November 29, 2006
Michigan's Mint is in Junior Class

By James Jahnke

Seniors are leaders. Freshmen are mysteries. Sophomores are expected to step up because they're not freshmen anymore. But what are juniors?

At Michigan, they're scarce.

CCHA Notebook

Forward Chad Kolarik is one half of a talented junior class at Michigan.

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And productive.

The Wolverines have just two third-year players, Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, and they just so happen to lead the team in goal scoring, with 12 and 11, respectively.

The duo used to play together, but now they're snipers on different lines. They lived together for a couple of years, too, but now Kolarik is engaged and living with his fiancee.

Nonetheless, Porter and Kolarik share a special kinship as the sole members of their tiny class.

"We're like brothers almost," Porter said. "He's a goofy kid, missing a few screws upstairs. He gets rattled really easily. If you mess with his sticks, any of his equipment, he loses it. But he's a great guy."

The players said having just one classmate was a bigger deal when they were freshmen. Not only were there no other rookies living in their dorm, they had to band together against the practical-joking nature of upperclassmen - without the safety of numbers.

"You had to keep your buddy close," Kolarik remembered. "You're trying to find your way with the team, and you have something in common with your classmates. I only had one classmate. So Kevin and I stuck together pretty much."

Porter and Kolarik were teammates with the U.S. National Team Development Program before taking Red Berenson's only available scholarships and joining a veteran U-M squad for the 2004-05 season. Both were picked by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2004 draft, with Porter actually informing Kolarik of his selection before Kolarik's adviser could.

In Ann Arbor, each has seen his statistics grow steadily, to the point where they're now the Wolverines' go-to scorers. It helps that Porter's center is T.J. Hensick, and Kolarik's is Andrew Cogliano, two of the top playmakers in the nation.

At this point in their careers, Porter and Kolarik rarely ponder how they are the end-all, be-all of U-M's Class of 2008. The only exception is when they think about next season.

"Senior night will be lonely," Kolarik said.


Labatte is not blue: Western Michigan has played more league games than anyone, but all the Broncos have to show for it is a 4-6-1 CCHA record and a tie for sixth place. Few expected much from the Lawson Lunatics' heroes this season, but senior forward Kevin Labatte thinks the time for WMU to make some noise is coming.

He points to a stretch of eight straight home games (and 11 of 12) from mid-January to mid-February as a chance for the Broncos to flourish.

"If we can put some games together, we're looking to cause some damage," Labatte said. "That's the thing about hockey, some real funny things can happen."

The native of Ogden, Utah, who was discovered in part because he lived next door to former WMU star Brent Walton during their junior days in Ontario is taking on a bigger role this season. He’s getting about 20 shifts per game, including time on specialty units, and has three goals to show for it, not the least important of which was the overtime winner against Northern Michigan on Nov. 18. Labatte didn't score as a freshman, had six as a sophomore and two last season.

"It's up to us to lead the team," Labatte said of the seniors. "People get a little down when we’re not having success, but all we have is ourselves."

Bad boys: Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp suspended four players - goalie Jerad Kaufmann, and forwards Mick Lawrence, Bill Bagron and Chris Wilson - for last weekend's series against Notre Dame for violating team rules.

All four have been reinstated for this weekend’s set at Bowling Green.

The suspension of Kaufmann led to the first start of the season for junior netminder Eric Aarnio. He lost the series opener, but freshman Jeremie Dupont, who seems to have a leg up on Kaufmann for the No. 1 goalie job, won the series finale to snap the Mavericks’ eight-game winless skid (0-6-2). The sledding has been tough for UNO thus far, but the schedule lightens from here to the New Year.

After facing BGSU this weekend, the Mavericks face Bentley, Princeton, and Yale to close out the year.


Great Weekend Getaway
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Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State (Fri.)
LSSU at NMU (Sat.)

The Wildcats have won the last seven games of the Cappo Cup rivalry, but this series has "split" written all over it. NMU and LSSU have significant senior classes, yet are inexperienced on the whole. Each team has a CCHA-low 12 letter winners back from last season. (Miami has the next fewest with 15.) An interesting subplot to the series: Lake Superior freshman defenseman Steven Kaunisto and Northern freshman forward Ray Kaunisto are cousins and former teammates from youth through juniors. Their uncle is Joe Shawhan, an assistant coach at LSSU.

