Hayden Lavigne had a rocky start Friday.
The sophomore goaltender — who has championed the No. 11 Michigan hockey team’s defense in the second half of the season as a stalwart brick wall in front of the net — wasn’t playing to his potential.
While the Wolverines (11-10-3 Big Ten, 20-13-3 overall) got out to a one-goal lead, Wisconsin defenseman Tyler Inamoto started an onslaught that would see three total Badger goals in the first period.
Though Michigan would go on to steal a 6-5 victory and later a weekend sweep over Wisconsin (8-13-2-1, 14-19-3), that wasn’t evident at the 15-minute mark when arguably the Wolverines’ greatest defensive asset was left looking up into the air in frustration.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson even mentioned after the game Friday that he considered pulling Lavigne after he allowed a third goal in the first period.
And with the game’s momentum arguably on the line at this point, Pearson called a timeout to reassure his players and his star goaltender.
“We just talked about … (How) we hadn’t played yet, we hadn’t played,” Pearson said Friday. “We were just out there spectators, they should’ve charged us for admission tonight to come into the building the way the first 10 minutes went.
“Then we started to play. And it wasn’t everybody, but you know, a lot of guys haven’t been through this, we’re still a young team. … We were very loose, and we need everybody.”
He squashed the temptation of ending Lavigne’s night, and what happened next proved that Lavigne could withstand the pressures of postseason hockey.
“Hayden, I think the guy gave up five goals that maybe he had a tough night,” Pearson said, “but other than the one, I thought he played excellent tonight.”
Senior forward Tony Calderone — who scored the Wolverines’ first tally — started a four-goal scoring streak that Wisconsin would not ultimately recover from.
“He knows how to handle himself in good and bad times,” Calderone said. “He struggled in the beginning of the year but pulled himself out of it. So, I think he’s one of those guys that you’ve got to let him go and let him do his thing because you know he’s gonna do the right thing.”
And doing the right thing in this case was a career-high 48 saves that proved to be just enough to hold Michigan’s one-goal lead — good for the opening night victory.
While five goals allowed doesn’t look too pretty on the box score, Lavigne gave a veteran comeback performance where significant early struggles seemed miniscule in the end.
“I don’t think it was Hayden’s fault, I think we made a bunch of mental mistakes,” Calderone said. “Hayden’s been great for us all year and I think he played great tonight. I think it was a lot of mental breakdowns by us that caused that. So, no, I don’t think he needed any picking up. I think he’s pretty solid mentally.”
Lavigne continued his steadfast performance with 28 saves in the quarterfinal round against the Badgers with 28 saves, though his prowess was an afterthought due to another round of high-output play from the Wolverine front line.
Lavigne’s comeback in the second and third periods Friday shows that Michigan holds a mentally durable backline able to withstand the demands of what, from now on, will be postseason single-elimination hockey.