After senior Chad Kolarik suffered a hamstring injury Feb. 1, he said it was so painful he couldn’t bend over to tie his own shoes.

But on Senior Night last Friday, he skated in front of a crowd at Yost Ice Arena for the first time since the injury.

In his four-game absence, Kolarik stood behind the bench for two games – the 5-2 win against Michigan State Feb. 23 and Friday’s 5-3 victory over Ferris State.

The alternate captain’s on-ice demeanor has transferred to the bench. Kolarik is known for being vocal and emotional during games, and he was no different Friday.

“He’s not really negative, which is good,” captain Kevin Porter said. “Every time I came off (after a shift), I probably should have had 4 or 5 goals – but he kept telling me it was OK.”

In the closing minutes of Friday’s victory, Kolarik stood by the edge of the ice in his maize jersey. He was able to skate to center ice for the postgame celebration and hoist the CCHA regular-season championship trophy.

Kolarik took the traditional lap around the ice while waving a giant Michigan flag with his two classmates. Though he skated slowly, he didn’t seem very hindered by the injury that has kept the CCHA’s second-highest scorer out of commission.

“He skated this afternoon for the first time, just to see if it was OK,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He was pretty fired up. He snuck off the bench and got his equipment on, so good for him.”

Berenson said Kolarik will be reevaluated after this week. He said he doesn’t know when the senior forward will return to practice, but has mentioned the March 21 CCHA semifinals as a possible target date.

Even champions need work: The Wolverines’ first playoff matchup is 10 days away, and a main concern for the new conference champions is staying in game shape.

The team didn’t skate yesterday at practice, but it will be on the ice for the rest of the week.

Blocking shots was difficult for Michigan all weekend. Ferris State’s fluid play with the man advantage was too fast-paced for the Wolverines, and their failure to deny shots allowed the Bulldogs to score five total power-play goals. Improving the penalty kill will be a priority during the next week and a half of practice.

And when the Wolverines are at full strength, forward Max Pacioretty said they need to show more effort while getting back on defense.

“At the beginning of the year, I think we were all coming back with a purpose, but now it seems that we’re just coming back just to backcheck and it hasn’t been working for us,” Pacioretty said.

Both defensive issues have led to more goals against. Berenson said the four goals allowed Saturday were unacceptable.

“You know we’re not going to win if we give up three or four goals against,” Berenson said. “We have no chance.”

Notes: Michigan fell out of the No. 1 spot for the first time in a month in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll released yesterday. North Dakota earned 37 of 50 first-place votes after 2-0 and 2-1 (OT) wins at Minnesota-Duluth. The Wolverines had just 12 nods for the top spot. . Michigan picked up another conference accolade yesterday as defenseman Mark Mitera was named CCHA Defenseman of the Week. Mitera had four assists this weekend (three on Friday) and finished the regular season with a team-high plus-24 rating. . Saturday’s loss was the first time the Wolverines fell in overtime since Feb. 2006. The last game was also a 4-3 loss against Ferris State, and it was on Michigan’s senior night. The Wolverines now have a two-game road losing streak after starting the season 10-0 on the road.

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