There was no way Chad Kolarik could have ended his career at Yost Ice Arena with a sickening spill against a team like Lake Superior State.
After the injury was diagnosed, coach Red Berenson said he thought the senior forward had played his final game at home.
But instead, Kolarik delivered
his encore during the most exciting weekend of the season.
And spurred by his emotional leadership, the Wolverines proved this weekend they are a playoff team.
It only took 10 minutes for the energy that had been behind the bench for the past three weeks to finally become visible to the Yost crowd. Kolarik let loose a gorgeous, high shot that hit the back corner of the net. He raised both his arms and skated right into the boards in front of the student section, his mouth guard dangling as he disappeared into the mob of celebratory teammates.
” ‘Til I got that puck, and the guy fumbled it, I wasn’t really into it,” Kolarik said. “I was lost, I was winded, and then I got a lucky bounce and it went in. And you know, I’m an emotional kid, so once I get one, then more are coming.”
Michigan was 0-2 in the games when he sat in the stands, watching the action from afar – and 2-0 when he motivated his teammates while standing next to the Michigan coaches in dress clothes.
Once he completed his hat trick Friday, it was obvious the Wolverines would win this weekend.
After Kolarik’s third goal, the hats flew onto the ice. So did the penguin suit and the Frankenberry head, staples of the Yost crowd attire all season.
The passion Kolarik pumped into Yost transferred to Saturday’s game, even when he wasn’t on the ice.
After the high of a nine-goal thrashing, the Wolverines’ second playoff game was still almost as exciting as their first. A minute after the Mavericks scored in the second period to narrow Michigan’s lead to one, Aaron Palushaj leveled Nebraska-Omaha goalie Jerad Kaufmann and Yost exploded. Max Pacioretty started punching forward Nick Von Bokern. Tristin Llewellyn flipped a Maverick player skates-over-head to leave him flat on the ice.
As the melee was subsiding, a belligerent Michigan fan snuck into the Nebraska-Omaha parent section. The fight on the ice shifted to the stands. The crowd roared. Kolarik, who knew the Mavericks parent involved in the fight, stood on the ice alone and laughed.
“You see one of their parents getting thrown out, and that’s the fun of college hockey, that’s why they’re there,” Sauer said.
This weekend was just further proof that the Wolverines have thrived on emotional rushes to win in big games all season.
Yes, Michigan’s aggression was costly. Pacioretty was disqualified
from next Friday’s semifinal game at Joe Louis Arena. More than one player admitted the team lost some momentum after the fight. But the crowd fervor was unmatched. From the time they cheered louder
for Kolarik than Porter during Friday’s introduction, Kolarik was again the pulse of the Michigan
During the second intermission
Saturday, a time usually reserved for a select few fans to dance in the stands, the entire student section rose to its feet and started dancing wildly. When the song was done, they pleaded for the band to play again.
The crowd got its encore.
On Friday, Kolarik got his.
And if the Wolverines keep making it this exciting in the playoffs, they could be riding his energy all the way to Denver.
– Ratkowiak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.