After practice ended Monday at Yost Ice Arena, after most of the team and the coaching staff had retreated up the stairs to the locker room, Strauss Mann and Kris Mayotte — and a handful of forwards — were still on the ice.
The sophomore goaltender and his position coach had a conversation at the far end of the ice before moving to the net at the near end. While Mann got settled in the crease, Mayotte explained what he wanted from the forwards he’d chosen to help with the drill.
Two steps to pick up speed, a quick catch of the pass and a speedy release on the shot, either shooting short side as Mann moved from left to right to the near post or pulling the puck to the backhand to go for the far post.
In many ways, it mirrored the goal Notre Dame forward Cam Morrison scored on Mann to make the score 2-0 on Saturday — a game that ended in a 3-0 loss for Michigan. Morrison flew down the left wing, waited just long enough for Mann to bite and roofed a shot short side, popping the lid off Mann’s water bottle in the process.
“It’s really the only situation that he’s kinda faced this year that he doesn’t have a real in-depth plan on how he wants to play it, or at least a plan that he’s really comfortable with,” Mayotte said Tuesday. “We’ve talked about essentially the situation when Morrison scored, we’ve talked about that specific situation a couple different times this year and finally — I think he was like, ‘Aw, well, how often does it happen?’ But after that one he’s like, ‘Well, we need to figure this out and come up with a plan.’ ”
It was at least the fourth goal Mann has given up in essentially the same situation this season. Mayotte recalled similar goals against Minnesota in November, Penn State in January and Wisconsin earlier this month. Mann and Mayotte share a similar goaltending philosophy — neither likes to work on specific situations week-to-week unless it’s truly necessary.
But, after Morrison’s goal, Mann decided he’d given up goals in that situation one too many times. Before practice Monday, he met with Mayotte to figure out a new plan. The two bounced ideas off each other, came up with a few things to try after practice and took the ice ready to solve it.
“My job is to know his game well, but he’s the one that ultimately has to execute it, so the plan has to be comfortable for him, not for me,” Mayotte said. “ … It’s just bouncing ideas off, going through the mental reps and then the physical and seeing what feels right.”
When making adjustments in the middle of the season — especially a season like Mann is having, as he is currently ranked sixth in the nation in save percentage at .934 — Mayotte knows he has to be careful. Change too many things, and it could throw the goaltender out of the fundamentals and the rhythm that have brought him success throughout the year.
But with Mayotte’s focus on fundamentals and fixing bad habits only when it becomes absolutely necessary, he can find the balance.
“I’m a big believer that at this level, you have a lot of goalies who can stop pucks,” Mayotte said. “It’s making sure that they’re consistent. Helping them be consistent. They put in the work.”
Added Mann: “In season in general, for goalies, you try to look at things that need to be fixed but maybe not go into the deeper stuff. Like, if there’s something in the pre-scout of another team or just a bad habit you’re getting into, then you might try to fix that, but nothing too technical or about changing your whole game until after season.”
As Mayotte explained it, the situation Mann kept finding himself in is tricky due to the number of options the skater has with the puck. But with just a bit of work Monday after practice, Mayotte and Mann feel they’ve figured out a plan and fixed the habit without making changes that are too dramatic.
“It’s hard, because you’re trying to cover the whole dang thing,” Mayotte said. “When (the skater has) the puck all the way out (there), it makes the net more like eight feet wide rather than six because you have to get outside your posts to stay square.
“It’s a tough one, but we’re working on it. I think we came up with a plan.”