Two is better than one.
Last season, then-sophomores Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne split time at goaltender for the first half of the season until Lavigne wrestled away control of the starting job.
Though Lavigne retains a hold on the position through the first five games of the season, the emergence of freshman goaltender Strauss Mann has provided the Michigan hockey team (3-2) with a viable second option. Even after Lavigne recorded a shutout on Friday against St. Lawrence, Mann received the nod the following evening. And for Michigan coach Mel Pearson, having two good netminders is better than one.
“(Lavigne)’s a good goaltender,” Pearson said. “It’s nice to have one really good goaltender, but it’s even better to have two really good goaltenders. So, I just wanted to make sure Strauss got in.”
When Pearson was as an assistant for the Wolverines, the team would traditionally ride with one goaltender, including Scott Sharples, Steve Shields and Marty Turco. Last season was a bit of an anomaly for Pearson, who was getting a feel for his two sophomore goaltenders in his debut season as head coach for Michigan. Now in his second season at the helm, Pearson has a freshman in Mann who has shown the ability to provide quality play in the crease.
Mann allowed only one goal on 19 shots in Saturday’s 3-1 victory after showing some signs of struggle in a 5-4 loss at Western Michigan last weekend.
“I wanted to get Strauss in and just to get him a home game,” Pearson said. “We sort of threw him into the deep end right off the bat at Western Michigan. It’s a tough place to play, and I just wanted to get him a home game … And I want some competition.”
As for Mann, the competitiveness between himself and Lavigne only drives him to be better.
“As a goalie, there’s only one guy that can be in the net at a time,” Mann said. “So that’s something I’ve really had to deal with my whole career so that’s nothing new. Everyone is just trying to play their best when they’re in the net and that’s just been my approach. When I get my chance, (I) just do what I can do and hopefully things will work out in the long run.
“I think the best goalies are really competitive, and I’d like to think I’m competitive as well. We both know we’re friends off the ice, so anything that happens on the ice is just hockey and just competing and at the end of the day just looking to make each other better. So, no one ever takes offense to anyone wanting to stop pucks or getting competitive on the ice, it’s just the nature of the game.”
Lavigne will likely continue to receive the majority of the time between the pipes. But with Big Ten play beginning next Friday against Notre Dame, Pearson knows that he may have to ride the hot hand if one goaltender stakes a claim to that level of success.
Thus far, both Lavigne and Mann have put up nearly identical numbers in three and two regular season starts, respectively. Lavigne has a 3.04 goals against average with a .864 save percentage, while Mann has a 3.07 goals against average and a .860 save percentage.
Though he’s currently the clear backup now, Mann embraces the opportunity to continue to improve on and off the ice and earn more playing time.
“(Lavigne and I) have a really good relationship and definitely push each other on and off the ice. We have a good line of communication and definitely talk about goaltending a lot and how we can make each other better and push each other. It’s been a good relationship so far.”