I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Nagelvoort rides to the rescue
Due to some recording snafus I ended up catching only the final two periods of Friday's game and the third period Saturday, along with the overtimes. Also, the feed FCS picked up looked like an internet stream and it was really hard to figure out who anyone other than Kevin Lohan was even though the announcers tried their damndest to keep us informed. (Seriously, they were great.) I didn't actually see any goals until the Motte winner on Saturday, though I saw replays of some of them. Not enough to write a column, but here are various bullets:
That was probably a good UNH team. The Wildcats were 20-12-7 last year, 13-8-6 in Hockey East, reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. They lost a couple of their better forwards but returned the vast bulk of their scoring—10 of their top 12—and both goalies. They opened with a solid win over Clarkson in the Icebreaker and then lost 3-2 to Minnesota. By the end of the year that's going to be another quality scalp for Pairwise purposes. Michigan's done a lot of work in just two weeks here.
So far so good for Nagelvoort. Man, when Racine went down with what was obviously a groin issue that I'd be lasts a month or maybe longer (he's definitely out this weekend, and not practicing), dark thoughts flitted through my head. Nagelvoort comes out, my former goalie buddy remarks on how enormous his pads are, and he proceeds to shut UNH out through a rampant third period in which they outshoot Michigan 14-2, with one of those stops an impressive recovery on a penalty shot.
The next night he holds UNH to two goals through an entire game and overtime. Four games in Michigan's save percentage is .937 as a team and Nagelvoort is at .949. Massive sample size disclaimers are of course warranted. It's still the best possible start you could have hoped for minus the Racine injury. Hopefully it keeps up.
Power play: extant. Michigan's 6 of their first 16, a 38% strike rate, and that feels like a sustainable thing since Michigan's been going up against good teams and has been setting up in the zone for extended periods of time. The puck movement is night and day from last year, when their single idea was "get the puck to Trouba." It's too early for me to tell you much else—I get my mind around hockey things slowly.
Recovery. Michigan scrambled their lines for the first time this year after they got pinned in their zone for disturbingly long stretches of the third period on Friday night. They ended up getting outshot nearly 2 to 1 and that was a fair reflection of the play on the ice, if aided by buckets of penalties—UNH had eight power plays. The next night the script flipped and Michigan was better in the last 25 minutes.
Buddies. Michigan's line scramble affected almost everyone but did leave two forward pairs joined: Copp/DeBlois and Motte/Compher. I expect those pairings are untouchable with the success the former has had since its formation at midseason last year—Copp also leads the team in points with 6—and the success the latter's had since their NTDP days. Motte and Compher have already connected on a number of plays that show great understanding of each other and seem like they're more than the sum of their parts when they're on the ice together.
The defense is about what we expected. Bennett is far more aggressive with his puck rushes, Clare's slow speed of thought on the ice gets Michigan trapped in their own zone too often, and Serville continues to make scary mistakes. The freshmen have been a pleasant surprise, especially Lohan, who I figured would mostly ride the bench but has been in the way of a lot of scoring plays. Judgments here are still extremely tentative—ask me again after the upcoming four-game homestand.
Michigan's going to need to get some more playmaking from these guys. Successful passes to set up rushes have been lacking. Four games in the defensemen have four points between them, all of them assists, three of them Clare's.
Nieves stands out. Nieves had the proverbial jump over the weekend; on Friday his line was the primary one generating chances in the final two periods. The shuffle put him with Guptill and Hyman and while they didn't score the line got Guptill seven shots. That is a good guy to get shots; Nieves seems to be emerging. Di Giuseppe, too, seems to be more active this year.
At center. The one in the goalie pads. Obviously.
Michigan hockey had been scouting around for a goalie ever since… well… for a while, anyway. They have acquired him: Zach Nagelvoort, a '94—ie, about a year older than a kid straight out of high school—currently playing in the NAHL for the Aberdeen Wings.
Nagelvoort was traded midseason at his request after he found himself behind former Lake State commit Tyler Marble and his .940. Good call, dude. Nagelvoort tore it up after the trade, going 8-1-1 down the stretch and winning the league's goalie of the month award. His stats during that run were pretty good: a .957 save percentage and GAA of 1.42 for one of the worst teams in the league. As a team, Aberdeen's save percentage .908 even with his contributions. He wasn't bad with his previous team, either, as his cumulative save percentage is .936.
Aberdeen head coach Travis Winter said the Nagelvoort came in wanting to succeed and wanting to help turn things around. “Zach came in and immediately injected the team with confidence. He is a very confident goaltender and person and it rubbed off on the rest of the team. We know we have a chance to win every night when he is in goal and during the last two months of the season, that was the mindset in every game and one of the reasons the team played so well.” Winter also said that Nagelvoort’s strengths in goal lies within his athleticism. “Zach is a very athletic goalie, who doesn’t give up on plays and he is very quick from side to side. He makes the 2nd and sometimes 3rd saves you need to stay in the game and keep momentum going and you almost never see a bad goal scored on him. I think all that combined with his confidence makes him an elite goaltender at this level.”
He's 6'2", just under 200 pounds.
While this is a flier, Nagelvoort has real shot at playing time. Nagelvoort's stats suggest he's got potential, and the Rangers (yes those Rangers) apparently checked him out in December. While taking an NAHL skater is almost always a sign of desperation—or at least a signal that you need a guy to scratch nightly—goalies are weird and come from weird places and the NAHL is one of these places. Last year two(!) NAHL goalies were drafted by the NHL, one of them (Anthony Stolarz) in the second round. This year the NTDP grabbed an NAHL goalie for the Five Nations tourney, bypassing the USHL. Former OSU goalie Cal Heeter came from the NAHL, as did former Maine starter and NHL backup Ben Bishop. [UPDATE: Oh and a guy named Shawn Hunwick you might have heard of.]
Steve Racine established a grip on the starting goalie job during Michigan's late run and will likely enter next year as the starter. If he falters, Michigan needed an option other than Jared Rutledge, which they've found. Whether Rutledge stays around with dim prospects or tries to find playing time elsewhere is unknown. The scholarship situation is murky there; one thing that may have helped with Nagelvoort is that he is originally from Michigan and presumably can get instate tuition.