After taking home a bronze medal with the U.S. National Junior Team at the 2018 World Junior Championships, freshman forward Josh Norris, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes and sophomore forward Will Lockwood rejoined their Michigan teammates this weekend.

But only two of the three were able to compete in Team USA’s final four games of the highly-anticipated tournament, held in Buffalo, NY from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

During a preliminary round game against Canada on Dec. 29, Lockwood suffered a serious injury after landing on his left shoulder. The injury put him out for the rest of the tournament, and it is growing increasingly likely that he will be sidelined for the rest of the Wolverines’ 2018 season, too.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson noted last week Lockwood would be reevaluated by the team doctor upon returning to the Wolverines. After further inspection this week, it appears now surgery will be unavoidable.  

“He was evaluated yesterday, and basically told the options that are in front of him,” Pearson said after practice Tuesday. “Him and his family will make a decision with what they want to do. It’s basically one of two things: He’s either going to try to play at some point this year, and he’s going to need surgery at the end of the year, and or just have surgery now, and call it a year, and just get ready for next fall.”

Regardless of whether Lockwood will be out for a small increment of time versus the remainder of this season, the skilled forward’s absence is likely to leave a devastating impact on Michigan’s offense. Lockwood has tallied 11 points this season so far — the sixth-most of any Wolverine.

Just a year ago, during Lockwood’s elite freshman season — where he finished with 20 points — his performance was hindered when an injury to the same shoulder took him out for five games. He had surgery in the offseason and underwent a taxing rehabilitation process, making the approaching surgery he will have to go through all the more serious.   

“It’s pretty drastic either way,” Pearson said. “We just want to make sure he gets well, and doesn’t have any more setbacks like he had this year.”

Pearson is very conscious of the drawbacks that will come with Lockwood’s vacancy, but also hopes his team will be able to step up in game situations in light of this unfortunate circumstance.

“(Lockwood) is an exciting player, he’s a fast player, he’s a skilled player,” Pearson said. “He plays the right way, so yeah, those players are hard to find. And obviously we can’t just add anybody, we don’t have a lot of depth to begin with. But having said that, it’s an opportunity for someone to step in, get some extra ice time and fill that void.”

Lavigne set as starter

Early on in Michigan’s season, Pearson expected a starting goaltender to emerge heading into the fifth weekend of play.

But as it became clear that sophomore goaltenders Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine were performing at an even level, the decision to select a go-to man was put on hold.

Now, a little over halfway through the Wolverines’ regular season, it appears that they have finally selected a starter. Following Michigan’s home-and-home series against Notre Dame, Pearson stated that Lavigne’s performance — against the now-No. 1 team in the nation, no less — has earned him the nod as starter in goal.

“I thought he’s established himself this weekend as our guy,” Pearson said. “It’s just two games, but we haven’t had a guy put back-to-back games like that, and good for him. We’re going to need that going forward … I thought he was excellent, and that’s all we need.”

Lavigne played a crucial role for the Wolverines, making 59 saves throughout the weekend’s two full games. The goaltender allowed just four pucks past him when facing the Fighting Irish — one of the conference’s offensive powerhouses.

Michigan has yet to see consistency at the position. The Notre Dame series marked the first time a Michigan netminder has stayed in for two complete games.

Pearson expects Lavigne’s sturdiness in the net will not only help to minimize the opposition’s scoring, but will additionally give his teammates an extra boost of confidence on the ice.

“If you’ve got a goalie back there that you can trust and know is going to make a majority of the saves, that can really help,” Pearson said. “We play a little bit looser I would say, you’re not as uptight…and I think that can give your team confidence, and that’s what we’re looking for, for Hayden.”

Big Ten update

While the beginning of the season featured a large number of series splits, now, just beyond the halfway mark of the 2018 regular season, a significant separation of skill level within the competitive Big Ten conference has emerged.

Not only does Notre Dame now command the conference, but it also sits atop the country, earning the No. 1 ranking coming off its weekend against Michigan. The Fighting Irish are the only undefeated team in the Big Ten and are riding a 15-game win streak following their sweep of the Wolverines. 

Notre Dame has demonstrated the ability to shake up a conference it only joined this season, with the strongest team defense in the conference — including an all-star goaltender Cale Morris, who holds an impeccable 0.965 save percentage.

No. 6 Ohio State holds the second-best conference record, a big shock as the Big Ten Coaches pre-season poll predicted the Buckeyes would finish third-to-last in terms of record.

Ohio State had an upset sweep of Minnesota in early December, and also swept Michigan and Michigan State. The Buckeyes have utilized their special teams unit effectively, with the highest power play percentage (19.57) in the conference.

No. 13 Penn State, No. 9 Minnesota and No. 18 Wisconsin all hold similar records, sitting in the third, fourth and fifth spots in the Big Ten, respectively. The Nittany Lions have the most dynamic offense in the conference, scoring 90 goals on the season so far — at least 25 more than any other team in the Big Ten.

Michigan and Michigan State, as the sixth and seventh-ranked teams in the conference, currently place in the same spots they were forecasted in at the beginning of the season. However, the Wolverines rank second overall in team offense, thanks to ample contributions from senior forward Tony Calderone, as the conference scoring leader, and junior forward Cooper Marody, the leader in assists. 

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