Junior goaltender Strauss Mann sat down in front of his computer not knowing what was about to happen.
The Michigan hockey team had been holding Tuesday Zoom meetings all throughout quarantine, and by early July, it was ready to announce the captains for the upcoming season.
Normally, the team votes in the spring and the announcement is made in person, but to understate the obvious, this year looks a little different.
This year, votes were still cast in the spring, but the results weren’t announced until July. By that time, Mann and his housemates — junior forward Jimmy Lambert, junior defenseman Nick Blankenburg and senior forward Jack Becker — were already back in Ann Arbor for voluntary training.
In place of the traditional meeting, the team captains were revealed through a video announcement, including a compilation of clips from their careers as Wolverines.
First came the announcement of the alternate captains: Lambert and Blankenburg.
Next, Becker was announced as the first of two captains.
Becker has a career total of 42 points — 22 goals and 20 assists — over the course of 101 games. Last year, during his junior season, he racked up 12 points in just 32 games.
Finally, Mann saw his own jersey flash across the screen.
Mann started 35 games between the pipes and made 987 saves for a .939 save percentage in his sophomore campaign, earning him the title of Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. Now, he’ll be the Wolverines’ first non-senior captain in five years.
After the call, the four players — now not just roommates but co-captains — came out of their respective rooms and congratulated each other.
“It was a really special moment,” Mann said.
Mann thinks that he and Becker will work well together. The former is a little more talkative while the latter is a bit more reserved. They try to offer different perspectives to the team.
Becker and Mann are taking the reins from 2020 graduate Will Lockwood.
In preparation for the role Mann has talked to all different types of leaders in his life, from Joseph Cecconi — the captain during Mann’s freshman year — to family members and leaders in business.
Recent graduates Luke Martin and Griffin Luce — both alternate captains last season along with Jake Slaker — spent time over the summer quarantining at Mann’s house in Connecticut, giving them the opportunity to pass along their wisdom to the younger player.
“Just like handing over the torch,” Mann said.
He’s taken something different from each of last year’s captains. From Martin, he’s learned how to make things fun. From Lockwood, he’s learned how to lead by example and gain respect.
As much as Mann and the new captains can learn from their predecessors, this year brings its own challenges.
“There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders for all of us — not only the captains but everyone on the team — we have to sacrifice a lot more this year to be able to play and making sure that we’re staying in our own bubble,” Mann said. “Trying to lead that and enforce as captains is a hard challenge for us for sure.”
The captains have worked with the rest of the team to develop a set of guidelines for how to stay healthy. They’re also tasked with making sure the players follow through, motivating them and possibly doling out punishment when necessary.
Mann’s hoping to follow Lockwood’s example in that regard.
“He’s a big fan of bringing guys in and correcting in private and cheering on in public,” Mann said.
As much as Mann wants to learn from the team leaders who came before him, he’s confident in his own ability.
“I definitely believe in myself as a leader, but I didn’t necessarily think that I would be wearing (a letter),” Mann said. “Especially looking back as a freshman to think now that I’d be a captain — or one of the captains — is kind of inconceivable.”
And Mann isn’t just being humble. It’s pretty inconceivable for a goaltender to be elected captain. He’s just the fourth in Michigan history and the first in 78 years.
The NHL has explicitly stated that no goaltender can wear a letter. In the NCAA, it’s more of an unwritten rule.
“I bet some would say that’s because goalies are usually a bit weirder than other guys,” Mann said. “But it’s a different position. It’s obviously a bit segregated from the rest of the team. … I think goalies have a leadership role regardless of wearing a letter or not.”
Mann felt that responsibility last year. Adding the “C” to his jersey just gives him a bit more credibility off the ice.