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With all of the attention we’ve given the Michigan hockey team’s highly-touted freshman class this year, Strauss Mann has almost gotten lost in the shuffle, despite being named Big Ten goaltender of the year a season ago.

Even though the spotlight has not been focused on the junior goaltender, Mann will be just as crucial to the Wolverines’ success this year as he was last year — maybe even more so. In July, Mann was named a captain for the 2020-21 season. Mann is Michigan’s first goaltender to hold the role in 78 years, presenting a unique set of challenges. 

“You’re not on the bench with all the guys all the time, but I think there’s many other ways you can lead,” Mann said. “Just trying to carry myself the best way I can and compete every day in practice and set the standards in those ways.”

But based on everything his teammates have said, Mann won’t have much trouble at all as a leader — despite his position. As sophomore forward Nick Granowicz put it, “he has a good understanding of everyone individually as a player.”

While Mann’s role as a leader has changed entering this season, his role on the ice will remain nearly identical. He’s still the Wolverines’ starting goaltender and will start in Saturday’s season-opener against Arizona State. He’ll still be arguably the most important player on the team.

“I think Strauss is really just the backbone of our team and you can really just trust him in net, just trust that hes going to make big saves, and really … keep us in games and help us win games too,” senior forward Jack Becker said. “He just brings an element of trust on the ice and you can really rely on him to make those special saves, and he’ll be there in those key moments that we need him.”

However, Mann’s workload may be a little tougher this season. Because there will be no fans in the stands this season, there is no longer a need to play games only on Fridays and Saturdays. Many games will be played on weekdays, creating the potential for fewer days off between series than normal. Michigan already has multiple stretches in the first portion of its schedule during which it will play four games in seven days, as opposed to the usual nine.

For Mann, this schedule change will be an adjustment, but he already has experience handling a similar load. Prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Mann played in the USHL, where teams play more games and have fewer off days. He thinks that this experience will prepare him for the season ahead.

“Just trying to make sure you’re preparing your best and getting a good night’s sleep every night,” Mann said. “It’s nothing new, really. It’s just, everything’s a little bit more important with a more packed schedule. You can’t get away with maybe a bad night’s sleep. You got to make sure you’re doing the right things and holding yourself accountable every day to be disciplined.

“We’re all just going to go all in for those games and hold ourselves accountable every day for the little things, whether it’s nutrition or sleep or stretching, just make sure we’re keeping our bodies in the best shape we can.”

Michigan coach Mel Pearson doesn’t expect Mann to have any trouble with the condensed schedule, but he has said that freshman Erik Portillo — the Wolverines’ backup goaltender — looks sharp in practice. If Mann needs a couple extra off-days this season, Pearson trusts Portillo to fill his spot.

“Erik has shown extremely well and we’ve got to get him in there,” Pearson said. “We’ve got to get him some minutes. But when you have a guy like Strauss Mann, sometimes it’s easier said than done.”

With a young team facing an abnormal season, there is some uncertainty surrounding Michigan. But with Mann in between the pipes, the Wolverines have a lot of confidence.

“He’s going to be as prepared as anyone in college hockey,” Pearson said. “Any position, any player I guarantee you that. He just goes about his business in that way. So for us, knowing that hes back there, it does give you some comfort.”

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