Chad Kolarik’s presence on the ice during yesterday’s optional practice was too obvious.
While his teammates were divided between white and blue jerseys for a player-run and rather ragged scrimmage, the senior alternate captain wore a red sweater and socks to mark him as an injured player.
Yesterday was his first time back on the ice to practice with the team since suffering a hamstring injury two-and-a-half weeks ago. After going down against Lake Superior State, Kolarik was expected to be out four to five weeks.
But while Kolarik’s dress stood out, his play didn’t – and that was a positive sign.
“I felt really good out there today,” Kolarik said. “I wasn’t really concentrating on it, which is good. It’s all mental.”
Kolarik was so happy with his skate, he declared himself ready to go full speed when the team hits the ice for an organized practice this afternoon.
Michigan coach Red Berenson, who watched the scrimmage from the stands in the north end of Yost Ice Arena, was pleased to see Kolarik participate, but he wasn’t quite ready to call it a full recovery.
Still, Kolarik may have a chance to be back in the lineup when Michigan hosts a second-round CCHA playoff series next Friday.
“The deadline for him in my mind is next Monday,” Berenson said. “Can he practice with the team, and compete and take contact and the whole bit? Because there’s no time for players that aren’t 100 percent when you get in the playoffs.”
If Kolarik gets up to speed with his teammates during the first three days of next week, then he’ll probably be in the lineup for the weekend, Berenson said.
Kolarik wouldn’t be ready to play this weekend, but Michigan earned a bye through the first round of the playoffs – a break that will benefit everyone, not just Kolarik.
The extra time gives players a chance to take care of nagging injuries, and, without an opponent looming, allows the team to concentrate on its own game.
“We’re not going to redefine our game, but I think we can refine it,” Berenson said.
Berenson listed defensive-zone coverage, faceoffs, forechecking and penalty killing – the Wolverines gave up five power-play goals to Ferris State last weekend – as key areas the coaching staff will stress in practice.
The bye week also gives the Wolverines a chance to mentally recharge.
The team is understandably exhausted after a long regular season, especially having played emotional matchups against Miami (Ohio) and Michigan State in recent weeks.
“We’ve been playing hockey for a long time now and it’s nice to get a few days off and just relax and catch up on school work and stuff like that,” senior captain Kevin Porter said.
With the extra few days, Kolarik may have the chance to catch up, too. If Kolarik, who still finished the season second in conference points, makes it back, it will be even harder for the rest of the CCHA to catch up to Michigan.