BY RYAN SOSIN
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 28, 2005
GRAND RAPIDS — It is natural to focus on the 10 seniors who played their last game together as members of the Wolverines. But two players who will don the Maize and Blue next year showed that the future is not so bleak.
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As the final minute slowly melted off the clock in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, Michigan junior Jeff Tambellini was flying around the rink with his after burners at full throttle — skating end-to-end twice on an extended shift.
“It was desperation hockey,” Tambellini said. “It’s terrible that we were even in that situation, but that’s the way the game works, and all we could do was just try and put as many pucks to the net and see if we could get a bounce.”
His four-point performance in Friday’s win over Wisconsin came just a week after he lit up the CCHA en route to tournament MVP honors. Since the postseason began, Tambellini has surpassed fellow returning Wolverine, sophomore T.J. Hensick, in scoring thanks to 10 points in six games. His four-point night against the Badgers set a Midwest Regional record previously held by four players. Former Wolverine Mark Mink was the last Wolverine to tally three points in the Midwest Regional. He did it against Colorado College in the 2003 finals. Senior captain Eric Nystrom commended the junior’s defensive efforts but said the fear that Tambellini strikes in opposing goalies is what makes him a good player.
“It was a pretty good game — I’m not going to lie,” Nystrom said on Friday. “(Tambellini is) just a dangerous player all over the ice. … He’s got an NHL shot that he can put anywhere.”
Like Tambellini, freshman Chad Kolarik pushed his game to another level for the playoffs. During the CCHA Tournament, Kolarik had three goals. The freshman had a goal disallowed against Wisconsin but, despite several quality scoring chances, finished his weekend minus-1 with one point in the Midwest Regional.
“For a freshman and a center and his first go around in this environment, he handled the puck well,” Berenson said. “He was poised. You would never know he was a freshman, and he’s a young freshman.”
Berenson acknowledged that the window closed on the seniors and that the opportunities for the 65-year old coach are dwindling. Following the loss on Saturday, Nystrom was visibly upset that four seasons with a so-called next year mentality all came up flat. Senior David Moss echoed those sentiments, pointing out how close Michigan has come in each of their four seasons in Ann Arbor.
“It’s so hard to win it,” Moss said. “We’ve been knocking on the door every year. It’s just so tough, you never know who is going to win it every year.”
“I think that you look back and think that one of these years could have been the year, but it didn’t work out for us and I know were all pretty disappointed,” he added.
Gajic gone for ten: Midway through the first period on Saturday, senior Milan Gajic was pegged with a interference call that quickly became a 10-minute misconduct. As Gajic came around from behind the Michigan net, he threw his arms up in dismay at the referee’s call.
“Sometimes, players don’t understand how officials think,” Berenson said. “Often, just a gesture is enough to embarrass the official where he thinks that’s worthy of a 10-minute misconduct.”
Berenson said he wasn’t happy with the call in such an important game but was equally upset with Gajic. He blamed both sides for not understanding the others’ mentality in the game.
“The officials have to understand the seriousness of the player,” Berenson said. “These games are life-and-death type games for the players. This is your last game of your career, so there’s a lot on the line. And emotions run deep. But I’m not interested in Gajic taking 10-minute misconducts, so I blame him, not the official.”
Hardware the hard way: Despite coming out on the short end of the regional final, Michigan split the All-Regional team honors with Colorado College. Tambellini was joined on the team by senior defenseman Brandon Rogers and Montoya in goal.
The Tigers’ Trevor Frischmon, Marty Sertich and Brian Salcido earned the other three spots on the team. Frischmon claimed the Most Outstanding Player after scoring a short-handed goal to bring the Tigers to within one and then netting the clincher midway through the final frame.