The Michigan hockey team’s season has been about as easy to predict as a slot machine. The Wolverines have blown out the No. 4 team in the country, lost decisively to an unranked team and won in a shootout against an in-state rival.
While No. 18 Michigan (5-4-1) has gotten stellar performances from freshmen goaltenders Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine — even though they’ve faced nearly 40 shots in multiple games — it has also seen goaltenders give up easy goals in close games. The Wolverines have had games where their senior leaders haven’t produced anything, and games in which senior forward Alex Kile has scored from his knees. Freshman forward Will Lockwood has impressed throughout the season, but his fellow freshmen have experienced growing pains.
Through 10 games, nothing has been certain, and trends have been few.
Perhaps the best representation of that unpredictability occurred this weekend against Boston. In Friday night’s game, the already-young Michigan team was without four of its seniors. Kile, forward Max Shuart, defenseman Nolan De Jong and goaltender Zach Nagelvoort were all suspended, yet the Wolverines played perhaps their best game so far, dominating 4-0.
The next day, when those seniors came back, the team couldn’t maintain its momentum, losing 4-2. So though Michigan has shown it can hang with some of the top teams, it just hasn’t shown there’s any rhyme or reason to when they do and when they don’t.
“I think we’ve got to grow from this,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson of the team’s performance against Boston. “There’s more positive than there is negative, but we’ve got to build on that positive part of our game and our team.”
Part of that growth could come from some clarity in terms of a starting goaltender. Lavigne has accrued two shutouts in his first four starts, and his .956 save percentage is the best in the country. And after LaFontaine had a bit of a rocky outing in Saturday’s weekend finale against Boston, Lavigne may be seeing more time in net.
“That’s a tough game,” LaFontaine said. “For the team — I think we worked so hard, and then I let up a couple weak ones in the third (period). I just need to be better than that.”
But even if Lavigne can maintain his form, he will need some help from his teammates. The Wolverines have been outshot in every game this season except one. And while early in the season that could be chalked up to the team being in a rebuilding phase, that won’t always be the case, especially if Lockwood and freshman forward Jake Slaker continue to be some of the primary contributors.
The rebuilding narrative isn’t something Michigan is buying into anyways.
“I’m a junior, I only have two years left,” said forward Dexter Dancs. “I don’t want it to be a rebuilding year. This weekend there was definitely some extra motivation to tell everyone that this isn’t one of those years where we’re just going to maybe split a weekend and we’ll be happy. We weren’t happy with this weekend. (Boston) is a good team, but we felt that we definitely could have won both games.”
Added LaFontaine: “I watched those guys last year, like JT Compher and Kyle Connor, and they’re great. But this is a different team, and in some respects, I think it has potential to possibly be better.”
Those are certainly big words, and it is a sentiment that has been repeated by multiple players. But so far, the Wolverines have yet to string together consistent outings to prove the ability they believe they have.
And if they are unable to build off the success they had this weekend, the future may be marred with the same uncertainty Michigan has experienced these first 10 games.
Mike Persak can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @MikeDPersak. Please @ him.