Already five games into the 2016-17 season, the No. 11 Michigan hockey team has a lot to break down. The team features 11 freshmen in addition to 17 returning players, which has made much of the season a learning curve so far.
After the Wolverines lost some of their top scorers last season — including Kyle Connor, Tyler Motte and JT Compher — the team is looking to replenish some of the offensive initiative it lost last year.
And while Michigan has yet to solidify lines and a starting goaltender, it’s clear from the Wolverines’ first five games that they have been attempting to fill this void. With a few individual freshmen standing out early on and many returning players assisting in the 3-1-1 record, Michigan’s roster showcases plenty of potential.
Even after five games, it’s still unclear which player is going to be saddled with the full-time responsibility of being the starting goaltender for the Wolverines. Three of the four goaltenders listed on Michigan’s roster have seen game time this year, and all three have looked solid in front of the net.
Returning senior Zach Nagelvoort recorded a .929 and .906 save percentage his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. His junior year, however he only played in 11 games after Steve Racine claimed the job. This year, he’s in the running to take the job back.
Nagelvoort has only guarded the net twice this season, one of which was in the first period of the exhibition against Windsor, where he tallied seven saves and recorded an assist. The other was in the season opener against Union, where he recorded 36 saves. But even though the game ended in a 4-3 loss, Nagelvoort looked solid in front of the net and has the most experience among the rest of the goaltenders, which makes him one of the strongest candidates for the starting spot.
Freshman Jack LaFontaine has quite noticeably made a name for himself in the position as well. He made his collegiate debut during the third period of the Windsor exhibition, where he recorded 12 saves.
It wasn’t until the Wolverines’ first road match, however, that LaFontaine truly put himself in the running for the position. In a close match against Ferris State, LaFontaine saved 28 of 29 shots for a 2-1 win over the Bulldogs. He also saw game time in the 3-3 tie against Michigan Tech on Saturday, when he collected 42 saves.
The final goaltender who has seen action this season is Hayden Lavigne. The freshman recorded 13 saves in the exhibition against Windsor and 31 saves in both his first collegiate debut in a shutout against Union and in Michigan’s 4-3 win over the Huskies on Friday.
All three goaltenders have modest records behind them, and it’s unclear which one will take the position. They’ve all proven they can handle being in between the pipes — so far.
Motte, Compher and Connor didn’t just pace Michigan on offense last year. They became one of the most prolific lines in college hockey.
All three players are gone now, leaving a young team to try to replace them.
One member of that young team is freshman forward Will Lockwood. Lockwood’s father was a part of Michigan coach Red Berenson’s first four year-class and scored a total of 69 goals throughout his career — and so far, it looks like his son is living up to the family legacy.
Lockwood — a former member of the United States National Team Development Program with current teammate Luke Martin — has already notched three goals and three assists this season and has been a consistent name on the first line. Off the stat sheet, he’s known for being speedy on the ice and it looks as if he is acclimating well to the pace of college hockey.
Coming off of a season captaining the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League, forward Jake Slaker had a record of 21 goals and 21 assists in 57 games. So far this year, he’s matched Lockwood’s total of three assists and three goals and has been a consistent name on the first line.
And then there’s senior captain Alex Kile, and though he’s only scored a single goal so far this season, he has been a constant presence on the ice. And his experience from the previous season, when he scored 16 goals and recorded 18 assists, puts him in good position for the team to lean on.
Freshman James Sanchez has recorded two goals in a single game in the shutout against Union and looks to be solid as well, generally sitting on the second or third line with two senior forwards, Evan Allen and Max Shuart. Shuart has scored a single goal this season, but has capitalized on opportunities for assists.
Sophomore Brendan Warren and juniors Dexter Dancs and Tony Calderone have also made offensive contributions so far this season.
Michigan also suffered significant losses on defense, with Michael Downing and Zach Werenski turning pro. But a few new defensive recruits in addition to the returning class offer an optimistic look for the Wolverines.
Nolan De Jong is highlighting the returning class, and has taken on a captain position for the season. De Jong led the defense last season, playing in every game and leading all Big Ten defensemen. As one of the captains of the team this year, he’s been a significant factor in the success of the younger team.
Junior defenseman Sam Piazza is one of the top returners this season as well. In the past five games, he has scored three goals and tallied two assists, a clear indicator he is attempting to fill the void left behind from last year’s top scorers.
Juniors Cutler Martin and Niko Porikos have also each scored a goal, and sophomore Joseph Cecconi tallied an assist.
Christian Meike, Griffin Luce and Luke Martin are all newcomers for the defense.
With strong returners leading the defense, the freshmen have a good opportunity to learn what they need to in order to help fill the shoes of Werenski and Downing.
Overall, Michigan has a lot of potential to work with. Despite the abundance of fresh faces, many of the freshmen have earned their place on the roster. The team has some kinks it needs to work out after getting outshot in each of its first five games. But with a few more weeks before conference play begins, the Wolverines have a little bit of time to find the chemistry they need to capitalize on their individual talents.