November 15, 2007
No. 1 is No Big Deal in Ann Arbor

By James V. Dowd

For most teams, earning the badge of honor as the top-ranked team in any poll is a point of celebration.

CCHA Notebook

Chad Kolarik shares the Michigan team lead in scoring with linemate Kevin Porter.

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But the Michigan Wolverines had no time to enjoy the view from the top in their last appearance in the No. 1 spot.

During the 2005-06 season, the Wolverines were giving top billing on two occasions in the early weeks of the season, and promptly lost it on both occasions – splitting with Alaska in Fairbanks the first time and being swept at home by Wisconsin and Minnesota during the College Hockey Showcase the second time around.

Having been named the top team in the USA Today poll this week heading into a series at Lake Superior State, the Wolverines are aiming to change that fate.

“We definitely need to prove ourselves.” Michigan alternate captain Chad Kolarik said. “The past few times we’ve (had the No. 1 ranking), we’ve really blown it.”

While Michigan’s performance has been strong so far – the Wolverines knocked of Boston College and Boston University, and have started the CCHA campaign with six consecutive victories for the first time in the program‘s storied history – voters in other polls have noted their relatively weak strength of schedule. That will eventually play into decisions about NCAA Tournament seeds and berths, and the Wolverines know they will have to prove themselves against tougher teams to earn the respect of voters in all the polls.

“We’re not really thinking about the No. 1 ranking right now,” Kolarik said. “You have to take it with a grain of salt and have fun. We just need to enjoy ourselves and have confidence.”

Should the Wolverines sweep the Lakers this weekend, their 11-1-0 record would be the program’s best since 1961-62, when one of the squad’s top skaters was a senior named Red Berenson. But reaching this milestone won’t be easy, as Lake Superior State proved itself a tough place for Michigan to win last season, when the Lakers dropped the Wolverines in a 3-2 decision.

“It’s definitely tough (to play in Sault Ste. Marie),” Kolarik said. “Last year, they played us tight and beat us. They play a frustrating style, they hit everything in sight and trap well because they recruit big bodies. With the team that we are, we need to dump it in and hit their defensemen before they can hit us.”

In Michigan’s opening 10 games, Kolarik has been one of the main contributors while playing with fellow senior Kevin Porter. The pair played on separate lines last year, Porter with the electric T.J. Hensick and Kolarik with Andrew Cogliano, who is now an everyday contributor for the Edmonton Oilers. While there were questions how Kolarik and Porter would fair without their better-known teammates, they have each notched 12 points and sit tied for third in the CCHA scoring race.

“The points are coming,” Kolarik said. “I’ve been playing more than 20 minutes a game, so they should. I just need to hit hard, work hard and set a good example.”


New face in net: He might be small, but you never have to look too hard to notice Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg in the Spartan net. From his pre-faceoff fidgeting to his spectacular, game-changing saves, it’s easy to forget that the junior stands at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds.

So it was easy to spot the difference when the 6-foot Bobby Jarosz took to the ice for the first time last Saturday against Mercyhurst. And while it can be hard to step in on short notice, Jarosz composed himself and stopped 24 of 26 shots in his debut.

“I found out (I was starting) this morning,” Jarosz said during a post-game press conference. “I called my parents and they drove all the way up (from Crystal Lake, Ill.) … It’s been a while since I’ve started, so I was just trying to remember all the stuff in juniors and all my pre-game rituals.”

Perhaps the biggest battle a new goaltender faces is earning the trust of his teammates. Although they normally don’t have to worry about the net when Lerg is guarding it, there was no additional level of anxiety with Jarosz in.

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Miami at Michigan State (Thurs.-Fri.)

It’s a little late notice to jump to East Lansing for the Thursday night game, but even making it just for Friday night’s matchup is worth it. The Redhawks and Spartans have proven themselves as two of the top teams in the nation and a sweep by either would go a long way toward beginning to stretch out a lead in the standings.

