Back On The Big Stage

It’s easy to get overlooked on a team that has eight 10-goal scorers, but there is one place Michigan’s Brandon Kaleniecki seems to score big goals to distinguish himself:

Joe Louis Arena.

“Growing up, I always wanted to play here,” Kaleniecki said of the Joe. “I’m from [nearby] Livonia, so I know I’ve watched so many games here, whether it’s college games or the Red Wings. It’s always special for me to come and play here and I don’t know why, but I always have a little extra jump for some reason.”

Just one season after leading the team with 20 goals, Kaleniecki opened this campaign in a slump that was defined by missed shots, bad bounces, and great saves.

“At the beginning of the year, there was more pressure because I was the leading scorer,” Kaleniecki said. “As the season has gone on, and you see everyone else scoring, it takes a lot of pressure off.”

Kaleniecki began to turn things around at this year’s Great Lakes Invitational, played at Joe Louis, where he scored two goals in two games and was named to the all-tournament team. Kaleniecki’s performance at the GLI was especially important considering that the Wolverines were without five players because of the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Kaleniecki’s 2004-05 stats — 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points — are far from mediocre, but they don’t stand out on a team with so many proven scorers.

However, in Michigan’s CCHA Super Six semifinal against Alaska-Fairbanks, Kaleniecki again rose to the occasion on perhaps his favorite slab of ice.

Michigan peppered Nanook freshman goaltender Wylie Rogers with 13 shots in the first period but was unable to find a crack in his defense — that is, until Jeff Tambellini found Kaleniecki streaking into the left slot midway through the second period.

Kaleniecki took the pass and fired a shot that beat Rogers over the glove shoulder.

“Obviously it felt pretty good to get [a goal], especially in a game like this, 0-0 going into the second period, ” Kaleniecki said. “So it was nice to get one in a game that mattered.”

Once the Wolverines got that first goal, a weight seemed to lift from their shoulders.

“The goals were hard to come by and Brandon finally got one,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “He’s been getting his chances and he finally got one in.”

Kaleniecki finished off the second by setting up a Tambellini goal behind the Fairbanks defense, giving the Wolverines a 2-0 lead with just 18 seconds remaining in the period.

For his efforts, Kaleniecki was named the first star of the game.

“Brandon got off to a disappointing start [this season],” said Berenson. “It seems like he scores in bunches. He’s a streak scorer, but once he gets going and he gets his confidence, it just fuels his work ethic. He’s always a hard worker, even when things aren’t going well. But when they are going well, he really picks up the pace. That’s what you’re seeing now.”