Midway through the final period Saturday night in East Lansing, the Michigan hockey team (3-7-2 overall, 0-5-1 Big Ten) went on the penalty kill after graduate transfer forward Jacob Hayhurst got called for roughing.

The ensuing faceoff in the Wolverines’ defensive zone resulted in notable scoring opportunities for Michigan State. First, defensemen Dennis Cesana and Jerad Rosburg passed back and forth before Cesana took a one-timer from the high slot. 

The puck was deflected by the goaltender before forward Patrick Khodorenko took possession on the left side. He skated to the corner and stayed behind the goal line while attacking the post. At the last second, he dished a pass through the tip of the crease to Rosburg on the other side, who took a shot at the gaping hole on the right half of the net. A goal looked inevitable, but the goaltender extended his glove and made the save.

That display of staunch goaltending was nothing new. It has been Michigan’s staple for most of the season and has given the Wolverines a chance to win in most games. Only this time, it was senior Hayden Lavigne who held out the hand and not sophomore Strauss Mann.

Michigan was down 3-0 with six minutes left in the second period when Michigan coach Mel Pearson decided to pull Mann to change things up and potentially rejuvenate the team.

“Just basically told him ‘Hayden get ready, you’re going in.’ That was about it,” Pearson said. “And he knows, I mean, he’s a veteran. He knows you don’t need a lot of words, but I did talk to him after. I told him I was happy for him. He played extremely well, and I thought he was really good.”

The decision put Lavigne on the ice for the first time this regular season. The last time he stood between the pipes was during an exhibition game against the University of Windsor in early October. And though his team fell to the Spartans, Lavigne impressed with 11 saves and no goals allowed during his time in net.

“When you start a game, your initial mindset is obviously just do what you can to win,” Lavigne said. “And then I think going in mid-game, your mindset is kind of just to hold it where it is. You’re not really necessarily looking for that win. Obviously that’s the goal at the end of the day, but going in my goal there with 26 minutes left in the game is just kind of make sure that we leave with three on board and it doesn’t increase from there.”

Watching the first 11 games from the sideline is likely not a position Lavigne would have foreseen a few years ago. Not for a guy who, as a sophomore, won the starting job mid-season and led his team to the Frozen Four.

Last year, though, Lavigne couldn’t find his peak form and thus shared the crease with Mann. And at the start of this season, after Lavigne let up two goals in the exhibition, it was Mann who got the final nod.

That brings us to the current status. After coming off the bench against Michigan State, it took some time for Lavigne to settle in. His heart raced early, but he mentioned that after facing the first few shots he found his composure.

“It was good. I mean, I’ve been waiting a long time to get in a game, working hard in practices to make sure I was ready,” Lavigne said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking. Kind of felt like a little freshman again, playing my first game in a while, but it was good. Good feeling to be back. Felt like I was seeing the puck well, just felt fast, felt good overall.”

Being a backup goalie requires you to be on your toes. As Saturday showed, Lavigne could be called into action at any moment and maintain his edge, even on the bench.

“I just try and stay kind of mentally and emotionally involved even though I’m on the bench,” Lavigne said. “Just makes it easier to get in there so your mind doesn’t have to turn on as well as your body when you get in.”

From the bench Lavigne stays vocal, always pointing out to teammates what they’re doing well as this helps him stay focused on the game. What’s more, he looks for tendencies in the opponent’s game and imagines how he would handle the various situations if he were playing. This routine paid off, as he was well prepared for the heat in the third period against the Spartans.

“I expected Khodorenko to just kind of drive it to the net since he had that little lane, so I went down on that post,” Lavigne said. “As soon as he released it, I just kind of knew that I had to get over there as fast as I could. Stretched my hand out as far forward as I could to kind of cut down that angle.

“It’s one of those plays where you play the odds and know where the angle is likely to be and then just kind of hope that it hits you, and that was the case. Just made sure I got over there fast and got over there aggressive and then luckily held on to it.”

Though it’s unclear when he’ll play next, Lavigne is still a key asset for the team. After all, you never know when you might need a helping hand.

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