While the rest of the Michigan hockey team was running through a power-play drill on Tuesday, the goaltenders were in their own corner of the rink working on distribution.
Goaltending coach Steve Shields was putting them through fundamental drills of their own, using every minute he has while the coaches adhere to the two-hour weekly NCAA limitation, which lasts until Sunday.
Such a practice hasn’t been common for goaltenders Steve Racine (a senior) and Zach Nagelvoort (a junior), given that former goaltender coach Josh Blackburn could only commit to being on the ice with them two days a week last season.
Now, with the addition of Shields, the Wolverine netminders will be coached every day of the week, an opportunity that Michigan coach Red Berenson believes could drastically impact Racine and Nagelvoort’s performance.
Shields, who joined the coaching staff in May, is a former Michigan goaltender who made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1990 to 1994. He was a two-time All-American and the first at his position to reach 100 wins in NCAA history.
After he hung up the maize and blue sweater for the last time, Shields went on to play for six NHL teams.
And now that Shields’ playing days are over, his new goaltending apprentices are enthusiastic to learn from both his collegiate and NHL experience.
“(Blackburn and Shields) know what they did, what worked and what didn’t work, so I can trust what they’re saying,” Nagelvoort said. “Now having (Shields), he was really successful and had a great career. I just feel that much better having him on the ice. I have that much more faith in what he’s telling me, and I’m that much more comfortable with him.”
Added Racine: “Anytime you can get a guy like that helping you out, you value everything he says. Going forward, it’s going to be amazing just having him there every day. No days off. No days where we can kind of hide between certain things. He’s always going be there to critique us and tell us what we’re doing right and wrong. That’s just a great thing to have.”
Nagelvoort and Racine’s statistics were relatively similar last season as they split time in the net. Nagelvoort posted a 2.63 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and finished with an 11-9 record, while Racine recorded a 2.94 goals-against average with an .908 save percentage and an 11-6 record.
But despite their respectable statistics, both goaltenders went through slumps and struggled with inconsistency — an aspect that Shields noted. He has set out to bring the best attributes out of Nagelvoort and Racine on a day-to-day basis by simplifying the goaltending process and forcing them to take a mathematical, rather than personal, approach to their mistakes.
“What I’ve tried to do with them is to strip everything down and not personalize everything. I want them to be able to go back and look at video of themselves, and take it on as sort of a math problem,” Shields said. “They’re just solving a problem. There’s no emotion in it. There’s no second thoughts about ‘how I played this, we lost a game because I did this.’ If we can take the stuff that they’ve done and look at it honestly, and say, ‘Well I can do this better and I can’t do that,’ then they’ll improve.”
Shields has said that his biggest responsibility as the new goaltending coach is to hold his players accountable every day they go on the ice or in the weight room. But in order to do that, he feels he first has to build a unique relationship with each goalie.
He’s inherited that philosophy from his own experience in the NHL, where he was first exposed to a goalie coach who was critical of him every day and was honest about his performances — but only after the two established a relationship.
By creating that rapport, Shields is trying to provide the Wolverines’ netminders with a unique experience he only got at the professional level.
In the simplest sense, each goalie has a metaphorical checklist, and Shields puts it on his own shoulders to make sure they check those boxes as the season progresses.
Shields has taken the first steps in that direction by having conversations with Nagelvoort, Racine and freshman Chad Catt in the spring. He had ideas about where the goaltenders could each improve simply from watching Michigan the past two years, and he constructed a program specific to each goalie that focuses on improving their weaknesses.
And while the Wolverine netminders hope to have breakout seasons under Shields’ instruction, he recognizes the progress won’t happen overnight.
“They have to understand that if they go out and they don’t play the way that they expect to play in practice, that they have to come back tomorrow and refocus,” Shields said. “My goalie coach said to me when I was that age: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.”