BOWLING GREEN – This year’s Michigan hockey team wasn’t supposed to be good – not by Michigan standards at least.

Dave Mekelburg
Freshman Matt Rust scored a shorthanded goal in the first period Saturday to put the Wolverines on top early. Michigan is 11-1 in CCHA play as the first half of the season comes to an end. (MAX COLLINS/Daily)

This team wasn’t supposed to be first in the CCHA halfway through the season.

This team wasn’t supposed to win 16 of its first 18 games.

But it’s time to start paying attention.

Here we are at the end of the fall semester, and all of those things are no longer pipe dreams. They’re reality.

Be a little amazed. Everyone else is.

“It’s obviously surprising,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I don’t think anyone in this room, myself included, would have predicted this team could have pulled that off. But that’s the one thing about coaching, that’s the one thing about playing – you never know until you play the game.”

Now get past the shock. It’s time to look forward and realize this is one of the most enjoyable Michigan teams to follow in recent years – in any sport.

Senior captain Kevin Porter is the clear favorite for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s Heisman Trophy. His 29 points lead the nation, as do his 18 goals.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted how Kevin Porter would come out of the gate and carry this team on his back,” Berenson said.

But maybe we should have seen this coming. Porter chose to return to Michigan. He could have signed a pro contract and jumped ship on a team with 17 underclassmen and low expectations. No one would have blamed him.

Instead, Porter stayed in Ann Arbor – and went to West Quad?

Rather than making their senior season about individual achievements, Porter and fellow-senior Chad Kolarik trekked to their freshmen teammates’ dorm rooms and got to know the new guys. This team’s off-ice camaraderie shows up on the sheet every Friday and Saturday night.

At a time when too many college athletes – in football, basketball and hockey – focus on personal stats with one eye on the pros, Porter is an impressive exception. He is back on campus to lead his team and get a degree – a student-athlete in the classical definition.

Most superstars would have an inflated ego by now, but not Porter. For him, it’s still all about the team.

“No one really expected us to do this well,” Porter said. “We were ranked fourth in the

CCHA (preseason), and now, I think we’re two or three in the country.

“So, I think everyone is a little surprised. But now going into the second half, we shouldn’t be as surprised. We know we’re a good team. We can play with the top teams in the nation.”

That’s just what the Wolverines will be doing when January rolls around, and you have a chance to be there. In the first month back to school, Michigan will host No. 5 Michigan State and No. 6 Notre Dame at Yost Ice Arena.

The Yost student section is loud, but it could be louder.

Next semester, don’t make the same mistake you did this one. Don’t miss the chance to cheer for a team that actually works hard, players that sacrifice their bodies to win games (just ask Danny Fardig about the broken knuckle on his right hand) and a squad that couldn’t care less about low expectations.

It’s time to learn the names of the 26 players on this roster. They’ve surprised their coaches, they’ve surprised the media and they’ve even surprised themselves.

Now, they believe. It’s about time you did, too.

– Sandals can be reached at nsandals@umich.edu.

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