DETROIT — At the beginning of the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson thought he had a clear-cut number one goaltender for the first time since Al Montoya.
After all, junior Bryan Hogan — who had stolen the job from his predecessor Billy Sauer the previous season — spent his sophomore campaign setting nearly every Michigan goaltending record. But Sauer couldn’t prove himself in the big game, just like former Wolverine Noah Ruden before him. Or Montoya before him. Or Josh Blackburn before him.
In fact, since the golden boy of Michigan goaltending, Marty Turco, graced the pipes at Yost Ice Arena, every netminder since has been a disappointment in one way or another.
So 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.”
I wonder if Berenson felt the same way when he told Hogan to take a seat for the third period of Michigan’s first round matchup against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in this week’s Great Lakes Invitational.
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, a 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.
Even further, 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 it was hard to ignore the stat sheet through two periods against RPI on Tuesday.
After seeing five shots from the Engineers, Hogan and the Wolverines were looking at a 3-1 score — a nearly inexcusable mark no matter how unearned the goals may have appeared.
But 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? Yes.
With Hunwick in net, the Engineers slipped the fourth and backbreaking goal just over his shoulder, which wouldn’t be much of a contention if Hogan didn’t have a height advantage of five inches.
But in terms of boosting morale, it’s hard to argue against the reality that two third-period goals by the Wolverines represent a pretty handy boost in confidence.
“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.”
Similar to last year, Michigan’s play on offense isn’t offering much support for its starting goalie. Billy Sauer didn’t have much of a chance to win the starting job in his senior season when the team unexplainably provided double the goal support for Hogan. To say that the team’s two-goal to one-goal ratio from Hunwick to Hogan was eerily similar would be an understatement.
Don’t get me wrong, Hogan will most likely take his place between the pipes for the team’s remaining regular season schedule. And 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 next two seasons, it could be awhile longer before anyone makes another Turco comparison.