With six blueliners returning from last year’s Frozen Four team, Michigan’s defensive corps could be the hockey team’s strongest asset.
In this weekend’s exhibition games against the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program and Waterloo, the defensive unit might have even played too well, providing sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan with a catch-22.
Hogan and senior netminder Billy Sauer were rarely tested between the pipes. Sauer faced just 15 shots Saturday night, and Waterloo managed just 17 against Hogan on Sunday afternoon. Hogan’s eight first-period saves Sunday marked the busiest 20-minute stanza either goalie endured, and he thought he needed the action.
“It’s a lot easier when you face a lot of shots early,” Hogan said. “Your mind moves a lot quicker. Sometimes, sure, you’re mentally prepared for the game. But once you have all those shots, it makes (the game go) that much faster, and you feel a bit more confident.”
It might seem counterproductive,considering what a defensive unit is supposed to minimize the goalie’s workload. The Wolverines’ penalty-kill was particularly outstanding, allowing just three combined shots on goal during 12 opponent power plays this weekend.
“I thought they played great in front of me,” Hogan said. “I didn’t have to face any difficult shots, really. That’s the one thing at Michigan, I’ve noticed, is that it’s easy, but it’s not easy, playing with them. But I’ve got to thank them a lot.”
Who’s No. 1: Once again, there is a well-publicized goalie controversy to begin the season. Both Sauer and Hogan will play significant time until a clear No. 1 net-minder is established. Both will make starts next weekend against St. Lawrence. How Michigan coach Red Berenson will allot playing time after that, though, remains a mystery.
“That may go week-to-week or we may make the decision to go month-to-month,” Berenson said. “I think Billy’s got the experience, but Hogan needs experience.”
Berenson said volunteer goaltending coach Josh Blackburn will be his barometer, letting him know when each player is ready to help the team win. Hogan said the coaching staff has given him word on where he stands in the situation.
“But it means nothing,” he said. “It’s whoever’s playing, I think, better at the time, more efficient, more consistent.”
Translation: the spot is up for grabs.
Both goalies will be under the microscope from game to game. Their play will be dissected and analyzed constantly by the coaching staff and fans alike. Despite the scrutiny, Hogan believes his relationship with Sauer is the strongest it has ever been.
“It’s gotten a lot better,” Hogan said. “It was never bad, but it’s just that we’re getting a lot closer over the years. So it’s definitely a lot easier to talk to him, especially him being a senior and me being younger. I think we’re meshing a lot better.”
The shuffling continues: Despite the departure of last year’s top line, Michigan’s top six returning forwards are loaded with scoring potential.
As of now, the Wolverines don’t have a clear No. 1 line, and Berenson is still searching for the right chemistry. During Sunday’s third period, he bumped sophomore forward Carl Hagelin up to the top line, reuniting him with his linemates from last season, sophomore Matt Rust and sophomore Aaron Palushaj. Hagelin replaced junior forward Chris Summers.
Senior forward Brandon Naurato was scratched and replaced on the third line by junior Brian Lebler. Senior Danny Fardig was also scratched in favor of junior forward Anthony Ciraulo. The experimenting is nothing new this early in the season.
“I didn’t think our lines were jelling, really, in the first two periods,” Berenson said. “I like to have options. I like to have different guys that can skate with different guys. Sometimes you get kind of stale and you need a change. This will probably go on for a while.”