GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Captain Andrew Ebbett still wore his jersey as he walked into the press conference room following Michigan’s first-round defeat at the hands of North Dakota.
The Vernon, B.C. native was avoiding the inevitable – taking off his jersey for the final time.
Three players in all – Ebbett, alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki and goaltender Noah Ruden – played their final games for the Wolverines last Friday.
On paper, none of them contributed much in the Wolverines’ loss to North Dakota (Kaleniecki notched a point with an assist on Michigan’s only goal). But the seniors have instilled a work ethic that, unfortunately, could not be matched by their younger teammates throughout the season.
“I think if our young guys can learn anything from this season, it’s just watching Ebbett and Kaleniecki, in particular, and Noah Ruden since Christmas, is how they really led this team by example,” Berenson said. “Day after day and game after game, and you couldn’t ask for anything more from those guys.”
The senior leadership has carried the Wolverines numerous times, especially epitomized on Feb. 11.
After Michigan suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to Lake Superior State the night before, Kaleniecki and Ebbett combined for six points, and Ruden notched 18 saves to lead the team to a 4-2 win the next night. The night became a showcase for what Ebbett believes to be the legacy for himself and his fellow seniors.
“I hope (people) just see three guys who gave it their all for all three years,” Ebbett said.
Despite what has arguably been the worst season in Michigan hockey over the past 15 years, the seniors’ leadership never wavered. The trio provided the 11 freshmen – and the rest of the team – with a shining example of what it means to play hockey for Michigan.
The emotion of the night was apparent when Ebbett and sophomore Chad Kolarik appeared for their press conference. Both held back tears as it hit them that the season had come to a close.
Even though Ebbett, Kaleniecki and Ruden never torched the stat sheet, the three teammates provided something that don’t show up in a box score.
“(Kaleniecki), Ebbett and (Ruden) are the greatest teammates I’ve ever had,” Kolarik said. “And the greatest captain and assistant captains. I could go on and on. They’re just great guys. Guys you’d want in your wedding, (and) guys you’re going to keep in touch with the rest of your life.”
Welcome back: Despite sitting out for the entire WCHA Conference Tournament (four games), North Dakota forward Drew Stafford returned to the starting lineup for Friday night’s game against the Wolverines.
The first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres (13th overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft, Stafford was the team’s leading goal scorer (22) and point scorer (44) during the season. But, in the opening game of the WCHA playoffs, Stafford suffered a lower body injury against Minnesota State, forcing him to watch from the bench.
Stafford recovered in time for the NCAA Tournament. He even tallied a goal in his first game back. He also notched two assists in the Fighting Sioux’s 5-2 win over Holy Cross in the regional final.
“For me to be back and help the guys out – that’s all I want to try and do,” Stafford said. “(I) just try and play out there and be strong.”
Maybe it should be renamed the Big Ten: Friday wasn’t just a bad day for Michigan. The CCHA as a conference had a rough outing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska-Omaha suffered a 9-2 thrashing against Boston University in the Northeast Regional semis, and CCHA regular-season champion Miami fell to Boston College, 5-0, in the other Northeast Regional semi. The lone bright spot of the first round belonged to Michigan State, who shut out New Hampshire 1-0 in Albany, in the East Regional.
But the Spartans failed to advance to the Frozen Four yesterday with its 5-4 loss to Maine in the east regional final.