SAULT STE. MARIE – The 248 area code is exceptionally good at churning out Michigan hockey players.
Most of the Wolverines’ goals last weekend against Lake Superior State came from the sticks of the team’s two Northville natives, senior Kevin Porter and freshman Aaron Palushaj, who’ve combined for 30 points this season to lead the nation’s best offense.
Porter is atop the country in goals scored and captains the second-ranked Wolverines. Palushaj is the top rookie goal scorer in the CCHA and has scored four tallies in the last four games.
Not too shabby for the 6,500-person town about 20 miles northeast of Ann Arbor.
Asked what makes Northville players special, Porter chuckled and failed to come up with a reason. Palushaj also struggled to explain it, managing just a few words and a smile claiming they “just work really hard, I guess.”
But whatever it is, the duo’s contributions speaks for themselves. Porter scored the eventual game-winning goal Friday, and Palushaj did the same the next night. Each scored a power-play goal, Michigan’s only two on the weekend.
“I’m glad to see them playing well,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They were obviously a big factor in our weekend.”
But despite the success (and hometown) they share, their seasons have evolved in very different ways.
Early in the year, Palushaj struggled to find the back of the net and was the second-to-last freshman forward to score. The second-round pick’s arrival on campus was preceded by his scorer’s reputation, which made the slow start even more surprising. But since his first tally against Boston University – after which he dove belly-first onto the ice in celebration – Palushaj has catapulted to third on the team’s point list.
“He’s finally shooting the puck,” Porter said. “I’ve been telling him all along that’s how you score a goal. The first few games, I caught him a few times he was in the slot or a couple chances where he needed to shoot and (instead) he’s trying to make a cute play.”
The senior faced a completely different situation. He’s had to lead Michigan’s biggest freshman class in a quarter century. And on top of that, prove he could be one of the country’s premier players without playing alongside the nation’s top scorer from last year, T.J. Hensick.
Though he claims he’s just “lucky” when he scores, it’s tough to argue he isn’t one of the nation’s top two-way players, especially considering his conversion this season to a new position – center.
“Porter’s been the standout every game,” Berenson said.
The success Northville natives have seen at Michigan isn’t limited to this year, either.
Last season, forward David Rohlfs had his best year at Michigan, registering 34 points – 21 more than his previous career-high total.
Teaming up with Porter for last year’s Northville pair, the duo totaled 92 points. With Rohlfs gone, the 248 legacy is in the hands of Porter and Palushaj, who are almost a third of the way to that total.
“It’s nice having another Northville kid on the team, especially since Rohlfs left,” Porter said. “We like to stick together.”