Nagelvoort asserts himself among conference elite, makes case for starting role

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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 2, 2014

When the victory horn sounded in Yost Ice Arena and the excitement of Saturday’s shootout win over No. 9 Wisconsin culminated, freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort slapped the puck away.

It was after he stopped the third of three penalty shots that Nagelvoort wound his stick and flung the puck aside without any sort of hesitation or care.

It was after he stopped the penalty shots and fired the puck away that Nagelvoort skated toward his bench and gave an emphatic fist pump to the crowd chanting “Na-gel-voort.”

And it was Nagelvoort who made the three saves, whacked the puck, pumped his fist and listened as the crowd chanted his name and the Michigan hockey team swarmed him. What started with three players tripled within seconds until everyone had sped off the bench and toward the man who had just saved the day.

They circled him and pushed from the blue line all the way to the glass, where he was pinned by the mass of teammates.

Nagelvoort, who not only stopped 26 shots in regulation and overtime Saturday, also accounted — in a way — for both teams’ score.

“Going against guys like (Nagelvoort) in practice makes it look easy out there,” said senior forward Luke Moffatt, who scored the lone shootout goal with a backhand-to-forehand move on Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel.

If Moffatt looked well-practiced, it’s because he literally was. All the forwards take turns at the end of a practice during the week to try their hand at beating the goaltenders.

So Nagelvoort, in the shootout, was a little like the pitcher who throws a shutout and knocks in the only run in a 1-0 win — accounting for both teams’ score.

The netminder made 52 saves over the weekend and allowed just three goals. In the six-straight games he has started, the No. 5 goaltender in the nation has posted a 2.16 goals-against average, even including a rough stretch against the Badgers in the earlier series.

“Zach was as good as it gets, really,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I thought Zach was outstanding all weekend.”

Nagelvoort is different than other goaltenders. While Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel warmed up before the shootout, Nagelvoort rested his arm on the bench looking out at net.

Where the chanting and hollering from opposing fans on the road in Madison and East Lansing fazes some, he thrives.

When Rumpel and others are slow to come out of the crease and clear the puck, Nagelvoort rushes behind the boards to aid his teammates.

Those little things bolster his teammates’ confidence with every day that passes. Michigan is more likely to take a chance when it knows that it has a backstop like Nagelvoort at the end. But just how much confidence?

“One hundred percent?” offered senior forward Luke Moffatt. “One thousand percent?”

Nagelvoort’s emergence in the crease was unexpected, to say the least. He earned a starting spot after sophomore goaltender Steve Racine went down with an injury in mid-October. But since then, Nagelvoort has positioned himself nicely to earn a starting spot for the remainder of the season.

“Ever since the first day he stepped in in New Hampshire when Steve went down with an injury, from that point we rallied behind him,” said freshman forward Tyler Motte. “We knew we had to help him out early, but all in all he does a great job for us.”

But his coach is hesitant to declare that it’s Nagelvoort’s position to lose. Not even after six-straight starts and four-straight wins will Berenson declare a definitive starter.

“I don’t think we need to talk about starters right now, or who’s the starting goalie,” Berenson said. “Right now, Zach is playing really well, and we’ll see how it goes down the line. He’s a freshman and I know Racine can come in and do a good job.”

Even when Berenson says Nagelvoort isn’t the starter, he’s still playing better than anyone on the team.

Midway through the overtime period Saturday, Nagelvoort lay stuffed in his net with the puck beside him. After making 23 impressive saves prior, Nagelvoort thought he was staring at the game-winning goal.

But next to him in the crease was a Wisconsin forward, who nullified the goal because of his presence. The Wolverines worked to clear the Badgers from the net while Nagelvoort picked up the puck and lifted himself up.

Then, in one motion, he tossed away the puck, and with it, any doubt about Michigan’s starting goaltender.