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George Sipple | Detroit Free Press | April 5, 2018

Michigan became NCAA title contender when it found their goalie

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It started with confidence, despite two more losses.

Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson told Hayden Lavigne he no longer had to look over his shoulder as the team's starting goaltender. Pearson and his staff had committed to playing Lavigne for both games of a series against No. 2-ranked Notre Dame in January, after alternating him with fellow sophomore Jack LaFontaine in the first half.

FULL FROZEN FOUR COVERAGE

Lavigne didn't give up an even-strength goal against Notre Dame, but the Wolverines lost each game and fell to 8-10-2.

Lavigne has started every game since that series and will again Thursday night when Michigan (22-14-3) faces Notre Dame (27-9-2) in the Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center.

"We told him ... you don't have to look over your shoulder if you have a tough night or if you give up a bad goal," Pearson said. "And I think it just gave Hayden some confidence, but at the same time, more just relaxed him and he had to play relaxed. And he had to earn that confidence. He had to get a few games together to get that. And he did. Fortunately for us he did. And from that point on he's been pretty good. I'd put his numbers or put him against anybody the second half of the year."

UM players point to that Notre Dame weekend as a catalyst for their turnaround. Even though they were swept, they came out of it feeling like they could beat anyone in the country.

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"You saw some things," Pearson said. "Our coaches (said), 'Okay, maybe we have a chance. If we play like we did this weekend, we got a chance to win every game we play.'"

Michigan finished the season 14-4-1 with Lavigne in net. He also proved himself in a rematch with Notre Dame, recording 69 saves -- including 35 in a 1-0 shutout -- as UM won both games in February.

Lavigne has a 1.52 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage against Notre Dame this season.

For the season, he is 18-10-3 with a 2.77 GAA and a .909 save percentage.

Pearson leaves goaltending development volunteer coach Steve Shields, a former UM standout.

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"I recruited Steve Shields when I was an assistant coach at Michigan," Pearson said. "And I had him at Michigan Tech with me to help PheonixCopley, Jamie Phillips, both guys who signed NHL contracts. Steve's been tremendous and he's done a great job with Hayden."

Shields said he knew Lavigne (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) had the technical skills to play more consistently than he'd shown. In 13 games as a freshman, Lavigne was 6-6-1 with a 2.92 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

"I just felt, he's not feeling the way I thought a goalie who should be starting should feel about himself," Shields said. "He's got all the saves. He does everything well. It's just a matter of trusting it. That's all we did is get to the point where he feels he's going to give us a chance to win, and he likes his game and is sure about it.

"I'm proud of him, because it has been a very tough four or five years for him to find a place where there's some certainty. 'Am I going to give you the same thing every day.'"

Lavigne said he matured a lot this season.

"I figured out a routine that I like and the way I like to feel going into the game," he said. "And once I got a good hold on that and a good process on how to get there, I saw my consistency improve and that gave me quite a bit of confidence, kind of led to just playing a little bit farther out in the crease, being a little bit more confident, going out and getting pucks." 

This article is written by George Sipple from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.