There wasn’t a specific play that Hayden Lavigne was injured on. Rather, it was the “accumulation of the game,” the result of facing 27 shots from then-No. 9 Minnesota, made only worse by improper care of his groin.
Regardless of how it happened, it felt tight after the game, and the freshman goaltender missed the Michigan hockey team’s series the next weekend against Michigan State.
It was the second stretch this season that Lavigne has missed extended time. The first took place over two weeks in November and December, when Lavigne was sick and missed both the series against Lake Superior State and then-No. 6 Penn State.
Both the illness and injury couldn’t have happened at worse times for Lavigne. Before falling sick, he looked poised to grab the lead in Michigan’s still-ongoing goaltender competition. He had posted two shutouts in his first four starts and led the team in both save percentage and goals-allowed average by a wide margin.
When he returned from his first ailment in the Wisconsin series, the opening results weren’t pretty. He gave up six goals on 27 shots as Michigan suffered a 7-4 loss against the Badgers.
“I think he was getting confidence and momentum, and he got sick and he missed four games in a row,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “… It’s the same thing with any of our guys that are out for any time. If you’re out for a couple weeks, it’s tough to get your legs going and your head going and get your confidence back right away.”
Lavigne, though, recaptured some of his early-season momentum the following night. He saved 34 of 35 shots as the Wolverines salvaged a split against Wisconsin. Then, Lavigne stopped 36 shots in the Great Lakes Invitational, giving his team — in a game in which its offense went missing — a chance to beat Michigan Tech.
But as soon as he had gotten back on his feet, the Minnesota game and resulting injury followed. Now, Lavigne is back in the same position he found himself while sick: trying to fully recover while maintaining his level of play from earlier in the season.
Still, the adversity he’s faced this season is nothing compared to the path he took to Michigan.
After committing to Michigan in 2013, Lavigne spent nearly three years bouncing between teams in the United States Hockey League. He was cut from his first two teams — the Tri-City Storm and the Waterloo Black Hawks — all while Michigan’s coaching staff delayed his enrollment, waiting for Lavigne to emerge as the player they recruited.
At one point, while transitioning from one team to another, he sat in the stands for over a month, watching his team play without him. He eventually caught on with the Bloomington Thunder, putting up the best stats of his junior career, and joined the Wolverines this fall.
“Obviously, it’s not the same type of adversity I’ve been through, but at the same time, going through those trades and cuts taught me how to be mentally tough and deal with adversity,” Lavigne said. “…That really taught me to be invested in practice and doing what I can, controlling what I can control, not stuff that’s outside of myself. Those things definitely prepared me for the injuries that I’ve had this year and the illnesses.”
Lavigne’s early successes surprised some because of his long-winding path to Ann Arbor. Senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort is the most experienced of Michigan’s trio in net, while freshman Jack LaFontaine was a third-round pick by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Yet, Lavigne has arguably outplayed both when he’s been given the chance.
“Hayden’s done a nice job coming in here,” said assistant coach Billy Powers. “I think obviously his numbers bear that out. … I just think the start that he’s gotten off to is a credit to his ability to handle adversity and stay focused. That, clearly, I think has been an advantage for him having three years of junior experience. Clearly, all the work he put in prior to Michigan and dealing with the highs and the lows have really helped him be ready for this.
“… I would be willing to bet Hayden probably brushes small things off like nothing because he’s been through much worse.”
Added Berenson: “… I liked what (Lavigne) was doing in his early games. We had a bad team game in Vermont that didn’t help him any, but outside of that, I thought he was making progress. … Now, who was going to surface (in the starting competition), I don’t think we were in a rush at that point, but Hayden made a good first impression. Let’s put it that way.”
While it would be easy to imagine a freshman player fretting over whether he fell in the pecking order because of his illness and injury, Lavigne continues to remain unfazed. His struggles in the USHL have shaped him into the player he is today. A tight groin, after all, is a much different ordeal than spending three years in small Midwestern rinks waiting for your shot.
“I think that’s helped him a lot more than he knew at the time,” Berenson said. “He didn’t know at the time how this story was going to be played out, and I think now, his experience is going to be huge. Hopefully, he doesn’t have any more adversity this year, but what he’s gone through so far, he seems to have handled it pretty well.”
So Lavigne, equipped with the lessons of his junior travels, did what he knows best: He went back to work, whether it was rehabbing his groin or watching film. He started practicing once again this past week and may play this weekend against No. 11 Ohio State.
And once again, he’ll try to return to his early-season form — or better.
“I think I’ve just got to put that in the back of my head and know that that’s how I can play,” Lavigne said. “But at the same time, that’s the past and people are only going to look at how I finish the rest of the year. I don’t want to be that guy that started off really hot and fell apart.”
Added Berenson: “(Lavigne) knows he can do it. He’s got some confidence. … Of course, every day in practice is kinda like trying out for your position in the game. … We’ve got players that are trying out every day just to get into the lineup, and I think it’s a similar thing for Hayden.”