BY CHRIS MESZAROS
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 2, 2009
The last time freshman Robbie Czarnik scored a goal, Barack Obama hadn't yet been elected President.
And not only was snapping his 21-game goalless streak Saturday against then-No. 1 Notre Dame cause for celebration, but his goal also couldn’t have come at a better time.
The score brought the Wolverines within one after falling behind 3-0.
And it may have been exactly what the freshman needed after three months of frustrating games.
Coming into the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson knew Czarnik had the talent to play. It was simply a matter of if that skill would transfer to the ice.
“He’s worked hard, he’s played well,” Berenson said. “I’m not surprised that he scored, but I can’t predict if it’s going to change his game or if it’s going to elevate his production or his line’s production.”
Czarnik scored his third-period goal on a blueline pass from sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj, who ended his own eight-game goal drought Saturday.
“It felt great to finally put one in,” Czarnik said. “I wasn’t too worried about scoring, I knew it’d eventually come."
Czarnik is part of the team's third line that is finally starting to click. The freshman plays with senior Tim Miller, who scored Friday's game-winning goal, and junior Brian Lebler, who had an assist on Saturday.
Czarnik's linemates have played well recently, particularly Miller, who has excelled on the penalty kill. With the rest of the line playing well, it was just a matter of time before Czarnik finally got on the board.
“That line has something going for it right now,” Berenson said. “Miller’s been playing his best hockey, and I think Lebler’s been playing his best hockey, and Czarnik is definitely playing well.”
Worthy of No. 1: It’s rare that a college hockey goal makes ESPN’s Top 10 Plays, let alone be No. 1. But Friday, Miller’s faceoff goal in the second period earned the top spot.
Miller took the draw but didn’t win it cleanly. He then reached his stick behind his opponent’s leg and fired a quick wrist shot past surprised Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce. The goal extended Michigan’s lead to 2-0.
“I was going to go forward with the puck until Czarnik drove the net,” Miller said. “Then they left a (defenseman) in the middle, so I changed it up and tried to go back. Their guy fell on the ice, and I just got it out of his skates and shot it as quick as I could.”
Back to practice: Senior captain Mark Mitera completed his return to practice yesterday. Mitera was seen last week skating with the team before practices, but yesterday was his first full practice since his knee injury against St. Lawrence the first week of the regular season.
“He’s behind,” Berenson said. “He hasn’t played a game since early October. He’s going to skate hard and we put him on forward to get him skating more and handling the puck more.”
Though the senior is far from game shape, both he and Berenson noted that his recovery from knee surgery is going faster than expected.
Mitera has stated he would like to return to the ice before the end of the regular season, four weeks from now.
“Personally, I think I should be able to play (by the end of the season),” Mitera said three weeks ago. “I need to make sure everything heals properly. I don’t want to take any risks at this point, but that’s my goal, to get back for one more game at Yost.”