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FUTURE WATCH | Goaltending more than a passion for Nagelvoort

by Julie Robenhymer / Edmonton Oilers

Photo supplied.

For four-year-old Zach Nagelvoort, it was love at first sight when he watched his older brother in a Learn to Play Hockey session in their hometown of Holland, Michigan and even more-so when he laid eyes on the goalie equipment, but over the 17 years since then he's learned there's a lot more to being a goalie than a pair of flashy pads, especially if you want to be a good one.

His mom, Paula, was a figure skater and got her kids on the ice at an early age and when he started playing hockey he couldn't wait for it to be his turn in net.

"I was really interested in the goalie pads and I was always super excited when it got to be my turn to play goal and wear all that cool stuff," the now 21-year-old explained. "Then, I really liked it and got to be the goalie at a little tournament to end the season and we ended up winning and I never looked back. I was a goalie from there on out."

His favourite team? The Wolverines from the University of Michigan.

Nagelvoort's grandfather, Paul Gikas, had been a pathologist at the university's hospital and a teacher at their medical school when he was named a faculty representative for the Big Ten. That's where he met Michigan's legendary head coach Red Berenson in the mid-80's. Their friendship lasted and Zach and his family were the beneficiaries of game tickets and, on occasion, access to the locker room. Nagelvoort even listened to the Red Berenson Radio Show growing up. The thought of one day putting on the maize and blue fueled him as a youth hockey player.

"I was lucky enough to be around Michigan hockey a lot when I was little. I was always coming to games and [when I started playing AAA for Compuware] playing college hockey was the long term goal. Since we had the connection, why not try to talk to one of the best coaches out there and see what kind of road map he can give me to get where I want to go," Nagelvoort said. "That's what I went in hoping to find out, but he gave me the same speech he'd probably give any player that age - that there is no one way to get there. The one thing that he said that really stuck with me is that if you're good, then they will find you and he was right."

"I've known his family ever since I've been at Michigan," said Berenson, now in his 31st season behind the Wolverine's bench. "I knew his grandparents well and I met with him and his mom when he was about 14 just to give them some advice about the paths to Division I college hockey. So I knew about him and kept tabs on him and he played on some really good minor hockey teams. He played on one team with at least four other players that we ended up recruiting to Michigan. Then he kind of fell off the map. He wasn't on the same track as the rest of them. He surfaced again a few years later when we were looking for a backup goalie."

While Nagelvoort didn't fall off the map, he did explore it a little bit making stops in Kalamazoo, Traverse City, and Sault St Marie in Michigan and Aberdeen, South Dakota in the North American Hockey League.

"I struggled with learning how to play at the next level and it took me awhile to find my game again, but I eventually figured it out and started to earn more and more opportunities," he explained. "When I was in South Dakota, we had been playing really well and went on a little tear to end the season and my coach told me a few schools were interested, but when he told me one of them was the University of Michigan, it really caught my attention.

"It was a really cool moment for me," continued Nagelvoort. "It was just like, wow…this is real. This could actually happen. I could actually play for the school that I grew up around and always wanted to play for. I had other opportunities to choose from, but when it came down to it, I asked myself which jersey I'd be most excited to put on every single day and for me there was no question. It was the University of Michigan."

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Recruited as a backup, he took full advantage of his opportunities freshman year when the starter, Steve Racine - then a sophomore, went down with an injury. He played in 24 games that season with an 11-9-3 record, a 2.20 GAA and .929 save percentage. He also garnered attention from the professional ranks as the Edmonton Oilers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft as a 20 year old.

Since then, Michigan's goalie situation has continued to be a two-headed monster with both Nagelvoort and Racine pushing themselves to be better while competing for the starting job.

"We go back and forth a lot, but it's made for a really good, competitive environment and we've got that going again this year. Every day on the ice is a battle and that's the type of environment I thrive in." said Nagelvoort. "We really push each other to be better and that only helps the team be better too."

Steve Shields - a two time All American goaltender at Michigan, the first NCAA goalie to earn 100 wins and a 12-year NHL veteran - is now the goaltending coach for the Wolverines and has liked the effort he's seen from Nagelvoort these first two months of the season.

"He's a competitor and that's going to be the cornerstone of any kind of success that Zach has." Shields stated. "He has such a strong willingness to compete and plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of fire. He simply wants to outwork the goalie across from him in every single game. It seems like it should be a characteristic of every hockey player, but you'd be surprised by how many don't and it's definitely one of Zach's biggest strengths."

The challenge for Nagelvoort, especially as he battles with Racine for the starting job on a daily basis, is being more consistent.

"The mental side of this game is huge, especially for a goalie," he said. "At this level, everyone knows how to stop a puck and make a glove save or a blocker save or how to get from A to B on the ice. What I'm finding out right now is that in order to get to the next level you have to be consistent and find a way to not let the ups and downs of a game - which are inevitable - distract you from the way you want to play and just stay level headed."

Photo supplied.

Shields agrees.

