Fully recovered, Racine fights for his starting job

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By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 13, 2013

As soon as Steve Racine heard a pop, he knew something was wrong.

Early in the third period of the Michigan hockey team’s first game at New Hampshire on Oct. 18, the sophomore goaltender stretched out awkwardly to make a save and pulled his groin. He skated gingerly off the ice, putting a promising start to the season on hold.

Almost a month later, Racine finally feels in full health, but he may have lost his spot in the second-ranked Wolverines’ lineup. Since Racine was injured, backup Zach Nagelvoort has been stellar between the pipes, and the freshman may have usurped the starting role.

“It’s frustrating sitting out, but it’s what you gotta do,” Racine said. “It’s one of those things that you just need to rest. You can’t do too much, and you just can’t rush it back.”

If Nagelvoort gets the call against Nebraska-Omaha this weekend, it wouldn’t be the first time Racine has lost his job. Last season, he split time with Adam Janecyk and Jared Rutledge as the Wolverines struggled to find a reliable goaltender, though he eventually became the team’s go-to netminder.

“It gives me confidence that I’ve done it before,” Racine said.

When Michigan (6-1-1) last played, Racine was included in the team’s game-day lineup and could have competed if necessary. The goaltender was second on the depth chart and didn’t see the ice, though he says he wasn’t fully healthy then.

This week, Racine says he feels 100 percent for the first time since he got hurt, and the coaches have noticed the difference. Assistant coach Billy Powers said Racine looked sharp in practice Saturday but Nagelvoort has as well. Ultimately, the final decision is coach Red Berenson’s — even Powers isn’t sure who will get the starting nod this weekend.

“(Racine) was lights-out in practice,” Powers said. “He’s had another strong week, and Zach’s had another strong week.

“Let’s face it, (Racine) came into the year as the starting goalie. The only reason he didn’t play was because of injury. We’re not going to hold that against him.”

After he rode the momentum of a strong finish last season to win the starting job, Racine lasted just over eight periods of action this year before the groin pull, and his 2.23 goals-against average and .931 save percentage are impressive in their own right.

Meanwhile, Nagelvoort boasts a 1.47 goals-against average and the third-best save percentage in the country for qualifying netminders (.948). In that span, Michigan has compiled a 4-1 record, the only loss a 2-1 decision to preseason-No. 1 UMass Lowell.

“If I get an opportunity, I’ve got to be ready and play the same way I did or even better than I did before,” Racine said.

Berenson previously said that he was considering implementing a platoon system and using each netminder for one game of a weekend series. And Monday, he said he knew which goaltender would start Friday’s contest, though he hasn’t told the media, assistant coaches or the players themselves.

One thing is for certain, though. As Powers has reiterated, a competition between two standout and healthy netminders is a good problem.

“For your team, having confidence in two guys and not just one is huge,” he said. “I haven’t seen it where it’s a negative.”