Last season’s three-man goaltender rotation for the Michigan hockey team is now down to two. Zach Nagelvoort graduated last spring, and sophomores Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne remain as the two Wolverine netminders with substantial experience.
And in his first season at the helm, Michigan coach Mel Pearson seems confident that the goaltenders can handle the increased workload. He called the rotation of LaFontaine and Lavigne the team’s “strongest position right now.”
In addition to the increased playing time, though, LaFontaine and Lavigne find themselves in somewhat new leadership positions with the team.
“I feel like as a goalie, you kind of always lead from behind,” Lavigne said. “You’re the quiet guy that’s just kind of there doing your job every single day, you know, in and out. There’s definitely going to be leadership, not just from me, but also from (LaFontaine) and (junior goaltender Chad) Catt as well. And I think it’s just going to be by being confident every day in net, just coming to work, and being quiet — not necessarily an outspoken leadership position.”
Added LaFontaine: “Me and Hayden both definitely feel a responsibility where we need to step up now, and this is both of our years to kind of take this team and kind of build off both of our strong seasons last year.”
NEWCOMERS PREPARING TO EXCEL: One of the main reasons for optimism with this season’s Wolverines is their incoming freshmen.
Forward Josh Norris was a first round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and defenseman Quinn Hughes is projected to be an early pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Pearson pegged them as players he expects to produce at a high level for Michigan.
“Those are the two guys you expect to have the most immediate impact,” Pearson said. “Obviously Josh was a first-round draft pick, so there’s a lot of pressure on him to perform, and Quinn Hughes is ranked really high. They’ve both looked really good.”
In addition to Norris and Hughes, the Wolverines welcome fellow first-years in forward Jack Becker, forward Michael Pastujov — brother of sophomore forward Nick Pastujov — and Dakota Raabe, who Pearson said has impressed him with his skating and skill.
Michigan also added graduate transfer forward Alex Roos, who spent the last four seasons at Colorado College.
LOCKWOOD RETURNING AT FULL HEALTH: When sophomore forward Will Lockwood was on the ice last season, it was easy to imagine what he could accomplish in the future. Lockwood was one of, if not the, fastest skater on the team, and he was second on the team in points (20), assists (12) and goals (8).
The one thing that did stop Lockwood was a nagging shoulder injury that held him out of five games last year.
This year, Lockwood hopes to have remedied that issue. He had surgery on his shoulder last spring, and he claims he’s feeling as healthy as ever.
“I feel great,” Lockwood said. “The surgery was timed well, so I’m ready to go at the beginning of the season. So, yeah, I’m feeling really good about it. … We’ve done a really good job rehabbing it and everything, so I feel confident. We’re starting the season up, and I’m really excited for that.”
With that newfound health, the Wolverines will rely on Lockwood, as Pearson said at the team’s Media Day on Tuesday.
“I’m looking for a big year out of Will,” Pearson said. “I like the way he plays. Being on the opposite bench last year watching him, he’s the kind of guy you want on your team. You didn’t want to play against him, so it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable and relaxing for me to have him on our team instead of playing against him.”
DANCS, WARREN “X-FACTORS” OF THE TEAM: In his time at Michigan Tech, Mel Pearson turned the Huskies from a perennial underdog into one of the best teams in the country in Corsi-percentage. As a result of that, many players on his teams put up impressive stat lines.
With scoring being one of Michigan’s biggest problems last season, Pearson is looking to have a similar effect on the Wolverines.
Tuesday, Pearson pointed out senior forward Dexter Dancs and junior forward Brendan Warren as “x-factors” for the team. Dancs showed some promise in his sophomore season, accruing 17 points on seven goals, and Warren had a 17-point campaign of his own two seasons ago.
But both Dancs and Warren regressed last season. Dancs scored only one goal, and Warren had just 10 points.
For Pearson, the challenge lies in giving Dancs and Warren the confidence to be at the top of their game.
“I think you have to give them that confidence as far as their roles and playing them,” Pearson said. “If they have a bad shift or a bad game, continue to play them. Give them an opportunity to work through that.
“… They’re key guys to us having success.”