Stars like T.J. Hensick and Brendan Morrison dominate any discussion of Michigan hockey history. Even casual fans know Morrison won the Hobey Baker Award in 1997, and Hensick led the nation in scoring last year.
But what about Kevin Porter and Billy Muckalt?
After playing in the shadows of Hensick and Morrison for the majority of their careers, Porter’s unexpected senior season this year and Muckalt’s a decade ago warrant their inclusion in a discussion of Michigan hockey’s greatest players.
This year’s captain, Porter was a quiet contributor as one of Michigan’s top three scorers the past two seasons in Hensick’s shadow. Now, he is tallying goals at a faster rate than any Wolverine since the 1993-1994 season. The Northville native’s 20 goals and 37 points lead the country, making him a frontrunner for the Hobey Baker Award, hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
“Porter is playing as well as any forward we’ve ever had here,” assistant coach Billy Powers said. “To see him be the all-around player that he is and the leader that he is, with the added responsibility that he’s taken on with the ‘C,’ and to still be this successful, (is) not surprising, but as a coach, it’s probably more rewarding.”
The center was close to forgoing his senior season to play in the NHL but instead returned to lead a freshman-heavy team predicted to finish fourth in the CCHA. The Wolverines are now the top-ranked team in the country.
As with any No. 1 team, talk of a national championship is always lurking in the background. Michigan’s last title came from the sticks of Muckalt and the 1998 Wolverines.
Muckalt, who also considered bolting for the NHL after playing in Morrison’s shadow, returned to Ann Arbor and registered one of the best seasons in Wolverine history with 32 goals and 35 assists.
And just like Porter, Muckalt’s senior season put him into the national spotlight.
“They found out his senior year who Billy Muckalt was,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And I think everyone is finding out who Kevin Porter is.”
Both rosters were freshmen-heavy, posing a tremendous challenge to each team’s seniors.
“There’s a huge burden on these guys that there hasn’t been in the past,” said John Bacon, author of Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey. “I can’t remember a class since 1998 that’s had more pressure on it.”
Certainly, no one expected Michigan to be this good this quickly, but Porter’s season could put him in the same category as the all-time great Wolverines – especially if he finishes his collegiate career the way Muckalt and the 1998 team did.
“Your legacy is your career, but the senior year is the icing on the cake,” Berenson said. “I think Porter’s giving himself a chance to be right up there with the best players that have played here.”