One of the biggest issues the Michigan hockey team faces as it prepares for Friday’s matchup with Niagara is its goaltending. The problem has carried over from the 2014 campaign, and it appears there is still no easy solution.
In the Wolverines’ matchup with Union on Oct. 23, senior goaltender Steve Racine made a sprawling stick-side save, extending the entire length of the net to keep Michigan (4-1-1) from conceding a goal early.
Yet after his display of excellent netminding, the veteran went on to allow five goals.
The following day against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, junior Zach Nagelvoort went in between the pipes and allowed just two goals — an improvement over Racine, considering one goal was simply a well-orchestrated play from the Engineers.
Nagelvoort went on to start against Robert Morris, when he allowed three goals but stopped a flurry of shots in the final two minutes of the third period to bolster a 5-3 Wolverine victory.
But then he, too, fell prey to inconsistency. In the second game of the series against the Colonials, Nagelvoort allowed three goals in the first period, Racine replaced him.
Both goaltenders have struggled to replicate those strong performances, showing flashes of brilliance before faltering and conceding weak goals.
Then there is freshman Chad Catt, the mystery man of Michigan’s goaltending trio. Fans have gained only a glimpse of Catt, who played one period in an exhibition against Toronto on Oct. 4.
At this point, Michigan coach Red Berenson has indicated that the starting job is open to all three candidates.
“(The starting spot) is open for whoever takes advantage of their chance,” Berenson said. “That’s the other thing. We can’t play all three goalies in one game or one weekend. But as the season progresses, it’s going to be guys moving up or moving down. It’s going to be up to them. It’s not like we’ve got a starting goalie that plays all the games.”
HIGH-ENERGY PRACTICES: Due to a bye week, by the time Michigan takes on Niagara on Nov. 13, 12 days will have passed since its last game.
Following the Wolverines’ loss to Robert Morris, Berenson expressed that he would much rather forego the bye week and have another game sooner.
That being said, it may have seemed concerning that Michigan had over a week to mull over a bad loss at home.
But despite Berenson’s original concerns, the man at the helm likes what he is seeing out of his team to begin practice this week.
“I think our tempo was good,” Berenson said. “You can feel there’s a little bit more enthusiasm, you know. We know we’ve got a game in sight now. It seems like we haven’t played for a month. But I think our team will have a good week.”
LARKIN RETURNS TO YOST: The Wolverines had a special guest observing their practice on Monday: former forward Dylan Larkin, who left Michigan for the NHL after the 2014 season.
It’s not the first time Larkin has returned to Yost, and following the practice, he spent time connecting with his teammates and coaches from last season.
Larkin has picked up where he left off after his 47-point freshman season. The 19-year-old rookie is plus-11 in 14 games for the Detroit Red Wings, and has tallied four goals and six assists.
But that doesn’t mean Larkin has forgotten the good times he had donning the maize and blue, and he had words of advice for his old teammates if their time in the NHL arrives.
“(I just miss) being a student athlete and being here with all these guys,” Larkin said. “(They should) just enjoy their time here. When everyone gets there, be confident and realize that even though there are some players that you grow up watching, that you’re there for a reason. You’re on the same ice as them, and you can’t take a back seat.”
INJURIES: Junior defenseman Kevin Lohan will be unavailable for Friday’s game against Niagara after suffering an upper-body injury prior to the Robert Morris series. But Berenson is optimistic about the blueliner’s return.
“Lohan will be out for this weekend,” Berenson said “But I think next week, we’d probably say he’s a candidate for the following game (against Boston University).”