Kolarik Worthy of Top Billing
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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