DETROIT — Throughout much of last year, the question of who would stand tall between the pipes for the Wolverines was one that dominated the regular season storylines.
But before this season, junior goaltender Bryan Hogan was as close as you can get to a sure thing.
Former netminder Billy Sauer — who had lost the much-hyped goaltending competition last season to Hogan — spent his sophomore season setting nearly every goaltending record Michigan had on the books. But he couldn’t win the big game. Just like former Wolverine Noah Ruden before him. Or Al Montoya before him. Or Josh Blackburn before him.
In fact, since the golden boy of Michigan goaltending, Marty Turco, skated at Yost Ice Arena, every goalie since has been a disappointment in one way or another.
But that’s exactly where Michigan coach Red Berenson thought Hogan was different. Someone who could carry this team beyond the first-round collapses that had plagued their previous postseason runs.
And when Hogan showed that he could step outside of the crease, handle the puck, and make some nice saves in a big game or two, the whole of the Michigan hockeysphere — myself included — thought the ghost of Marty Turco might have shown itself.
“(Hogan) showed he could play in a game where he had to make the difference,” Berenson said before the season started. “He has showed me that, and I just thought that he reminded me of Turco.”
After witnessing Berenson tell Hogan to take a seat for the third period of Michigan’s first round matchup against Rensselaer Polytechnic in last week’s Great Lakes Invitational, you have to wonder if he still feels the same way.
Because when the Wolverines captured the 1998 National Championship — the last time Turco or any Michigan goalie lifted the trophy — Berenson sure didn’t relieve his prized goaltender of his duties with the expectation that backups Gregg Malicke or Greg Dadario would stand on their heads and spark a comeback.
So when junior goalie Shawn Hunwick skated to the Michigan goal to start the third period yesterday — his first game action since the 2007-08 season — Berenson came to terms with reality, right before our eyes.
Bryan Hogan is no Marty Turco.
And Bryan Hogan is not a championship goalie.
Sure, the brunt of the blame for a reeling hockey team will always fall on its goaltender and Hogan is clearly not the only one to blame for the team’s .500 record. A litany of issues, starting with an inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities, have plagued the Wolverines this season.
Furthermore, before the GLI, Hogan’s save percentage wasn’t even one percent worse than it was at the conclusion of last season, when many critics felt that Hogan’s performance in net was perfectly fine.
But after facing just five shots from the Engineers, Hogan and the Wolverines were looking at a 3-1 deficit — a nearly inexcusable mark no matter how unearned the goals may have appeared.
Even at that, it was the third goal that broke the camel’s back.
With Michigan trailing by only one goal, Hogan looked like he had a routine save to his glove side that most likely would have left the Wolverines down just one heading into the final period.
But when the puck slipped off of Hogan’s glove and into the net, Berenson made the only decision he could to save his team’s chance at a third-straight GLI Championship.
Was it the right decision in the end, despite the game’s end result? I think so.
Although the Engineers slipped the fourth and backbreaking goal just over Hunwick’s left shoulder, where a five-inch height advantage might have allowed Hogan to stop it, the move did seem to spark the Wolverines, who scored two third-period goals.
“Any time there’s a goalie change, especially with a guy like Shawn Hunwick who’s a real character guy in the locker room, it could be a big morale booster,” senior captain Chris Summers said. “Whether it was a change because Hogan was there or wasn’t there, guys look at that and say something needs to change, and it trickles through the team.”
Don’t get me wrong, Hogan will likely take his place between the pipes for the team’s remaining regular season schedule. Even Berenson wasted no time in calling him “their guy” following the Wolverines’ 5-3 win over Michigan Tech in the consolation game.
But after pulling him against RPI, Berenson, like everyone else, should realize that with Hogan as Michigan’s only viable option for the remainder of this season and next season, it could be awhile longer before anyone makes another Turco comparison. Or lifts a National Championship trophy.