigan goaltender Jack LaFontaine allowed six goals against Bowling Green on Jan. 1, Lavigne was made the permanent starter and proved it was the right decision.
Though he ended the season with a middle-of-the-road .908 save percentage, he strung together a series of stellar performances in high-profile games — averaging a .947 against Notre Dame, Penn State and Minnesota — while having clutch performances throughout the backend of the season, including a career-high 48 saves against Wisconsin.
And while that would sit well with most players, Lavigne is focused only on improving.
“This summer, I’ve been working on my patience,” Lavigne said. “I’ve been waiting for that shot to be released before I decide if I’m going down, if I’m going to move left or right, and I kind of noticed in practice when I noticed not to stay on my feet as long, not to be as patient, that’s when I get beat really easily.”
And though he worked on it during the summer, patience is an ongoing process. It’s not easy being patient. You can ask anyone, but Lavigne will tell you himself.
“Patience is a hard thing to kind of figure out, but that’s been my key thing so far,” Lavigne said. “So that was kind of my big thing over the summer that I worked on hard to fix and work on, obviously it’s an ever-changing thing.”
And one of the biggest boosts to his confidence comes from the people standing in front of him — his defensemen.
Returning is one of the more talented groups of defensemen, one that Lavigne proclaimed no other team had. The communication between them is there. The trust is there. And inexplicably, the confidence between them is there as well.
So yes, it’s his job to lose, as Pearson likes to put it. And that’s enough to inspire confidence that Lavigne uses to elevate his game.