ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The offensive chemistry between Michigan’s only two seniors, Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, exorcized five years worth of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ ghosts Saturday night at Yost Arena in the Wolverines’ 5-1 College Hockey Showcase conquest of Minnesota.
Not since the same holiday tournament in 2002 has Michigan managed to defeat Minnesota. The victory gave the second-ranked Wolverines their first two game Showcase sweep of the two WCHA entrants, Wisconsin and Minnesota, since that same year.
Kolarik and Porter were clearly the difference in the game, accounting for the first four of Michigan’s five goals. Porter potted a pair of goals and added two assists while Kolarik chipped in with two goals of his own and an assist.
“Their (Porter and Kolarik) record in this College Hockey Showcase is 1-5 in three years,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “We’re playing at home with a team led by two seniors and you’re trying to make a difference. You’ve got to do it on the ice. You can’t just talk about it. They did that.
“Obviously, Kolarik and Porter were huge factors in the game. It was a good team effort. I thought we were opportunistic. We respect Minnesota, but it’s time. We’ve lost six in a row to that team.”
“We didn’t have Porter and Kolarik, and they did,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia of the Michigan duo. “I thought we did a lot of good things tonight but their two seniors, obviously both Hobey Baker candidates, were the best two players on the ice tonight. When you can get your seniors playing like that, it just makes it easier for the freshmen.
“If you’re going to come in and play a team like Michigan in their rink, you can’t be down by three on special teams,” added Lucia.
For their part, both Michigan seniors knew the significance of a win over Minnesota and appreciated the importance of their contribution.
“We had the seniors’ record in the Showcase on the board (in the locker room),” said Kolarik. “This is just huge. You can’t go your whole career not beating a team, especially Minnesota.”
“I think it was just one of those nights where we were clicking,” said Porter. “We were finding each other and things just happened to go our way.”
Kolarik got the Wolverines on the scoresheet first in the opening period’s only tally. He sent Porter in one-on-one against a Minnesota defender. When Porter couldn’t quite get the shot off due to a poke check by Minnesota goaltender Jeff Frazee, the puck squirted back to Kolarik who slipped the puck underneath Frazee at 17:46.
Michigan wasted little time adding to their lead early in the second period.
On a pass from Aaron Palushaj, Porter skated into the Gophers’ zone on the left side and passed diagonally back to a trailing Kolarik, who buried a shot high over Frazee’s glove at 2:43 to put the Wolverines ahead, 2-0.
Less than three minutes later on a penalty kill, Porter pounced on a weak clearing attempt by Frazee behind the Gophers’ goal and notched his 15th goal of the year with a wrap-around move into the empty cage.
Ben Gordon gave hope to the Minnesota cause, converting after a lengthy stint of Minnesota pressure in the Michigan zone at 13:20 of the middle stanza. After multiple Wolverines’ attempts to clear the zone, the puck caromed off several players and finally found the back of the Michigan net behind Wolverines’ goaltender Billy Sauer.
Porter replied on the power play just three minutes later to thwart any momentum that might have been garnered by the Gordon goal. The Michigan captain took a pass from Kolarik, skated halfway in from the blue line and snapped a shot past Frazee at 16:45.
Michigan completed the scoring on the night with the only goal of the third period on a pretty three-way passing play. Steve Kampfer spotted Aaron Palushaj at the right side of the Minnesota net, and Palushaj deflected Kampfer’s pass directly across the slot to freshman Ben Winnett, who easily buried a one-timer into the empty Gophers’ goal.
Asked if the victory and the weekend sweep made a statement about how his Wolverines’ team matched up against top level talent, Porter said, “Everyone had been saying we hadn’t been playing great teams and we hadn’t. We finally played two top 15 teams and we beat them. I think that was good for our team, good for our confidence and, hopefully, we keep going.”
Minnesota (7-6-1, 3-5-0 WCHA) returns home to host WCHA rival Michigan Tech for a pair of games next weekend while the Wolverines (13-1-0, 8-0-0 CCHA) remain home to host Ohio State next Friday and Saturday.