For most of this season, the Michigan hockey team has used a rotation of three goaltenders: senior Zach Nagelvoort and freshmen Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne. But on Nov. 11, after Lavigne shut out then-No. 4 Boston University, 4-0, it seemed that he was making a case as the frontrunner for more playing time.
Unfortunately for Lavigne, his rise to the top of the depth chart was delayed. After coming down with an illness, Lavigne was forced to miss four games and one exhibition, and during that stretch, the Wolverines went 1-3.
Friday, the freshman came back to the ice against Wisconsin. And while the return of its top statistical goalie was a welcome sight for Michigan (1-3-0 Big Ten, 7-8-1 overall), Lavigne’s return was a rocky one.
When all was said and done, he lasted just two periods, giving up six goals on 27 shots.
“I just definitely started to get frustrated in the second (period),” Lavigne said. “Obviously we got some bad bounces, which didn’t help aid that at all. And then with the net-front presence that they were giving, I just kind of got frustrated, and I got in my own head a little bit.”
Despite Lavigne’s rough start Friday, Michigan coach Red Berenson decided to stick with the freshman for the team’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday. The call came as a bit of a surprise, given the team’s tendency to rotate its goalies this season, but it ultimately paid off.
Lavigne faced 35 shots on the night, allowing only one goal that came off an odd-man rush on a power play. And though the strong performance was a confidence booster in itself, the decision from Berenson to give him another shot had Lavigne feeling good coming into the matchup.
“That meant a lot,” Lavigne said. “It really shows that they have confidence in us. And obviously we’ve been rotating throughout the year, and we’ve all done pretty well. So it meant a lot to get that nod again to get in Saturday night. It just shows that they have trust in you, and that they believe that the team has trust in you as well.”
Part of Berenson’s decision was to give the freshman ample opportunity to prove himself after sitting out. But beyond that, he felt Lavigne gave the Wolverines the best chance to win.
“Let’s face it, on paper, he’s got our best record,” Berenson said after Saturday’s game. “And he needed a chance to play, to come back and show what he can do. I thought he was a little rusty last night. He didn’t play a poor game, but his team didn’t give him a good game. Tonight, the team was better, and Hayden was better, too.”
Lavigne’s strongest performance came during the second period of Saturday's game. Michigan took five penalties in the period, placing extra pressure on the freshman to be stout in net. While the constant action would make it hard for some goaltenders to stay calm, Lavigne says the constant action helps him maintain focus.
That effort is especially pertinent for all the Wolverines right now — the team has a two week break for the holidays before it returns to action at the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 29. But with its best goaltender healthy and seemingly confident as ever, Michigan is more equipped to rebound from the tough stretch it suffered without Lavigne.