A bang-bang play knocked goaltender Jack LaFontaine out of the Michigan hockey team’s game against Michigan State this past Saturday. 

During a Michigan State attack, sophomore defenseman Nicholas Boka was pushed into the crease and fell on the freshman, who appeared to suffer a leg injury that left him in considerable pain. LaFontaine attempted to play on it, but it wasn’t long before Michigan coach Red Berenson decided to pull him for senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.

LaFontaine described the sequence of events as “frustrating.” He had worked hard in practice all week to earn the starting spot in Saturday’s game against Michigan State — marking just his second start since Dec. 2 — and had been playing well before the injury, stopping 18 of 19 shots in the contest.

Despite the shortened appearance, LaFontaine has maintained his position in the current goalie competition between him, Nagelvoort and freshman Hayden Lavigne (who has received the most starts). The injury didn’t last beyond the weekend, allowing him to practice all this week, and according to Berenson, LaFontaine is “back in the picture” as the team continues its search for a starting goaltender.

“We liked (LaFontaine’s) progress in practice and his work ethic,” Berenson said. “It’s getting to the point where you’d like to see one goalie take it and run with it, and we haven’t had one goalie that really has stood out. 

“They’ve all had their moments. … There’s no blueprint that you can just go by and say, ‘This is the plan,’ and expect everything to work perfectly. It hasn’t. But all three are working hard, they all want to play, and they’re all getting chances to play. But whoever takes it and runs with it will be that guy, if anyone does. Otherwise we’re going to be a team with goalie by committee.”

Added LaFontaine: “It’s definitely a great opportunity for me individually. As a team, I have the ability to kinda get us out of this hole. I think as a three-man rotation, we do a really good job of staying in games and making big saves. … For all of us, we’re just working hard and doing what we’ve done since the beginning of the season.”

Warren, Dancs switching lines

In Michigan’s last four games, sophomore forward Brendan Warren has played on the same line as freshmen forwards Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood. But that will change against Wisconsin this weekend.

“We gotta get more guys going, and I think Brendan can add more to our team than he has, and I think Dexter Dancs can add more to our team than he has,” Berenson said.

Dancs has shifted to the Slaker-Lockwood line, where he’ll play with the team’s two leading scorers. Meanwhile, Warren has moved to the fourth line, alongside junior forward Cutler Martin and freshman forward Nick Pastujov. He will be playing right wing in the usual place of freshman Steven Merl, who isn’t traveling with the team to Madison.

“Brendan Warren is doing a good job on the penalty kill, and I want to see him kick in offensively when he can,” Berenson said. “Our fourth line has been outscored way too often this year, including against Wisconsin. So hopefully it’ll be stronger this weekend than it has been.”

Warren doesn’t think there will be too much of an adjustment from switching lines — he skated with Martin and Pastujov earlier this year.

“Going with Slaker and Lockwood is a little more skill game, and it’s fast — really fast — so it was (about) keeping up with them,” Warren said. “I think with Cutler and Nick, it’ll be more chip and chase, and we’ll bang bodies a little more.

“(I) just gotta get on defense fast. That’s my role, I get on ‘D’ fast and hit them, try to get the puck back and get it to Cutler or shoot it or something like that.”

Kile still out

While Michigan is switching up its lines in an attempt to spark the offensive production of Dancs and Warren, the Wolverines will still be without one of their key playmakers in senior forward Alex Kile. Kile has now missed the past four games, and Berenson said Wednesday that the senior will not be traveling this weekend either.

Kile has just 10 total points on the season with six goals and four assists, but he has still had a significant offensive impact — especially for a team that has struggled to score goals.  

“Alex is not only a captain, but he’s our leading scorer coming into the season, and he should be one of our leading scorers,” Berenson said. “So we’re losing an offensive fireplug with Alex Kile and one of our leaders.”

Michigan will need others, like Warren or Dancs, to step up this weekend, and Berenson has been impressed by the efforts of a pair of seniors in Kile’s absence.

“I think a lot of other guys have tried to pick up the slack,” Berenson said. “I think the other seniors, (Max) Shuart and Evan Allen, are playing their best hockey now, so good for them. But Alex Kile was on their line when he got hurt. So we’ll see when he comes back where he fits in, and hopefully he’ll give us a jumpstart.”

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