When Jeff Tambellini left Ann Arbor a month ago for Team
Canada’s World Junior Championship selection camp, he had
gone six games without a point and seen his shot attempt totals
take a dive.

Mira Levitan
Sophomore forward Jeff Tambellini, back with Michigan after a month with Team Canada, had his major junior rights traded last Thursday. (JOEL FRIEDMAN/Daily)

But after making the team and tallying two goals and three
assists in six games, Tambellini has spent the last week fending
off invitations to join the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey
League.

Last Thursday the Rockets acquired the rights to Tambellini from
the Spokane Chiefs and made a push to have him join the team this
year.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” the sophomore
forward said of the trade. “I knew that was coming.
They’re making a push for it.

“It’s kind of neat — I’ve never been
traded before. I got a couple of calls from those guys, but this is
where I came to play.”

The Rockets’ president and general manager, Bruce
Hamilton, admitted that convincing him to join the team this season
was a longshot, but went after him anyway.

If Tambellini, who was selected No. 27 in the first round by the
Los Angeles Kings in the NHL Draft last year, had wanted to play
for the Rockets this season, then Saturday’s game against
Ohio State would have been his last game with Michigan.

But Tambellini, whose two assists Saturday were his first points
for the Wolverines since Nov. 8, isn’t going anywhere and
will continue to don the maize and blue.

“You always listen to what everybody’s got to say,
but when it comes down to it, you have to look at what the best
situation is,” Tambellini said. “I felt that leaving
school … doesn’t do anything for me at all. This is
the place I want to be at. It’s a great
atmosphere.”

The Wolverines have grown accustomed to seeing players leave
early. Since 2000, Mike Comrie, Mike Komisarek and Mike Cammalleri
have all left Michigan early for the NHL, and just before this
season began, former defenseman Danny Richmond left Michigan to
join the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Junior role players provide difference: Until this weekend,
Michigan had struggled to reach the lofty expectations it had set
at the start of the season and was in sixth place in the CCHA. But,
with the entire roster now healthy and in the country, the
Wolverines hope that the quality of their depth can separate them
from the rest of the conference. With this weekend’s sweep,
they have already stormed up to a first-place tie with Miami at
9-4-1 in conference play.

In Friday’s 3-2 win, juniors Milan Gajic and Jason Ryznar
led Michigan back from a 2-1 deficit, and on Saturday, Dwight
Helminen’s four goals paced the Wolverines’ romp.

The trio has gone through struggles and had to sit out games at
different times this season, but these setbacks are a thing of the
past. Another junior, center David Moss, returned this weekend from
a high ankle sprain that had kept him out since Dec. 5 against
Michigan State.

“We don’t know what the potential of this team
is,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But when guys
like Ryznar and Gajic and Helminen start scoring … that just
improves the chances of (us) being a better team.”

Mocking Buckeyes in style at Yost: Michigan and Ohio State are
fierce rivals on the football field, and throughout the weekend,
people at Yost Ice Arena spent plenty of time reminding the
Buckeyes what happened in Michigan Stadium on Nov. 22.

During one of the quieter moments of Friday’s game against
Ohio State, public address announcer Scott Spooner sent the
unsuspecting crowd into a tizzy when he reported that, “In
earlier action: Ohio State 21, Michigan 35.”

In Saturday’s rout the student section spent much of the
third period chanting, “Just like football!”

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