Strauss Mann has been there all season long for Michigan hockey.
Even when the results weren’t there in the early part of the season — the Wolverines were 7-11-2 through Dec. 31 — the sophomore goalie’s performance kept them afloat in many of those tough performances.
As Michigan has flipped the script since the start of the New Year, going 8-1-1, Mann’s strong play has come into focus. For the season, Mann has allowed just 2.00 goals per game and has a .935 save percentage that ranks fourth nationally. Over U-M's last 10 games, Mann has surrendered 20 total goals with a .939 save percentage.
He had 26 saves in Michigan's 5-1 win at Michigan State Feb. 14 and then 31 saves, including 13 second-period stops, in Monday's 4-1 victory down at Little Cesar's Arena in Detroit.
“Once we got up 3-1 on Monday night, it seemed like we had a sag and they pushed back,” said Michigan head coach Mel Pearson on ‘Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath.’ “You could see that mentally we just weren’t as sharp as we’ve been the past few weeks. Fortunately, we got through it.
"Knowing Strauss, his performance wasn’t surprising, knowing how he prepares to play. How he prepares for practice. He’s by far the best on our team from his diet to his exercise habits, to his mental routine of how he gets ready. We needed him and we’re very fortunate to have him.
“The confidence that he has now, I thought that we played a little bit looser at times knowing that we have him back there,” Pearson said. “You try to do too much, you can get away with ‘Oh, we’ve got Strauss back there.’
"He was excellent, with critical saves at a key time that you really need. Even though at the end of the game when we looked at the scoring chances, we had more ‘Grade A' chances than Michigan State, Strauss made some critical saves at key times for us.
“We’re glad that we have him. He’s only a sophomore and that’s the beauty of it.”
The Wolverines have gathered four consecutive wins heading into another important weekend at home against Notre Dame (tonight at 6pm and tomorrow at 4pm, both on Big Ten Network).
Having risen all the way up to third place in the Big Ten standings, Michigan will look to take care of business in its final home series of the regular season against the team where U-M's run began - getting a road sweep back in South Bend Jan. 10-11.
There’s still work to be done for the Wolverines to put themselves in the best possible position to garner a birth into the NCAA tournament. They currently sit 20th in the Pairwise rankings and nothing short of a 3-1 record in their final four will put them into the current 16-team field (even then, they would need to win a first-round series in the Big Ten tournament March 6-8).
“We won’t talk about NCAAs from here on in, but they know,” Pearson said. “It’s out there, so our focus as coaches right now is that we have to get dialed in to play Friday night. We can’t win four games in one night, we can only win one at a time.
"We have to make sure that we’re ready. We’ve done a lot of good things, but it can go by the wayside unless we continue to play well because of the situation that we put ourselves in [early in the year]. We have to continue to play like our season is on the line, and that’s how our team is playing right now.”