DETROIT –

The 2005 and 2007 Michigan hockey teams both welcomed large incoming freshman classes following major losses to graduation and professional contracts.

But the similarities end there.

“(The 2005 team) had a couple guys that played for themselves,” senior alternate captain Chad Kolarik said. “I don’t want to throw anyone under, but I’m sure you can figure it out. A couple guys who didn’t mix well, didn’t like anyone on the team and the team didn’t like them. They’d run kids in practice and just didn’t have the team feel. We have different character on this team. We’re not a bunch of egos.”

Without divisions between the freshmen and upperclassmen, the Wolverines are thriving in a way only Michigan’s National Championship teams of the late 1990s have in recent memory.

Unlike in 2005, Michigan swept the College Hockey Showcase this year and won the Great Lakes Invitational last weekend for the first time since 1996.

Michigan is 18-2 overall heading into the season’s second half. The Wolverines were 12-6-1 at this point in 2005.

Talent can sometimes overtake a locker room, and when there’s too much talent around, the entire team suffers – which happened to Michigan the past two seasons.

This season’s success starts with senior captain Kevin Porter. He’s a gritty player who constantly sets himself or teammates up to score in big situations.

Off the ice, one could barely pick him out of the group. He’s quiet and unassuming, and when asked about a game, his answers barely reveal he’s even played.

That mentality has kept the freshmen grounded and has fostered an atmosphere that keeps the team together.

“I think they don’t think they’re upperclassmen,” freshman Scooter Vaughan said. “We’re all on the Michigan hockey team. They’re not seniors, we’re not freshmen, we’re all a team. So I think that factors into it. They’re just great leaders on and off the ice, with their skill and just being a role model – someone we can look up to.”

Porter and the other upperclassmen have ushered in a new era of Michigan hockey, one absent of internal tension and larger-than-life, suffocating personalities. Less has become more.

With success the norm and not the exception in Ann Arbor, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best talent and the top recruits will translate into the most victories.

What the Wolverines are proving this year is that, even at a program as strong as Michigan, starting over with fresh talent can be successful.

“We’re pretty much like family right now,” Kolarik said. “We’re enjoying it. I just think it’s camaraderie. I think it’s a different feeling in the locker room, different feeling when we’re hanging out off the ice, and there’s something great right now. We’re just going to ride it.”

It’s still too early to know where this joyride will end, but it’s already been more enjoyable than the 2005 season, which felt more like a rollercoaster.

Star players? Good riddance.

I’ll take this team over those individuals every time.

– Bosch can be reached at hectobos@umich.edu.

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