Thanks For Playing

In the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, so goes the prevailing wisdom, Michigan’s T.J. Hensick slammed the nail in the coffin on his Hobey Baker chances.

In the first round of this year’s tournament, his former linemate, Kevin Porter, slammed the nail in the coffin on everyone else’s chances.

In case anyone had any remaining doubts about the Wolverine senior, he scored four of Michigan’s five goals in a 5-1 win over Niagara, as Michigan snapped a three-game losing streak in the tournament and advanced to Saturday’s East Regional final against Clarkson.

He also made comedians out of his head coach, Red Berenson, and his classmate, Chad Kolarik, although the latter didn’t need much help.

“I guess Kevin Porter’s not in a slump anymore,” Berenson mused. Funny, but Kolarik won the impromptu contest when he said, “About time he matched me,” a reference to his four-goal effort against Lake Superior in February.

“He’s the best player in the nation,” Kolarik said, “and this should solidify his spot for Hobey. We’ve been praising him all year, and I’m his campaign manager.”

 The campaign appears to be working, as chants of “HOB-EY BAK-ER,” separated by the ubiquitous five-clap pattern, rained down from the Maize-clad students after each of Porter’s four goals.  It was a bit different from the last time I watched Porter in person (against Boston University, back in October, when Porter was just having a really nice start to the season), but in Porter’s mind, the biggest difference is that each goal brought Michigan closer to the Frozen Four.

“I try not to think about it,” Porter said of the chants linking him to college hockey’s top individual honor. “It’s nice, but we’re here to win a national championship. It’s about our team. It’s not about one person. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am right now without [Kolarik and Max Pacioretty] or the rest of the team.”

When he’s not getting laughs while talking about his classmate and linemate, Kolarik – who reminded everyone that he had a pretty good case as a Hobey finalist himself with five assists (bringing his season totals to 25 assists and 53 points) – echoed Porter’s sentiments.

“We’re all about the team right now,” Kolarik said. “It’s team time right now. ‘Ports’ will eventually get his when we get to the Frozen Four.”

Clarkson, of course, figures to have something to say about whether the Wolverines will indeed make it to Denver, and the Golden Knights had success containing another Hobey finalist on Friday, holding St. Cloud’s Ryan Lasch without a shot on goal in their 2-1 win over the Huskies. However, as fine as season as Lasch has had, stopping him and stopping Porter are two very different propositions.

“I don’t know what to do to stop that line for Michigan,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said of Porter’s line with Kolarik and Pacioretty. “Those guys are going to be on TV for a long, long time. I don’t know how you stop them. We certainly didn’t have the answer tonight.”

Saturday night, we’ll learn if Clarkson has the answer that can get them past Porter, Kolarik and company. However, when it comes to the question of who will hoist the Hobey two weeks from tonight, that question was answered a long time ago.

Tonight, we got a reminder.