Miami’s high-octane offense has Nathan Davis to add a little fuel to the fire, but they meet the stalwart Jeff Lerg at the other end of the ice. And judging by the way Michigan State’s rookie defenders, namely Jeff Petry, are gelling with the more experience teammates like Daniel Vukovic, there’s no telling what might happen.

The same could be said at the other end of the ice. However you look at it, this is one of the top matchups in college hockey this season.

While you’re there: While there are big football games in the vicinity Saturday, the obvious reason to stay in the area is to head to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for Saturday night’s Red Wings game against the Blackhawks. Detroit has established itself as one of the league’s best teams once again but Chicago’s young talent, namely Patrick Kane and former North Dakota star Jonathan Toews, has already handed Detroit three of its five losses on the year.

Stick Salute

This week’s salute goes out to Michigan State’s freshman class. Much has been made of the contributions of Michigan’s newcomers, but the Spartans showed theirs are just as praiseworthy. During the team’s sweep of Mercyhurst, freshmen A.J. Stuges and Jeff Petry both notched their first career tallies within a minute. Also, netminder Bobby Jarosz showed that the Spartans could still be in the race without Jeff Lerg, stopping 24 shots in the victory.

Bench Minor

This one has to go to Ohio State as a team. After opening the season with a win at Lefty McFadden, it looked as though everything was falling into place. But eight consecutive losses later, it seems that they can’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag, sitting with a -20 goal differential. Here’s to hoping they can turn it around against Robert Morris.

“You look back there and you don’t see Lerg and it’s a little weird,” senior Chris Mueller said. “Because for two years now, I’ve seen a little guy whose head goes over the cross bar. We want to play more aggressive when Lerg is in there, because we know he is the best goalie in the nation. Our game is defense first, and whether it’s Bobby or Jeff back there, we’re going to start on defense and move to offense.


• After starting the season with six consecutive losses, the Alaska Nanooks have this weekend off, giving them a chance to regroup. Having three key players suffering from injuries, time to heal is extremely valuable to the Nanooks before they face off with new head coach Doc DelCastillo’s former employer -- the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks next week.

• The Northern Michigan Wildcats didn’t leave much time to spare when earning their first CCHA win of the year last Saturday against Western Michigan. Freshman Mark Olver scored with 7 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime and fellow rookie Matt Butcher won the game with just 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime.

• Last weekend’s series split between Notre Dame and Miami in Oxford showed just how important jumping to an early lead can be. On Friday night, it was Notre Dame jumped to a 2-0 lead from which the Redhawks couldn’t recover en route to a 2-1 victory before Miami scored two opening-frame markers during their 3-1 win on Saturday night.

• Having lost eight consecutive games, Ohio State is hoping some of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s skill will rub off on them as they look to continue their history of strong showings against CHA teams when they face off against Robert Morris at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh Friday before a Saturday rematch in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 6-3-1 all-time when playing teams from College Hockey America.

• Although Nebraska-Omaha’s Bryan Marshall finds himself in the top handful of point scorers in the CCHA, it took him seven games to find the back of the net for the first time. Marshall notched a 4-on-3 goal in the opening minutes of last Friday’s game against Ohio State before notching two additional assists in the series giving him a 1-10-11 line for the year.

• Lake Superior State hopes to find their feet after managing just a split with Wayne State last weekend. It was to be the final meeting between the in-state foes before Wayne State drops its program at the end of the year. Despite the generally strong showing of Lake Superior State fans at Joe Louis Arena, the combined attendance of the two games was just over 800.

• Not that you weren’t already, but look out for Miami in the weeks to come, as the Redhawks’ star forward Nathan Davis finally returned last weekend after missing seven games with a separated shoulder he suffered in the season opener against Vermont. Davis has been predicted to figure into the Hobey Baker race before his injury and should add a powerful punch to the Redhawks lineup.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached at