Freshman goalies Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine sat side-by-side in the Yost Arena players' lounge Monday, but their performances over the weekend was night and day, and thus the questions asked of them were decidedly disparate.
Rutledge earned the start Thursday and played poorly, allowing five goals on 26 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss, all of them dubbed "soft" by head coach Red Berenson, who didn't back off that stance Monday.
"My thing for the goalies is, 'Make the saves you're capable of making on a regular basis. You make them every day in practice, so you should be able to make them in a game. It's the bad goals against that jump up and bite you.'
Article Continues Below
"They know that and need to eliminate the bad goals. In Rutledge's case, they never scored a good goal on him," Berenson said. "All the goals were kind of tainted. And could he have saved most of them? Yeah."
With Rutledge struggling on opening night, the Wolverines turned to Racine, and he played better, making 21 saves on 23 shots in a 7-2 victory over Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Friday.
Though he declared Rutledge his No. 1 goalie before the season, and said he made a commitment to the rookie during the recruiting process, Berenson had no problem benching the freshman in favor of his classmate.
"I've talked to some of the best goalies in the world and the one thing they told me is if I'm playing well, play me, and if I'm fighting it, get me out; I've used that philosophy for a long time," Berenson said.
"There's been the odd time where you have a goalie like Shawn Hunwick and he has a bad night you're going to come back with him, but in this case it was better for Jared that Racine came in. It was better for the team and it was good for Racine because we need to see him too. By him playing well it takes some of the pressure off Rutledge."
On Monday, Rutledge accepted responsibility for his outing, refusing to blame eye trouble that required surgery during the preseason or his lack of practice time as the result of that surgery.
"I just think it was one of those games," he said. "I really wanted to play the first game. That was my goal coming off injury. I really wanted to be in that game and I felt I was ready. I didn't do as well as I would have liked but it's a long season, and I'm just going to continue to get better."
Rutledge appeared a bit shaken still by the tough debut, but he vowed to put the contest behind him and emerge the goaltender the Wolverines recruited him to be.
"How I view it is it's the first game of the season and there's going to be a lot more opportunities, and I don't think that displayed my best ability," he said. "My team backed me up enough and I didn't back them up enough. That's something that will happen being a goalie and you just have to forget it and move on."
While Rutledge's slip and his performance a night later may have moved Racine into the driver's seat, for now, he wasn't taking any joy in watching his classmate struggle.
"Battle is always good for goalies. It makes you work hard every day and fight for your position, but I support Jared and he supports me, and I want nothing but for him to play the best he can and for me to play the best I can," said Racine, who appears to be in line to start Friday's game against Bentley.
"Racine came out of the weekend in pretty good shape," said Berenson. "Now the team played better defensively and better offensively, but he didn't hurt himself."
Berenson has not made a decision, however, on who will start and likely won't until Thursday, leaving open the idea that the two freshmen will rotate early this season until a clear-cut starter emerges.
Junior defenseman Kevin Clare will most likely miss Friday's game against Bentley after injuring his shoulder over the weekend. In his absence, classmate Mac Bennett will pair with freshman Jacob Trouba, while senior Lee Moffie will stick with sophomore Mike Chiasson, and sophomore Brennan Serville will play with classmate Michael Szuma.
Szuma has appeared in only three career contests, but has impressed Berenson with his effort.
"I like the kid," Berenson said. "He's got a terrific attitude, and he's a terrific student, and a great teammate, and now he'll be tested as a player.
"He worked hard in practice all last year. You saw him in an intrasquad game earlier this year and again against Windsor. You never know when you'll be called upon but he'll get a chance on Friday.
"He's a good-skating, agile defenseman. He just needs to keep it simple. All I need from our defensemen is to move the puck out of our zone, don't get beat one-on-one, and so on. And he knows that."
With the NHL lockout in full force a pair of former Wolverines dropped by Yost Monday - forward Andy Hilbert (2000-01) and defenseman Matt Hunwick (2004-07).