The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 62 of 75

FEBRUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 63 BY BOB MILLER A look back at the 2018-19 Michi- gan hockey season shows an ini- tial trend of high-scoring games that has evolved into a more recent trend of significantly lower-scoring games, with the mid-November Penn State series serving as the dividing line. Through the opening 11 games of Michigan's current hockey season, opponents scored a total of 42 goals — an average 3.82 goals per game. After the series against the Nittany Lions, the next 12 contests prior to another two-game set against Penn State Jan. 24 and 26 have seen op- ponents score only 29 goals — an average of 2.42 per game. Michigan head coach Mel Pearson sees several factors involved in the drop in goals-against per game. "We didn't change anything as far as our systems or strategy, but we knew we had to play better," the second-year coach said. "I think there was more of a conscious effort by our coaching staff and our players, and then we started to get better goalten- ding and that helps. We're playing the same system. We just weren't ex- ecuting in the earlier games. "The games shouldn't feel any big- ger, but all of a sudden, the intensity of the games rachet up another notch," Pearson added, suggesting that the start of Big Ten play affected the team's approach and the goals-against trends. "It's just the way it is. I can't tell if the talent is any different, but I think there is definitely parity in the league." Michigan goaltenders, junior Hayden Lavigne and freshman Strauss Mann, know that ultimately their performance is judged by the goals-against numbers. Assessing the play of his two net- minders after the Penn State series as a point of demarcation, Pearson called it, "Really good, not great — that word gets used too often. [It's been] very solid. There's been a cou- ple of goals here and there that any goalie would probably want back, but overall, they're giving us a chance to win. In the stretch since Penn State, we could have won any of those games with a break here, a goal there. I mean, [the games] were that tight. "We just haven't been good enough [offensively] to get any separation from those teams. I think we had a little more offense last season. I didn't think that was going to be a problem this year, but as you assess it, we're not as gifted or natural scoring goals." "Coaches really appreciate the de- fense-first mentality," Lavigne added. "At the start [of the season], we were getting goals, but we were giving up a lot. As a team, we noticed that play- ing defense, playing those tight games, worked more than playing those shoot- outs like we had early on in the season. "We made the team decision that we needed to keep the other team to the perimeter and lock down other teams' opportunities with good back- checking and blocking shots. Espe- cially since Christmas break, we've seen our progress toward those goals increase drastically, even in the last four or five games. "Since the break, we've been giv- ing up goals on just the high-quality scoring chances and we've made the saves that we need to make. I think we need to strive to keep our consis- tency up in that way and make more of the saves that are game-changing saves in important situations." Lavigne agreed with his coach that the advent of conference play made a difference. "In all three of my seasons, I've seen that once the Big Ten season rolls in, you know so much more about the Big Ten teams than, say, seeing St. Lawrence for just a weekend," Lavi- gne explained. "We get to see a lot more video [of the Big Ten teams], we see them on the ice a lot more often. "That competitive nature and the quote/unquote hatred toward the other Big Ten teams is so elevated that the will to win, even though it's not a conscious thought, is there more in Big Ten games." "I think that getting into the Big Ten schedule, that was a part of it," Mann agreed. "After the Penn State series there was a big wake- up call that we weren't going to get away with defense like that and win games. We knew that games were going to be tight moving forward because every team in the Big Ten is   MICHIGAN HOCKEY The Defense And Goalies Are Stepping Up In The Second Half Of The Season Junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne (pictured) and freshman counterpart Strauss Mann combined to give up 42 goals over the first 11 games, but have reduced that goals-allowed total to just 29 over the next 12 contests. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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