With senior alternate captain Chad Kolarik likely to return to the Michigan hockey team lineup this weekend, it seems the nation’s top-scoring line will be back at full strength for the CCHA quarterfinals.
Kolarik brings 43 points back into the Michigan lineup, as well as key leadership on a freshman-heavy team preparing to face Nebraska-Omaha in this weekend’s best-of-three series, which starts tonight at Yost Ice Arena.
“You can’t replace a player like Chad,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s not just his skills and his goals and everything (but) his leadership, his senior leadership. It’s especially (important) with a lot of young guys and this will be a new experience for them.”
On the other side of the ice, the story sounds much the same: The nine-freshman deep Mavericks return senior Bryan Marshall, their captain and leading scorer with 43 points. Marshall leads the country in assists per game and has been Nebraska-Omaha’s lone bright spot after the Mavericks finished eighth in the CCHA.
“I guess in a way they kind of cancel each other out,” senior captain Kevin Porter said. “They have their top player coming back, we have our top player coming back, so it’s going to be a good battle.”
Marshall, who warmed up but didn’t play in last week’s triple-overtime win over Alaska, is considered a quieter, “by-example” leader.
Kolarik in contrast, is one of the most passionate Wolverines and more of a goal scorer. He has notched two four-goal games this season.
“Because he’s such an emotional player, he does get on guys and give them a lift,” Pearson said. “I think just even for that line, for Max (Pacioretty) and Kevin (Porter) it’s huge having him back, and obviously emotionally its huge having him back.”
Both returns should make Friday a more spirited night than usual.
“It’s going to get everyone going, get everyone really excited and ready to go,” Porter said.
Aside from boosting their respective teams, Kolarik and Marshall have something else in common – they lead two of the CCHA’s best offenses.
Michigan’s offense, ranked second in the nation, lit the lamp five times in one period when the Mavericks hosted the Wolverines earlier this season, and Porter has tallied two hat tricks against them in his career.
Nebraka-Omaha’s 12th-ranked offense managed just five goals during a relatively slow weekend.
Even though Michigan is netting almost four goals a game and Nebraska-Omaha boasts the most efficient power play in college hockey, in a playoff atmosphere, no one is expecting a big offensive weekend from either team.
“I think the wheel turns from more offense early in the year to more defense this time of year,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Your offense is still important, but your defense still has to shut them down.”
Pearson added: “If I was a betting man, you’ll see some goals. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 2-1 game, a 3-2 game.”
Note: According to Berenson, freshman Matt Rust suffered a hairline fracture to his fibula, a non-weight bearing bone. Rust suffered the injury in a knee-to-knee collision with defenseman Eric Elmblad at practice yesterday during a drill. The second-line center will be out on a “week-to-week” basis, and is currently wearing a walking cast.
In practice yesterday, junior Tim Miller replaced Rust alongside freshmen Carl Hagelin and Aaron Palushaj on the second line. However, Hagelin will move to center in place of Rust. Miller was replaced by freshman Ben Winnett, who skated with Louie Caporusso and Travis Turnbull on the third line.