Zach Nagelvoort got one game, and then he waited a month for his name to be called again. And while he may not be the man in front of the net when the season ends, the senior netminder has made his peace with that.
Nagelvoort earned the start for No. 18 Michigan’s season opener against Union, stopping 36 of the 40 shots he faced that night in the Wolverines’ 4-3 loss. It wasn’t a great performance. He gave up a late goal that probably should have been saved. But considering the number of grade-A chances the Dutchmen generated, it was still a pretty damn good one.
Then Nagelvoort, like an unused toy, went on the shelf. He waited while the leaves changed color, the calendar flipped over and freshmen Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine each started three games in net.
For other seniors, spending their final season on the bench and watching younger kids take their spot on the ice could have been torture. It seems that would be especially true for Nagelvoort, who has seen his playing time decrease with each year in Ann Arbor — playing in 24 games his freshman year, 22 his sophomore season and just 11 last year. He started his second game of the year against Arizona State this past Friday, nearly a quarter of the way through the season.
But Nagelvoort has handled it well, perhaps as well as one could have.
“I wouldn’t say (it’s tough),” Nagelvoort said Monday after practice. “I would say it’s pushing me to be that much better of a goalie, because I’m not in a position where I can say, ‘Ah well, I had an OK week, but I’m still the starter.’
“That idea of complacency can’t come in your head — not that it has, but it leaves no room for it, the way things are set up right now. You’re constantly having to better your game.”
At this level, most goaltenders have the physical part of the game down. They know how to make glove saves, how to make blocker saves and how to go down into the butterfly.
So Nagelvoort has spent most of his time in practice focusing on the mental side of goaltending, which he says is “98 percent” of the game.
“I’ve seen a player that has acted like a senior (and) like a leader, that has competed hard every day even though he hadn’t played in a month,” Berenson said. “(Nagelvoort’s) shown a really good attitude. He’s grown up a lot. I think he used to worry about some of the things that were out of his control, and now, I think he’s got everything in perspective, and it looks like it in the way he acts and practices.”
While Nagelvoort is still embroiled in a competition with Lavigne and LaFontaine for the lion’s share of minutes in net, he has tried to mentor both freshmen this year. Berenson says the senior has been very supportive and positive, even while helping players who could take his job.
Nagelvoort has tried to lead in the way that former goaltender Luke Dwyer did during his time in Ann Arbor. Dwyer was a walk-on who hardly played, but someone who, according to Nagelvoort, “worked his butt off” and prepared as if he was going to start every Friday and Saturday night.
The difference is, Nagelvoort wasn’t a walk-on. He was recruited by Berenson and the coaching staff, and when Michigan comes calling for a player, it usually means they have the talent to start. Nagelvoort showed he did in his first season.
But his career hasn’t panned out as he might have expected.
He is still in the thick of the goalie battle, especially considering his performance last Friday, when he made 31 saves and helped his team earn a 4-1 win over the Sun Devils.
All three goalies have been impressive this year, but Berenson has yet to see one distance himself from the others. But with the way Nagelvoort performed in Arizona, Berenson said the senior is back in the picture.
“Right now, our concern is Friday night against (Boston University),” Nagelvoort said. “Looking any further past that — there’s no need. I can’t play Saturday’s game right now. What I can do right now is I can focus on today’s practice. Looking any further ahead than that is a waste of time, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”