DETROIT – Lost in the shock of a Michigan-Michigan State hockey game ending in a 5-5 tie was the outstanding play of Michigan alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki. Taking the ice for the first time in three weeks due to various injuries, the senior quickly showed just how much the Wolverines have missed him.
Late in the first period of Friday night’s game, Michigan forward Chad Kolarik fired a shot from just inside the blue line. Spartan goalie Jeff Lerg made the save, but the rebound was loose in front of the net. Kaleniecki crashed the net and slapped the puck home before Lerg could recover. The goal proved to be huge, as the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
“We were talking about keeping the puck low and trying to get the rebound,” Kaleniecki said. “I saw (Kolarik) wind up, and I figured he was going to try to do that. He put it right where he had to.”
But Kaleniecki was just getting started. With the Wolverines on the power play late in the second period of Saturday’s game, the alternate captain positioned himself in front of the net, where he is at his best. Kaleniecki deflected a shot from Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson and then banged the rebound between Lerg’s legs to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead.
“That’s something that I try to do well,” Kaleniecki said. “The way our power play was set up, I was in front of the net and it worked out.”
The team has also missed Kaleniecki’s chemistry with captain Andrew Ebbett. The senior connection was on display 30 seconds into the third period, when Ebbett took the puck deep into the Michigan State zone. Kaleniecki streaked to the goal and Ebbett sent a perfect pass across the crease from the corner boards to Kaleniecki, who was waiting right next to the net. The end result of the play was an easy tap-in goal and a seemingly safe 5-3 Michigan lead.
“We’ve been playing together for quite some time,” Kaleniecki said. “We’ve done that play many times in practice. He goes wide, and I go to the net.”
Possibly the most encouraging thing for the Wolverines are the plays Kaleniecki made that won’t show up on a stat sheet. Five minutes into the game, he was on the ice for a Michigan power play. Kaleniecki again was a pest in front of the net, getting a few cracks at the puck off a rebound. Late in the first period, he finished a strong check on Spartan defenseman Corey Potter – something you wouldn’t expect someone playing at less than full strength to do. The alternate captain even had a couple chances at a hat trick on a few one-timers, but each time his slap shots sailed high of the net.
“I felt pretty good,” Kaleniecki said. “I was a little tired, but once the adrenaline gets going, that helped me keep my tempo up.”
Kaleniecki’s value to the team this weekend was not lost on Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“It was a great effort by Kaleniecki,” Berenson said. “He’s coming back to try and make a difference on this team, and he is.”
Despite the great individual play, the blown third period lead was a bitter pill to swallow for Kaleniecki, who might have played his last game against Michigan State. As a senior, Kaleniecki wouldn’t mind getting one more chance against the Spartans in the CCHA tournament. Whether or not Michigan gets that chance, the senior knows a strong finish to the season could make up for the disappointment of this past weekend.
“It’s a sickening feeling,” Kaleniecki said. “We had them where we wanted them, and we just let it slip away. Maybe we’ll get to see them in the playoffs and get a chance to take care of that. If we have a good enough year, maybe I wont remember this.”