A central question for the 2016-17 Michigan hockey team revolves around goaltending. After last year’s primary starter Steve Racine graduated, the Wolverines were left with three goalies who all carry question marks into the crease.
Senior Zach Nagelvoort brought the most experience, but he was inconsistent last season. Freshman Hayden Lavigne was once a heralded recruit, but after a few tough years in the United States Hockey League, he wasn’t necessarily a sure bet to start, either. Freshman Jack LaFontaine was a highly rated recruit in his own right, but he isn’t as experienced as the other two.
Now, three games into the season, all three have had the chance to start, but the situation still isn’t any clearer.
“I can’t tell you there’s a plan that’s in stone,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “It’s probably going to take a while for us to sort out the three goalies that have played. I told them, ‘This could go on all year, it could go on for half of the year,’ but we’ll see. But I’m pretty open-minded. (Goaltending coach) Steve Shields has been in constant work with these goalies on the ice and off the ice, and I think it’s really helped them. And he’ll be a good sounding board for me as far as who plays when.”
The uncertainty doesn’t bother the players themselves, either. Nagelvoort said at the beginning of the season that he enjoyed the competition among the three goaltenders, and on Wednesday, he echoed a similar sentiment.
“I would say nothing’s changed,” Nagelvoort said. “I’ve known, and … they’ve known, that no one is guaranteed ice time, and that’s what’s going to drive us to be the best we can be this year.
“I said that we have a competitive group of guys, and that we have three different guys who can play on Friday and Saturday night and that’s going to help me to be better, help Jack to be better and help Hayden to be better, and all we’ve seen is that.”
The play of the three goaltenders has been important for the Wolverines so far, and it will likely continue to be for the rest of the year. A solid performance from a goalie can cover up mistakes made by the rest of the team, and given how young Michigan’s roster is this season, the netminder is crucial to the team’s performance.
This was especially evident in Saturday’s game against Ferris State. The Bulldogs outshot Michigan, 29-16, and dominated possession throughout the game. But thanks to LaFontaine’s stellar performance in net, the Wolverines were able to stay even throughout and eked out a win in the end, 2-1.
Those performances don’t just happen, though. The goalies all have to be ready, no matter when their number is called.
“That’s not up to us,” Nagelvoort said. “So it’s not really something you worry yourself about. It’s just kind of just more that you prepare yourself for every game.”
So far, the goalies have been solid. Even when Nagelvoort gave up four goals in the team’s season-opening loss to Union, he was peppered with 40 shots.
Though nobody has separated themselves as the sure starter, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For now, Michigan believes all three are capable of getting the job done.