The Wolverine

December 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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64 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2017 BY ANDREW VAILLIENCOURT M ichigan head coach Mel Pearson knows his team can compete with anyone. That much he learned after the team's road trip to Penn State — which won the Big Ten Tour- nament last season and ended Michi- gan's campaign. The Wolverines split their two games against the Nittany Lions, with the loss coming in overtime. Pearson was using the series as a measuring stick, and he is pleased with where his team stands. Michigan (6-3-1 overall, 2-1-1 Big Ten) swept Vermont and split with Ferris State at home (a series that in- cluded another overtime loss), in ad- dition to its split with Penn State on the road after opening up the season with a both a win and a loss in New York. In Michigan's first home series against a Big Ten team Nov. 10-11, the Wolverines beat No. 4 Minnesota in overtime and tied them, further showing how far Pearson's squad has come. Michgan was ranked No. 17 in the poll re- leased Nov. 13. Pearson is pleasantly surprised with his squad's quick improvement, especially thanks to the work of the team's two goalies, sophomores Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne. "I think we're a little ahead of where I thought we might be defen- sively," Pearson said. "We're 10th in the country in goals against, so that's pretty good compared to where we were last year. "A big factor in that has been our goaltending with Jack and Hayden, but also, it's our total commitment to team defense. Everybody is buying in. We're possessing the puck better in the offensive team zone, so conse- quently we're not giving up as many scoring opportunities." Pearson said he hopes to pick a starting goalie very soon. Both goal- ies have solid numbers, but Pearson confirmed that LaFontaine holds a slight edge and will have the first opportunity to lock down the start- ing job. This season in six starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. Lavigne is 2-2-1 with a 2.72 goals-against aver- age and a .904 save percentage in four starts. Lavigne replaced LaFon- taine in the second game of the Min- nesota series, after LaFontaine was awarded a second consecutive start. "We're getting to a point now that if one of them can take the ball and run with it, we'll look to maybe go back to them and not split," Pear- son said. "We've had a pretty good sample size of where they're at, and they've both played well. "At this point you're not going to bury one guy, but if one guy gets hot he'll have the opportunity to play consecutive games or a few games in a row." Before the series against the Golden Gophers, LaFontaine had the better statistics, but the competition might last a little while longer. Another area that has impresses Pearson thus far is the team's power play and penalty kill. Michigan is 9 of 47 (19.1 percent) on power plays through 10 games and has killed off 33 of the 38 power plays it has faced, holding opponents to just a 13.2 per- cent success rate. Pearson wants Michigan to score on 20-25 percent of its power plays. One reason special teams have been so good this season is the Wol- verines' two star freshmen, defen- seman Quinn Hughes and forward Josh Norris. Norris is on the first line with soph- omore forwards Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker, which Pearson said has been outstanding. While Hughes has started picking his offensive spots better, is not turning the puck over and is making smart plays. "They've had a big impact," Pear- son said. "Quinn quarterbacks one of our power plays. He settles things down; he makes good reads and good plays. Josh is a young fresh- man, and he's playing against older guys. A lot of night's he's playing against other team's best players, and that's hard to do and have success. "He's been able to maintain that and find a way to have success offen- sively. More importantly, he's play- ing a good two-way game." Michigan's second line has pro- duced the most scoring. Junior Coo- per Marody had a team-high 16 points (three goals and 13 assists), senior Tony Calderone had 11 points (a team-best seven goals and four assists) and senior Dexter Dancs had 10 points (five goals and five assists). Calderone said he feels like his line is clicking and the team as a whole is playing smarter. "We're still not there, but we're get- ting better with managing the puck in the danger areas," Calderone said. "We haven't been giving up as many turnovers as we were in the begin- ning of the year. We're coming back into our zone. "We're getting better at everything and improving every day, but we still aren't where we need to be."   MICHIGAN HOCKEY The Wolverines Are Rapidly Improving On The Ice In his first six starts this season, sophomore Jack LaFontaine compiled a 4-1 record, a 2.97 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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