Though Michigan can only have one of freshman Strauss Mann or junior Hayden Lavigne in the net at a time, and a permanent starter may emerge among them, the two goaltenders continue to forge a relationship unique to them and the position itself.
Yet, they remain in competition. Lavigne and Mann are hovering around .500 with Michigan looking for a spark.
Both netminders have almost identical stat lines — 3.28 goals allowed against, 177 saves and a .881 save percentage for Mann compared to 3.20, 179, .877 for Lavigne. Still, each player brings something unique to the table. While Mann is more of a rangy goaltender that wanders out of the net, Lavigne prefers to sit back patiently in the crease.
“I think goalie is a special position,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “With forwards you have 15 forwards and you play 12 … It’s a little bit different. It’s a unique relationship between goalies. Goalies are different.”
Pearson’s sentiment also holds true in the way that Lavigne and Mann process the ups and downs of the game. Lavigne is someone who rides the waves of his emotions — positive or negative — while Mann is more straight-lined, not having or showing much of a reaction to anything.
“Mann’s always been very upbeat, very positive, intelligent, competitive and he’s an easy guy to talk to and he’s always been that way,” Pearson said. “He’s a pretty level-headed kid. I don’t think he can tell if he’s won a game or lost a game. His highs aren’t really high, but his lows aren’t really low.”
In Michigan’s run to the Frozen Four, LaFontaine served as Lavigne’s confidant — someone whose shoulder he could lean on in spite of the ongoing competition. Mann doesn’t fulfill this role, and shouldn’t necessarily. As a freshman, he needs time to adjust to college hockey and get comfortable himself at Michigan — something that Lavigne and LaFontaine had the luxury of doing together.
Rather, Mann guides by example more than by direct emotional support. Though Mann was thrown into the fire in his first start in a 6-5 loss at Western Michigan and withstood a 12-goal offensive onslaught to split two starts at Penn State, his reaction was no different to those games than it was in wins.
“I think it’s important to show excitement when it’s due, but at the same time you have to be able to restrain that (non) excitement when it’s negative,” Lavigne said. “Looking at Strauss, that’s something I can learn from him, he’s really good at just goaltending without getting frustrated. There’s stuff we can learn from each other, and the median between us both is the spot that we want to try to get to.”
It’s exactly that collaborative mindset, though, that keeps Mann level-headed in the face of the competition and season at hand. Sure, it might have stung not to get a start in either game in the Wisconsin series after playing both games in State College. He and Lavigne, however, know that every moment, whether it’s on or off the ice, serves as an opportunity to help the team out and further their respective career arcs.
“The interesting part about the goalie-partner relationship is that there can only be one guy in the net,” Mann said. “So just that being a fact, it gets very competitive between the two goalies, because at the end of the day you want to be the one in the net. But at the same time, you have to realize that your career is a journey, and even if you’re not playing you can still get better in so many ways and learn stuff from your partner.”