The Wolverine

March 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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92 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2018 BY ANDREW VAILLIENCOURT M ichigan head coach Mel Pear- son told his team before facing No. 1 Notre Dame Feb. 16 and 18 that they were at a fork in the road. The Wolverines could lose, which would be a blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes and dim the chances of hosting the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — or they could pull off an upset, essentially securing both. A few days later, Michigan had six more points in the standings and rocketed up to No. 13 in the national rankings after it took down Notre Dame not once, but twice, to close out Big Ten play. After a 4-2 win in South Bend, sophomore goalie Hayden Lavi- gne put on a show in Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor two days later. He stopped all 35 shots he faced to pre- serve a 1-0 shutout for the two-game sweep. Pearson said he wanted to see the Wolverines play to its capabilities, which would result in the team's best hockey of the season. He may have gotten that against the Fighting Irish. That all starts with Lavigne, Pear- son said. Ever since the sophomore took over the starting job, Pearson feels the team has played much bet- ter in all phases and has been stron- ger mentally because of Lavigne's presence and stability. "What he's done is given our team confidence. He has a calmness in the net," Pearson said. "You can't manu- facture that. He has to make it hap- pen, and he's done a great job. "It's a ripple effect. When he's on his game and making a big save here or there, or showing how calm he is, or they get a goal and he bounces back and shrugs it off, your team sees that and plays with so much more confidence." After being picked by the coaches in the preseason to finish sixth in the Big Ten, Pearson is pleased with the progress and finish his team has had. Michigan was able to grab points against every Big Ten team besides No. 6 Ohio State. Michigan has completed the Big Ten portion of its schedule, but still had two more regular season games against Arizona State Feb. 23-24. Ev- ery other team in the conference had two more Big Ten games to go, which took place over that same weekend. Third-place U-M had 38 points, which was good for a five-point lead over fourth-place Minnesota and gave it a 10-point lead over both Wis- consin and Penn State. Michigan can finish no worse than fourth, meaning it will play the open- ing round of the conference tourna- ment at home, where it is 9-5-1 this season. "It's very important," Pearson said. "It's good for your fans, you're sleep- ing in your own bed, you don't have to travel and we play well at Yost. "For the most part, we've played pretty darn well." Michigan was No. 13 in the United States College Hockey Organization (USCHO) rankings as of Feb. 20. More importantly, the Maize and Blue was No. 11 in the PairWise rank- ings, which are used by the selection committee to determine which teams make the NCAA Tournament. Only 16 teams receive invites, and 10 of the 16 receive automatic berths by winning their conference tour- nament. Pearson, who has been on the selection committee before, said Michigan needs to be inside the top 12 to feel good about its chances. "You drop below 12, and you're open for some heartache," Pearson said. He added that he believes Michi- gan is absolutely an NCAA Tourna- ment team. "We've seen the best, and I think we can compete with the best," Pear- son said. Michigan won't need to change the way it has been playing — the Wol- verines have essentially been play- ing for their postseason lives the last several weeks.   MICHIGAN HOCKEY Surging Forward After stopping all 35 shots versus then-No. 1 Notre Dame in a 1-0 victory Feb. 18, sophomore goalie Hayden Lavigne boasted a goals-against average of 2.53 and a save percentage of .918 against Big Ten competition. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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