While you’re there: Honor the Upper Peninsula by eating nothing but pasties all weekend. Your stomach will thank you! (Or stab you with a kidney.)

Stick Salute

There were 14 games involving CCHA teams last weekend, and not a single major penalty was called in any of them. Isn't that refreshing after last year's checking-from-behind witch hunt?

Bench Minor

We're going to have to go ahead and get Bowling Green’s power-play units another copy of the Bench Minor memo from two weeks ago. During Saturday's 4-0 loss to St. Lawrence, the Saints had more shots on BGSU power plays than the Falcons did, 9-5. The Falcons didn't put a single shot on net during a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:49. And the Orange and Brown have scored on just two of their last 75 man-up chances (2.6 percent).

• Labatte said WMU junior goalie Daniel Bellissimo is battling "little" injuries, in addition to a dip in confidence. Freshman Riley Gill has started the last six games for the Broncos, and the coaching staff has Gill penciled in for both ends of this weekend's home-and-home against Michigan.

• What a bummer of a nonconference holiday weekend it was for the CCHA. Michigan State was swept in the College Hockey Showcase while Michigan rallied to beat Wisconsin before getting embarrassed by Minnesota. St. Lawrence and Clarkson both shut out Bowling Green while Miami split against the same teams (beating the Saints, losing to the Golden Knights). And Ohio State came in last place at Rensselaer's holiday tournament, losing the opener to Colgate before coming back to tie RPI in the consolation game — then losing in a cosmetic shootout. Earlier in the week, Nebraska-Omaha tied Maverick namesake Minnesota State Mankato. Add it up, and it was a 2-7-2 mark. At least none of the games were at home.

• Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was at Yost Arena with what appeared to be two of his young children for the MSU vs. Michigan game two weeks ago, and the kids gleefully participated in all of the Wolverines' G-rated cheers. Wonder whether dad told them that he was there to watch Spartan forward Justin Abdelkader, a Detroit draft pick.

• Good quote from Michigan coach Red Berenson after T.J. Hensick's terrific game-winning goal in that game: "I'm not sure you can coach that, but you can recruit it."

• While we're quoting U-M alums, here's a nugget from Wednesday's NHL newsletter: "I'm a man of my word. I said I'd do an interview with an Ohio State football helmet on. We couldn't find a (football) helmet, so we went with a hockey helmet," former Wolverine Brendan Morrison, on the friendly gridiron wager he lost to Canucks teammate and former Buckeye Ryan Kesler.

• Ohio State forward Tommy Goebel will return to East Lansing for this weekend's series against Michigan State for the first time since leaving the Spartans after the 2004-05 season. He sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules. Under Big Ten stipulations, Goebel cannot have an athletic scholarship at Ohio State because he transferred from another Big Ten school.

• Miami defenseman Mitch Ganzak, who broke a couple of fingers on a slash against Nebraska-Omaha two weeks ago, likely will miss his third and fourth straight games this weekend against Ferris State. However, the team expects to have him back against Ohio State next weekend.

• Fun with numbers: With a hat trick in Saturday's 3-1 win over Lake Superior State, Alaska junior Kyle Greentree notched his 11th goal of the season. Curtis Fraser led the Nanooks with 11 goals all of last year. ... Notre Dame has just two goals from defensemen this season — one each by Noah Babin and Brock Sheahan — and both of those have come in the last four games. Contrast the Fighting Irish with Ohio State, which is led in scoring by a pair of blue liners: Sean Collins (5-9—14) and Jason DeSantis (1-13—14). ... Michigan is 2-20-3 in its last 25 games when scoring two or fewer goals. ... MSU is 1-6-0 on the road and 5-0-1 at home.

• Rensselaer coach Seth Appert, quoted in the Albany Times Union after tying Ohio State on Saturday: "Even though it was a shootout, it was an opportunity to beat a Big Ten school. There are very few power schools in college hockey, and Ohio State is one of them." Perhaps Seth hasn’t seen the Buckeyes' goals-against average (3.71).

• Chris Heisenberg reports that former Michigan forward Zac MacVoy will join Lake Superior State as a sophomore next season. MacVoy scored four points in 20 games with the Wolverines last season before going back to the USHL.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report