A thick layer of shaved ice had built up in the goal crease a half an hour after the Michigan hockey team ended its practice Tuesday.
Freshman goalie Bryan Hogan bent down and tried to clear excess buildup from the blue ice in front of him. The coaches and all but two other players – freshmen Aaron Palushaj and Max Pacioretty – had long since left the ice, but Hogan still sat between the pipes, taking an onslaught of slapshots from his classmates.
The two forwards kept taking shots at Hogan from every possible angle until a team manager came back onto the ice to tell the trio a mandatory weight training session would begin in five minutes.
For Hogan, who is regularly the last goalie on the ice, the added practice time is a chance to close the gap between him and starter Billy Sauer.
And his extra effort isn’t going unnoticed.
“I think he’s made a lot of improvement this season,” goaltender coach Josh Blackburn said. “We knew Bryan was a good goalie, and he’s continued to work hard and improve, and in his situation, that’s a really hard thing to do.”
Before the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson hinted at a possible goalie competition, citing Sauer’s inconsistency last year. But after Hogan missed the first month of games due to mononucleosis, Sauer embarked on a career-best year, becoming one of the stoutest netminders in the country.
When Hogan returned, the so-called goalie controversy was a thing of the past, and the Highland native settled into a spot on the bench. Since then, Hogan has stepped it up in practice, often staying on the ice with teammates who want extra shooting drills.
On Monday afternoons, when Berenson has made practice optional to give some of the starters a much-needed break, Hogan and freshman Shawn Hunwick fill in between the pipes for Sauer, who rarely participates.
“It’s good for him that he’s taking it seriously and trying to improve every single week,” Blackburn said. “Because that’s what you have to do. And it’s hard when you’re not playing in every game to go out there and bust your butt.”
The extra practice has paid off in the form of more game action. Hogan has now started four games, posting a 3-0-1 record and giving up just seven even-strength goals.
In games, the freshman can showcase his superior puck-handling abilities, an area where he may be better at than Sauer. Hogan’s talents really shine along the boards, where he often steers the puck away from opposing defenders.
His prowess with the puck helped him tally his first-career point last weekend, picking up an assist on junior Travis Turnbull’s empty netter in Michigan’s 4-2 win over Lake Superior State. Earlier this season, Hogan was inches from notching his own empty net goal against Bowling Green.
“I like to play the puck a lot,” Hogan said after his start last Saturday. “Sometimes it doesn’t always work out there because we don’t really get a lot of time to practice in games with the defensemen.”
Even though he’s proven himself a reliable force in net, Hogan can’t shake the nerves on nights he’s set to start. He has yet to see game action away from Yost Ice Arena.
“It seems like every game is my first game,” Hogan said. “It seems like I’m always nervous going into it. But the team plays well in front of me, and that makes it kind of easy.”