ALBANY, N.Y. – “I guess Kevin Porter’s not in a slump anymore.”
In his opening statement after Friday night’s 5-1 shellacking of Niagara in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, that’s all Michigan coach Red Berenson needed to say about his senior captain.
The usually stern-faced Berenson cracked a slight smile after this remark – for any other player in the country, a three-game scoreless streak wouldn’t be considered much of a slump.
But Porter, the hands-down favorite to claim this year’s Hobey Baker Award, is expected to put up big numbers every game.
“Thanks, coach,” replied Porter, who sat two seats down from Berenson at the postgame press conference. The mood was deservedly lighthearted. Porter smashed his mini-slump as emphatically as possible.
Porter tallied four smooth, pretty, Hobey Baker-esque goals Friday night, setting a record for goals in an NCAA Regional game. Porter finished the weekend with five goals and six total points.
“Yeah, it’s about time he matches me,” joked Chad Kolarik, who has notched four goals twice this season. “No, it’s unbelievable. He’s the best player in the nation, and this should solidify his spot for Hobey. He’s had a great year, and I’m his campaign manager.”
And Kolarik’s not the only one pushing for Porter to take home the 16-inch, bronze statue given to the nation’s most outstanding college hockey player.
After Porter’s first goal, the relatively small contingent of Michigan fans burst into a “Hobey Baker” chant. With each successive goal, the chant became louder and louder, until almost all the Wolverine fans were on their feet cheering on Porter after his final goal, an empty-netter late in the third period.
Although the chants are hard to ignore, Porter said he wants to focus on the bigger picture.
“I mean, I try not to think about it,” Porter said. “It’s nice, but we’re here to win a national championship, and it’s about our team. It’s not about one person. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am without . the rest of the team.”
Porter led the way for the Wolverines’ top line, which completely dismantled the Purple Eagles. The three forwards – Porter, Kolarik and freshman Max Pacioretty – combined for 80 percent of Michigan’s scoring (12 of 15 points).
Midway through the second period, the trio broke out on a 3-on-2 rush toward the Niagara zone. Racing hard up the middle of the ice, Pacioretty found Kolarik, who slid a perfect pass to Porter. The Northville native was left all alone with Purple Eagle goaltender Juliano Pagliero – a clear mismatch.
“I don’t know what you do to stop that line from Michigan,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “That’s unbelievable. Those guys are going to be on TV for a long, long time.”
Pacioretty to Kolarik to Porter – the stat line that’s become all-too-familiar this season, worked to perfection again Saturday against Clarkson, when Porter notched the game-clinching goal in the third period.
Although every Michigan offensive line is capable of putting up big numbers on any given night, it starts with the first shift.
And Berenson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think that’s been the story of our season,” Berenson said. “Kevin has set the bar for this team, and Chad Kolarik is hanging onto it with him and making sure that he holds it high. And they make the difference on this team, there’s no question.”