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A new season means that there's a battle for Michigan's starting goaltender position for the umpteenth consecutive year and this season just happens to be the season when the Wolverines are going to rely on their goaltender more than ever after losing half of what was possibly the greatest group of forwards this program has ever had.
On the bright side Berenson and staff didn't have to scramble for an 11th hour goaltender because for the first time in years they actually got their goaltenders to show up!
Goaltending Coach: Steve Shields
Most of the time this wouldn't warrant its own section but this season with a senior goaltender looking to revive his career and two freshman vying for the top job it most certainly does.
Shields joined the program a year ago and inherited two upperclassmen who had spent the majority of their careers playing hot potato with the starting job. By the end of the year Shields had turned Steve Racine into an above replacement goaltender as he posted a .914 SV% and a 2.98 goals against, the best numbers of his career.
The job won't get any easier for Shields. He'll have to orchestrate a similar turnaround with Zach Nagelvoort as well as oversee the development of the future of the program but if his first season is any indication of future performance, Shields is the right guy for the job.
2015-2016 Team: Michigan
Stats: 5-2-1 record, 2.99 goals against, .893 Save Percentage
NHL: 4th Round, 111th overall by Edmonton Oilers
Senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort enters the season as the only netminder on the roster with a college start and is looking to get his career back on track after a rough two seasons that saw him struggle with consistency and confidence in net.
As a junior Nagelvoort entered the season with the opportunity to regain the starting spot but quickly ceded the job to Steve Racine and didn't start a game for the entirety of the season after the December break.
Can Nagelvoort return to his freshman form and lock down the starting job? It's been three seasons since he arrived in Ann Arbor as a complete unknown and set Yost on fire by posting a .929 SV% despite having the worst blueline I've even seen at any level of hockey, but as the years go by it appears more and more likely that his season for the ages was an aberration due in large part to a lack of game film and advanced scouting.
Conventional wisdom leads me to believe that Nagelvoort and Jack LaFontaine will split starts at the beginning of the year, however, with Union and Michigan Tech coming to Yost to start the season it won’t take long to find out how the goalie situation is going to shake up.
2015-2016 Team: Janesville Jets (NAHL)
Stats: 24-8-4 record, 2.16 Goals Against, .921 Save Percentage
NHL: 3rd Round, 75th overall by Carolina Hurricanes
Goalie recruiting has been a sore subject surrounding this program for the better part the last eight years or so. Between highly rated goaltenders who didn't show up, injuries and target after target choosing other teams this program could not land "their guy," until Berenson and staff pulled off a major recruiting coup in December by securing a commitment from Toronto native Jack LaFontaine.
LaFontaine became a highly sought-after prospect during his time with Georgetown in the OJHL and was taken in the 3rd round of the OHL draft by the Kitchener Rangers but headed to the States to preserve his NCAA eligibility with the USHL's Fargo Force. When the Force decided to stick with their two returning goaltenders, LaFontaine landed with Janesville of the NAHL.
Once in the NAHL LaFontaine dominated the league finishing 5th in goals against average, 9th in save percentage and 5th in wins on the way to earning a spot on the NAHL's All-Midwest Team as well as earning the NAHL’s Midwest Goaltender of the Year Award. The following June the Carolina Hurricanes drafted LaFontaine in the 3rd round, which is the goalie equivalent of a late first/early second round pick.
It's easy to get excited about having LaFontaine in net for the Wolverines. He's a big goaltender at 6'3 and just a shade under 200 lbs. His game focuses more on positioning and technique rather than athleticism and he uses those skills to keep the game simple and under control.
I wouldn’t expect Red Berenson to name him the day 1 starter but LaFontaine is a big time talent and he’s going to play whether it’s splitting starts with Nagelvoort or eventually taking over the job full time.
He'll wear the #1 jersey this season.
2015-16 Team: Bloomington Thunder (USHL)
Stats: 26-9-1 Record, 2.26 Goals Against, .914 Save Percentage
Hayden Lavigne is a prime example of how much can change during the course of a recruit's career from commitment to when they finally get to campus. When Lavigne gave his verbal pledge to the Wolverines way back in May of 2013 he was a can't miss prospect from the Toronto area playing for the Wellington Dukes of the OHJL and the presumed goaltender of the future for the Wolverines.
Then Lavigne headed to the USHL and his career hit a roadblock. He was released by the Tri-City Storm after a tough year and picked up by Waterloo, then after half a season with Waterloo Lavigne was released again and moved back a class by Berenson. Finally with his career on the line the Bloomington Thunder made the decision to pick him up and give him one final shot in the USHL.
Lavigne responded by finishing the season strong with Bloomington and followed up the next season posting a 26-9-1 record a 2.26 goals against and a .914 save percentage.
Like Jack LaFontaine, Hayden Lavigne is a towering goaltender checking in at 6'3, 203 lbs. When he's on his game Lavigne is the kind of goaltender who can put a team on his shoulders; he uses his size to swallow the net, moves well for a big goaltender and can challenge shooters at the edge of the blue paint.
I would expect Lavigne to serve as an understudy this season where he’ll learn the game and prepare to help future teams. He has all of the tools to be a starter down the line.
Lavigne will wear the #30 jersey this season.
2015-2016 Team: Michigan
Stats: 2GP, 44 minutes, 4.02 goals against, .812 save percentage
Fan favorite Chad Catt joined the program as a late addition to the class a season ago from the NAHL's Soo Eagles as a player with a rock solid work ethic brought in to push incumbent goalies Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort. While Catt didn't get a start he provided the team with an important early season win off the bench when Zach Nagelvoort was pulled against Wisconsin; Catt entered the game with Michigan trailing 4-3 and helped rally the team to earn a 6-6 shootout win over the Badgers.
Projected Goaltender Depth Chart
Starter: Zach Nagelvoort/Jack LaFontaine
Third Goaltender: Hayden Lavigne
Fourth Goaltender: Chad Catt