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Former Hobey Baker winner Porter still adjusting to NHL game

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BY MARK BURNS
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 8, 2011

“Your legacy is your career, but the senior year is the icing on the cake. I think (he’s) giving himself a chance to be right up there with the best players that have played here.”

Those were the exact words iterated by coach Red Berenson at the midway point of the Michigan hockey team’s 2007-08 season. If a team-leading 33 goals, CCHA Player of the Year honors and a Hobey Baker award is any indication, then the icing was pretty darn good for former Michigan standout, Kevin Porter.

“I think everyone is finding out who Kevin Porter is,” Berenson added.

Take a glance at the hardware and accolades Porter took home that season, and you’d see a Division-I player firmly cemented in the national spotlight.

Following his junior season, though, there were thoughts the Northville, Mich. native wouldn’t even return for his fourth year in Ann Arbor, but would instead sign an NHL entry-level contract with Phoenix — the Coyotes drafted Porter in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

But Porter opted to return to the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena for one more go-round, one more shot at winning a national title.

“I was having a lot of fun in school,” he said. “You’re never going to get another year or another chance to go back to school, so you might as well do it while you can.”

This past Friday, Porter reiterated that he wasn’t necessarily ready to play at the professional level and that staying another year at Michigan in order to get stronger and graduate was in his best interest.

Everything came to fruition on Oct. 11, 2008, when Porter played in his first NHL contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets — a “dream come true” according to Porter.

“It’s something you’ve worked for your entire life since you were five-years-old,” he said. “That’s what you wanted to do and you finally get there … You’re really nervous, and you don’t want to make any mistakes, but you just go out there and you have so much adrenaline. You just go out, play your game and have fun.”

Ninety-eight games later, Porter surprisingly isn’t as comfortable playing in the professional ranks as one may think. Though he’s almost eclipsed the century mark in games played, the long transition process from college hockey to the pros is one that hasn’t been easy.

For a player like Porter — arguably the best forward to don the Michigan sweater since Brendan Morrison in the mid-1990s — the reality of the situation is that he’s surrounded by an abundance of skill and finesse in a league with 30 teams.

“Guys are just a lot stronger, a lot faster,” Porter said. “Every part of the game was a lot tougher — in the corners, you’re losing a lot of battles, but you get used to that. You get stronger yourself.”

And even though players’ speed and the physical nature of the NHL have been two key areas of adjustment, perhaps the biggest transition for Porter has been with his counterparts' hockey IQ — not a tangible characteristic, but certainly one that forced Porter to learn on the fly.

“They know what you’re doing before you know what you’re doing,” Porter joked.

Through the whole process — the call-ups from the AHL to NHL to the consistent time spent with the big club this season in Colorado — Porter’s learned to maintain the perspective that the switch from amateur to 10-year veteran isn’t going to occur over night.

The learning curve for a former Wolverine with 85 goals and 98 assists during his four-year career is still present, but with each additional game comes the notion that he's one step closer to making a bigger impact in the NHL.

“There’s some games I feel like I’m really comfortable, and I can go out there and play my game,” Porter said. “And then there’s some games where I’m a little bit nervous and I don’t want to make a mistake and kind of get away from my game.

“Each game and each practice, like I said, you get a little bit more comfortable … The more games you play, the better you feel. It’s just going to take a little bit more time and a few more games until I finally feel like I can stick around in this league.”