New year, new Lavigne

Monday, January 14, 2019 - 9:49pm

Junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne notched 30 saves with a .889 save percentage in last week's 4-2 win over Notre Dame .

Junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne notched 30 saves with a .889 save percentage in last week's 4-2 win over Notre Dame . Buy this photo
Evan Aaron/Daily

For most, New Year's marks a time of change.

For Michigan junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne, the change came a little earlier. With a .870 save percentage up from October to December, it was no secret he had struggled in net while fighting for playing time.

That was, until winter break hit, when Lavigne decided to flip a switch.

“You could see it just in practice, his intensity, his work ethic,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “He turned the corner just before Christmas, and then we’ve seen it in practice.”

Practice was where he made his mark — for good and bad. When the season first began, the starting goaltending spot was his to lose. After all, former Wolverine goaltender Jack LaFontaine had transferred, and the backups were two freshmen with no collegiate experience. But the effects of a guaranteed start had a negative impact on his development.

Lavigne — tall and athletic — normally created separation from every other goaltender not through talent and skill alone, but through the way he worked hard and attacked practice. He was competitive to the point where allowing goals during practice angered him.

Yet, despite his work ethic, he lost focus in the midst of his job’s security.

“I think when he first came back this year, little sloppy in practice,” Pearson said. “Didn’t bear down as well as he should have or could have. I don’t know if he thought he’d show up, and it’d just be like last year.”

It was the coaches that made him realize things weren’t going to be easy, whether he was prepared or not.

“I think I kind of realized with some help from the coaches, that my practices, the first little bit of the season, probably weren’t where they needed to be in terms of out of tune, frustration, stuff like that,” Lavigne said.

As he returned to the ice in 2019, he set a goal to change up his practice mindset — keep his head down, work hard and try to stop every puck no matter what. Compared to the first half of the season, it was a new Hayden Lavigne.

Even if drills didn’t go his way, even if goals seemed to go in in practice, he didn’t worry. And that was the key to Lavigne’s confidence, which showed early, when he was given the start in a crucial game against then-No. 6 Notre Dame.

His performance — 30 saves on a .889 save percentage — led to Michigan’s first win in over a month. The two goals were on defensive slip-ups late in the third period that stained an otherwise good game for Lavigne.

“I think those practices, my chance in the practice mindset, has really led on to that strong foot forward so far this new year,” Lavigne said. “My goal is to go out every day in practice and work hard and gain the confidence to know that when I go into the weekend, I can beat anybody and shut out anybody on a given night.”

Even after the win, Lavigne wasn’t content.

It was a quality that Pearson noted and appreciated.

“That’s what I like about him, he’s not satisfied,” Pearson said. “He’s maybe happy about his performance, but he’s not satisfied, and that’s how he has to be, that’s how his teammates have to be too, but Hayden is taking that approach so good for him.

“He had a great second half last year. So far, he’s off to a real good start this year, so we’re hoping for more of the same from him, and we know he can do it.”

Unlike teammate Strauss Mann, Lavigne had done it before, and been in it before — when the team was struggling to win. He stepped up to the plate last season when the coaches needed him to. This year, they know he has the chance to do the same.

“It’s different if you haven’t proven it,” Pearson said. “You haven’t been there, if you haven’t done it, but he has. You know he’s got it in him, and he’s capable.”

After factoring his hot second-half-of-the-year performance last season and his showing against the Fighting Irish, the coaches decided early to start him back-to-back against No. 4 Ohio State — going as far as resting him for the occasion by playing Mann against Merrimack.

“We wanted to sort of save him for the back-to-back games, and we gave Strauss the chance Tuesday,” Pearson said. “Hayden’s playing extremely well, and that’s why we went back to back with him.”

The rest, the confidence, the hard work and intense practices — all things that set the stage for him to succeed in the Buckeye matchup. And Lavigne took to it.

“He gave us a chance to (win),” Pearson said. “Obviously we won two of the three games that he’s played and we had a real good chance to win that last game there, we had a two-one lead, and it’s because of him.”

Entering the new year, compared to the first half of the season, there was a new Lavigne. A goaltender who practiced hard, competed hard and gave Michigan the opportunity to win. But for Lavigne and the coaching staff, it was more of the same.