Strauss Mann had a shutout on Saturday.
It was no epiphany. It was easy to see the work he put in over the course of 60 minutes to accumulate to a 20-save blank sheet.
When asked, he’ll always deflect the credit elsewhere. Some nights, it’s all about the defense in front of him, blocking shots or throwing checks. Other nights, it’s the offense, keeping the puck in the other zone. Saturday night, as Michigan notched a 3-0 win to move onto the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, it was, again, the defense making all of Michigan State’s chances not hard to save.
“This was probably the best we’ve played defensively all year,” Mann said. “And I don’t know how many grade A’s I’ve had to face but it wasn’t a lot this weekend.”
But the real story was all about Mann — he was the man of the hour.
A shutout is no easy feat. After earning his fifth the day before, he tied for second in the nation for most shutouts. One day later, he did it again. Sixty minutes. One hour. That’s how long he had to laser in in-game, but his match started much earlier.
To most players, there’s practice. There’s team meetings. There’s warmups, and then there’s the game.
“Some guys when they come, they don't think about hockey until they get to the rink,” Kris Mayotte said Jan. 30. “And then once they leave the rink, sometimes they don't think about it again until they come back the next day.”
Mann’s routine and structured lifestyle has been often noted. He has a strict diet that he follows to a T. He requires 10 hours of sleep. He has made sacrifices in how he lives to better his hockey career. Because of his discipline off the ice, the coaches trust that whenever he leaves the building, he’ll have his mind and heart on hockey.
“It's something that's on his mind all the time,” Mayotte said. “The pre-work or even the post-work of what's going to happen here at the rink, you know, that just that tends to build on itself, and its success usually follows.”
And his success has followed. He’s the third best goaltender in the nation based on save percentage, which he’s recorded at .939. He’s claimed the sole spot of most shutouts with six and a goals against average of 1.85.
Sure, his defense helped by blocking shots and limiting Grade-A chances, but he ultimately made the saves and stopped the puck. To Mayotte, it’s success that Mann believes he deserves.
“A lot of it is the mental side of it, and knowing that you've sacrificed as much as you possibly can to be where you are,” Mayotte said. “So you just feel like you're prepared as well as you can be and so you feel like you deserve success.
“And I think that's a lot of what he feels and he does.”
Even off the ice and away from the play, he maintains focus that carries over to on-ice success. Before the game Saturday, the Wolverines were in the weight room, getting ready for the Spartans. Freshman forward Johnny Beecher joked that he felt someone to his left and after getting no response to a question he asked, he figured it was Mann. Mann was dialed in and nothing anyone could do would get him out of his zone.
“He’s super into his craft,” Beecher said. “I mean, he takes care of himself really well and it’s exciting to watch.”
Even for game-day meals, he had a continuation of his Paleo-esque diet.
“He had poached eggs for breakfast,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I told him, ‘What’s the difference between the eggs that are hard boiled and the poached eggs?’ ”
But there are differences, besides the obvious. Everything he does, he does meticulously in a way that will bring him success on the ice.
A game of hockey lasts sixty minutes, and Saturday night, Mann played them to flatline Michigan State’s offense. But to him, the game started much earlier than that.