"Everyone who plays this position at this level has the potential to be a great goalie," he said. "Physically, Zach can do anything any other goalie in the world can do, except maybe some of the flexibility stuff. Zach will only be limited by his ability to process information and make decisions really quickly and believe in himself. He's the only one that can write his story. It's just a matter of being able to put everything together mentally."

Nagelvoort sees the mental aspect of his game as his biggest area of improvement during his first two years at Michigan, but is also an area that still has the biggest room for improvement.

"I know that [being mentally prepared is] what's going to get me to the next level," Nagelvoort said. "I am 100% my biggest critic. I'm very hard on myself and I think the important part of that is knowing how to channel that into something positive and figure out a way to fix it and not just focus on what's wrong. I also want to simplify my game more. I don't think there will ever be a point where there isn't something you can get better at, so I always want to be improving and simplifying things so I can be calm and controlled and have a strong presence back there for my teammates."

Nearing the midway point of his junior season, Nagelvoort - 6-2, 190 pounds - owns a 3-1-1 record, 2.39 GAA and .911 save percentage. While he sees it as his job to put his team in a good position to succeed, he knows he can only do that if he first puts himself in a good position to succeed and as Shields said, he's never shied away from hard work.

"The goal is not just to play professional hockey," Nagelvoort stated. "The goal is to play in the NHL and, honestly, if that's not your goal, why are you even playing? Why wouldn't you challenge yourself to be one of the best of the best? That's why I come to the rink every day. I want to get better and I want to put myself in the best position possible to be better than I was the day before and to eventually reach that goal."

Statistics For In The System Through Past Seasons: 14-15 | 13-14 | 12-13 | 11-12
Stats Updated as of Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bakersfield (AHL) - Forwards

Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
GREG CHASE C 20 7 0 1 1 0 4
BRADEN CHRISTOFFER LW 21 17 1 1 2 -4 27
JOSH CURRIE C 23 6 0 0 0 -2 4
LEON DRAISAITL C 20 6 1 1 2 -5 4
MATTHEW FORD*   RW 31 16 6 5 11 -4 22
RYAN HAMILTON   LW 30 17 6 2 8 -4 8
KELLEN JONES   LW 25 1 0 0 0 -1 2
KALE KESSY   LW 22 16 3 3 6 +3 28
JUJHAR KHAIRA   LW 21 16 3 4 7 -1 7
ALEXIS LOISEAU   C 21 11 1 2 3 +2 2
ANDREW MILLER   RW/C 27 12 4 8 12 -1 6
MITCH MOROZ   LW 21 14 2 3 5 +3 36
PHILIP MCCRAE* C 23 9 2 0 2 -4 4
IIRO PAKARINEN   RW 24 4 1 2 3 0 4
TYLER PITLICK   RW 23 3 0 0 0 -1 0
KYLE PLATZER RW 20 18 2 4 6 -3 4
MARC-OLIVIER ROY* C 21 7 1 0 1 -4 0
ANTON SLEPYSHEV LW 21 10 2 1 3 -4 4
JOSH WINQUIST   LW 22 8 3 4 7 +3 20
BOGDAN YAKIMOV   C/W 21 12 2 3 5 -1 6
LW 21 - - - - - -
Bakersfield (AHL) - Defencemen

Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
MARTIN GERNAT   d 23 11 0 0 0 +1 2
brad hunt   D 27 18 4 10 14 -6 6
JOEY LALEGGIA   D 23 18 0 6 6 +5 16
DAVID MUSIL D 22 18 2 1 3 +4 12
NIKITA NIKITIN   D 29 12 1 5 6 -6 0
DARNELL NURSE   D 20 6 0 1 1 0 7
JORDAN OESTERLE   d 23 10 0 4 4 -3 4
NICK PAGEAU   D 27 12 0 1 1 -5 2
D 22 8 0 1 1 -6 0
Norfolk (ECHL)

Name POS age    GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER D 21 20 1 6 7 +1 12
GREG CHASE F 20 10 4 2 6 -3 18
Canadian Hockey League
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
Name POS age  GP G A P +/- PIM team
D 19 15 2 3 5 0 12 UMASS-AMHERST (NCAA)
JOHN MARINO d 18 20 1 10 11 +1 14 TRI-CITY (USHL)
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
ROMAN HORAK C 24 36 7 10 17 -3 20 CHEKHOV VITYAZ (KHL)
ZIYAT PAIGIN  F 20 13 4 5 9 -2 2 KAZAN AK-BARS (KHL)
ANTTI TYRVAINEN  F 26 13 5 1 6 1 53 ILVES TAMPERE (finland)
2016 World Junior Hockey Championships
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
Name age GP w l T GAA SV% team
KEVEN BOUCHARD   19 17 4 10 2 3.88 .876 baie-comeau (qmjHL)
LAURENT BROSSOIT 22 13 8 4 1 2.37 .931 bakersfield (AHL)
EETU LAURIKAINEN 22 5 2 3 0 2.02 .920 HPK HAMEENLINNA (finland)
ZACH NAGELVOORT   21 5 3 1 1 2.39 .911 michigan (ncaa)
BEN SCRIVENS   29 4 0 4 0 4.57 .845 bakersfield (ahl)
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