NMU hockey: Vigier rebounding early as senior after lackuster junior year

MARQUETTE – At the end of last season, Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Walt Kyle had some brutally honest comments prepared for his one-on-one meeting with forward Stephan Vigier after a lackluster junior year.

Turns out, Vigier had even stronger words prepared for Kyle that left the coach almost speechless.

“I just said, ‘I sucked,’ more or less,” Vigier said. “I knew I wasn’t good and I had to be better. I had to be better for myself and the team.”

After going from 13 goals and 13 assists as a sophomore to seven goals and 14 assists as a junior, Vigier rededicated himself over the offseason in preparation for his senior season.

The Notre Dame, Manitoba, native said he spent extra time in the weight room this summer in order to add a few extra pounds of muscle to his 5-foot-8, 169-pound frame, but not too much in order to maintain his speed.

On the ice, he spent time working with his cousin, former NMU (1996-2000) and Atlanta Thrashers wing J.P. Vigier, as well as with Vancouver Canucks skills coach Glenn Cranegie.

The result has been a revival for Vigier, who through eight games this season has matched last year’s goal total with seven to go with two assists.

“When I asked (Vigier), ‘Give me your opinion on your year,’ he said, ‘I had a rotten year. I did not have a good year at all and I will guarantee you that I will have a good year next year,'” Kyle said about his conversation with Vigier at the end of last year.

“I said, ‘OK, we don’t need to go any further.’ His self-evaluation was bang-on, his determination was bang-on.

“Vigier is one of those guys who’s a man of few words, but he’s always honest with himself and everyone else,” Kyle added.

Vigier’s seven goals and three game-winners lead the WCHA. He shares the league-high in power play goals – four – with Bowling Green’s Bryce Williamson and Ben Murphy.

Vigier’s average of one power play goal for every two games and three total game-winning goals also has him tied atop the national rankings heading into this weekend’s non-conference series against former CCHA-rival Western Michigan on Saturday and Sunday in downstate Kalamazoo.

Kyle and Vigier credit the forward’s hot offensive start to two things, starting with Vigier’s ability to get more shots on goal. He has 31 thus far to lead the Wildcats.

By shooting through chairs, tires and other assorted obstacles in the offseason, Vigier said he was able to solve a problem that limited him last year.

“Last yea, I was getting chances in good areas, but I was getting blocked,” Vigier said. “This year, they’re getting through, hitting goalies and I’m getting rebounds. It helps.”

Vigier said he’s also getting more quality ice time five-on-five and on the power play due to a reduced role on the penalty kill.

Last year Vigier was a regular for Northern on special teams, whether it be with the Wildcats up a man or down one. That time spent killing penalties – NMU was seventh in the nation in penalty minutes – proved exhausting, he said.

“It’s a big deal,” Vigier said about not being on the PK. “I honestly didn’t think it would be as big of a deal as it is.

“I seem to have an extra jump, especially late in shifts where maybe I can stay out a little bit longer if I have an opportunity for a scoring chance.”

While Kyle said he has been pleased with Vigier’s start – and with the four goals and four assists from senior defenseman C.J. Ludwig – he’s been disappointed in the lack of offensive production from forwards Ryan Daugherty, Erik Higby and Reed Seckel.

Seckel, who missed four games due to an upper body injury, has a pair of assists – both on Vigier goals – in just four games. Daugherty and Higby have two goals and five assists between them in eight contests.

Kyle said when they start scoring goals, that should help boost Vigier’s production.

Both the coach and forward are confident the trio will. It’s just a matter of when, they said.

“We have three guys who have scored in the past and will score again. When that happens, you’ll see (Vigier) even increase his points because of the helpers,” Kyle said.