SOUTH BEND — Just four minutes into Saturday night’s hockey game at the Joyce Center, with Michigan on the power play, freshman forward Kevin Porter fed a cross-ice pass to fellow first-year icer Chad Kolarik, who one-timed a shot at Notre Dame goalie Morgan Cey. Kolarik’s shot popped into the air when it reached Cey, found its way over the netminder and trickled over the line to give Michigan a 2-0 lead early in the first period.

Ice Hockey
Freshman forward Chad Kolarik had a goal and two assists at Notre Dame on Saturday night. Fellow freshman Kevin Porter added four points on two goals and two assists in the game. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

That play set the tone for the freshman duo, which combined for a remarkable seven points in the Wolverines’ 8-0 win.

Porter’s two goals and four total points — he also tallied a pair of assists — were both career highs. The freshman was thrilled to finally break through after not scoring a goal since Oct. 29 against Ferris State.

“It’s about time,” said a visibly relieved Porter after Saturday’s contest. “I haven’t had (a goal) in a while, so it was nice to get a couple this weekend.”

Kolarik also had plenty to smile about. His goal and two assists in the second game of the home-and-home series gave him the first three-point night of his young collegiate career. It was also Kolarik’s first multiple-assist effort at the NCAA level, yet he remained humble afterwards.

“It’s definitely important that the young players step up,” Kolarik said. “But we also have great senior leadership. So it’s the whole team just doing all that we can.”

But the more experienced members of the squad appreciate what the newest players have brought to the table.

“The freshmen are pulling their weight for sure,” sophomore defenseman Jason Dest said. “We have two kids come in freshman year and score as many goals as they are (scoring), and it didn’t really take much time for them to feel comfortable out there.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson is becoming accustomed to stellar play from his only first-year pupils.

“They’ve been playing well,” Berenson said. “This is not a surprise. Kolarik has continued to play well, and Porter’s played well from day one.”

Kolarik already has 12 points on the season with seven goals and five assists. Porter is nipping at his counterpart’s heels with five goals and six assists for 11 total points. Each freshman also scored in Friday’s game, with Kolarik notching a goal and Porter recording an assist. Kolarik leads all Michigan players with four power play goals this year.

Senior forward Milan Gajic has found it easy to adjust to the freshmen this season. He attributes much of the team’s seamless integration of its new talent to the small size of the incoming class.

“We only have two new guys up front, and we’ve all played with each other,” said Gajic after Friday’s game. “If you’re throwing five or six guys who we’ve never played with in the mix, then it’s going to be a different story. It’s easier to get to know two new guys compared with five or six. We kind of know where everyone’s going to be.”

But Berenson can’t look past the role of his elder statesmen in guiding the fresh faces through their opening campaign.

“It’s a good sign, obviously, for our young players to play well, but they’re getting some good leadership too,” Berenson said. “The nuts and bolts of the team is the leadership and the experience and the guidance and the support that they’re getting.”

But for a team whose leading scorer each of the past two years has been a freshman — T.J. Hensick last season and Jeff Tambellini in 2002-03 — the youth movement has once again made a statement on the offensive end.

 

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