March 20, 2008
Understudy Kolarik Worthy of Top Billing

By James V. Dowd

All year long, people have talked about Michigan's Kevin Porter as a Hobey Baker favorite and the Wolverines' freshman class as one of the best in recent memory. But while Chad Kolarik has certainly earned some much-deserved notoriety, a late season injury that left him off the roster for a four-game strech – during which the Wolverines suffered two of their four total CCHA defeats – illustrated just how important Kolarik is to this year's Michigan squad.


Chad Kolarik gets some of the notoriety, but largely plays second fiddle to classmate, teammate, and linemate Kevin Porter.

National TV Schedule

Heading into the season, Kolarik certainly knew disappointment, as the Wolverines have disappointed in the NCAA tournament each year during his tenure in Maize and Blue, and fell short of CCHA regular-season and playoff titles during his sophomore and junior years. And staring down a roster which featured 12 freshmen, Kolarik was nervous about how the squad would fare in a very deep-looking league.

But a few months later, two games back from injury and two games from completing the Wolverines' first CCHA double since his freshman year, Kolarik talks about the mental and physical state of the Michigan team, as well as just how nerve-wracking it can be to face an upstart team with everything on the line.

Inside College Hockey: After a long season and a tough game last Saturday night the team has to be worn down. How would you describe the state of the team right now and how are you feeling coming back from your injury?

Chad Kolarik: We're pretty banged up, we have a few guys who are injured, and (freshman Max) Pacioretty is out for Friday night. [Ed.'s note: Pacioretty received a fighting major and a game disqualification in Michigan's 2-1 win against Nebraska-Omaha on March 15.] We're playing a pretty good team in Northern, so the other guys will have to step it up. I'm not 100 percent, Friday night was definitely my better night. I got pretty sore during the game, so Saturday night was an off night for me.

INCH: Last time you guys jumped out and beat Notre Dame 10-1 in a playoff series opener (during your freshman year), they came back strong the next night and gave your team a scare. Did you discuss that series heading into Saturday's game after beating Nebraska-Omaha on Friday?

CK: Coach definitely brought that series up on Saturday when we were reviewing film of Friday's game. The last time we beat a team 10-1, they came back the next night and forced us into overtime and we won 1-0.

CCHA Championship Capsules

No. 1 Michigan
Record: 29-5-4 (20-4-4 CCHA)
Wolverines Note: A trip to the CCHA Championship rounds at Joe Louis Arena has become something Wolverines' fans can set their clock by, as the Michigan has been to the league semifinals in 19 consecutive seasons now. In their 18 previous semifinal games, the Maize and Blue are 12-6, and have advanced to the final in six of the past seven seasons.
How UM Wins: To take the Mason Cup back to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines simply need to keep doing what they have been doing all year long. With Kolarik and Porter leading the way offensively and solid protection on the back end with a defensive corps led by the steady Mark Mitera and goaltender Billy Sauer, Michigan needs to concentrate on minimizing turnovers and staying out of the penalty box.

No. 2 Miami
Record: 31-6-1 (21-6-1 CCHA)
RedHawks Note: With their two wins over Bowling Green last weekend, this year's Miami squad became the first in program history to win 30 or more games in a season. The last CCHA team to do so was Michigan in 2004-05, a team which beat Ohio State for the CCHA playoff title.
How MU Wins: Playing against a Notre Dame team that has struggled to capitalize on offensive opportunities in the later stages of this season, Miami will need to continue to spread the puck around and jump out on the Fighting Irish early on. By creating early offensive threats, the pressure will be on Notre Dame, and the Irish will find themselves in a position where they have struggled immensely in the new year.

No. 4 Notre Dame
Record: 24-13-4 (15-9-4 CCHA)
Fighting Irish Note: Notre Dame is 6-1 in its last seven playoff games, its only loss coming last Friday against Ferris State. Prior to that stretch, the Irish were just 13-25 in their post-season history, and had gone just 2-7 since beating Miami in a three-game series in Oxford during the 2002-03 playoffs.
How ND Wins: Notre Dame needs to work on finding offense, particularly with the loss of junior Erik Condra, the team's leading scorer, to a severe knee injury during game three of their series against Ferris State. Without Condra, or consistency with finding the back of the net in recent weeks, Notre Dame will rely heavily on Jordan Pearce in the net to carry them to a title, much like David Brown did one year ago.

No. 6 Northern Michigan
Record: 19-19-4 (12-13-3 CCHA)
Wildcats Note: In Sunday's victory over Michigan State, the Wildcats were outshot in each period of regulation, and only registered more shots than the Spartans in overtime. In all, the Spartans outshot Northern Michigan 43-37, including 11-9, 14-9, and 12-10 advantages in the first, second, and third frames, respectively.
How NMU Wins: The Wildcats need to maintain the hot, opportunistic hand that they have had during the last stretch of the year, helping them knock off Michigan State four times in five chances, and earning them two ties at Michigan. When the opponents find themselves in the box, like Michigan in particular has been known to do, the Wildcats need to take advantage of solid special teams to get themselves on the scoreboard. The 'Cats penalty kill must maintain its top form, form it showed when Michigan State was 0-for-6 on the power play in Northern's clinching victory last Sunday. And, obviously, continued magic from Brian Stewart couldn't hurt their cause.

INCH: Northern Michigan has been playing very well as of late and shocked Michigan State last weekend. What will be the keys to victory for Michigan?

CK: We need to get traffic in front of the net. (Stewart) is a big goalie and a good goalie, so we need to screen him out front and look for rebounds and put them in. Also, we need to stay out of the box. When they were at Yost, we gave up two 5-on-3 power plays and they scored on both of them.

INCH: Over the past few years there has been a perception that Michigan looks past opponents and sometimes stumbles in games when it shouldn't. How seriously are you taking the challenge Northern Michigan presents?

CK: We are taking them really seriously. They're a great team, and played especially well in the second half of the season. They swept Michigan State and tied us twice at Yost and then beat MSU in a three-game series at (Munn Ice Arena). We're pretty worried about Friday night for sure.

INCH: What was your reaction to the Northern Michigan-Michigan State score on Sunday night? Were you guys relieved or anxious about playing a team that knocked off MSU?

CK: I think it made us more nervous to play a hot team like Northern Michigan. We're already in the (NCAA) tournament, but if they don't win this weekend, their season is over.

INCH: If your team goes on to win the CCHA title, the Michigan name will be hanging under both banners in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena. Have you used that as visual motivation for younger players who haven't been through the CCHA playoff experience before?

CK: For sure, we've already talked about that. We want to win every one up there because its up there for the whole year. Everyone who goes into Joe Louis sees it, so it's good publicity and good for recruiting.

INCH: Michigan has been ranked highly all year long after starting the season strong, which created high expectations that you have met thus far. Thinking back to your thoughts before the season started, does it surprise you how far this team has come?

CK: At first, everyone was down on us. I doubted us and everyone on the team doubted us. But then we played well in those first few games against Boston College and Minnesota and we knew we'd be good. We have a great freshman class, and now they've played almost 40 games, so they're almost sophomores now. I'm pretty upset that I doubted us.

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