Three hundred sixty four days a year, they are teammates.
But on Saturday, they were opponents in the annual Blue/White intrasquad game at Yost Ice Arena.
And while Wolverines clashed against Wolverines, the biggest excitement of Saturday’s exhibition bout was a bond between two players.
Junior Chad Kolarik and sophomore Andrew Cogliano teamed up for three goals in the White team’s 6-3 victory over the Blue team, with two goals and two assists for Cogliano and one goal and two assists for Kolarik.
The first Cogliano-Kolarik connection snapped in as the clock dwindled in the first period. The shorthanded buzzer-beater began with freshman defenseman Chris Summers handing the puck up to Kolarik, who swooped down the left side. Cogliano joined the two-on-one rush and took the fast pass from Kolarik, flipping it in over freshman goalie Steven Jakiel’s glove.
“The chemistry’s there,” said senior captain Matt Hunwick, who scored a stick-shattering goal for the White team. “Cogs has a lot of speed. He’s able to get Chad the puck. They’re both obviously two of the more skilled guys on our team – they just have that chemistry where they know where one another is at.”
The other two goals came on similar set-ups in the third period, demonstrating Cogliano and Kolarik’s ability to find one another on the ice.
“They look like they’re clicking,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They’ve been skating together and I think there’s something there.”
Rounding out the explosive line was freshman Brian Lebler. The Penticon, B.C. native checks in at 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds, and Saturday he used that size to his advantage, fighting for loose pucks along the boards and showing he’s not afraid of gritty play against his older, more seasoned teammates.
“He’s just a strong physical player,” Berenson said. “He’s a player you’re glad he’s on your team. He should be strong along the boards, strong in front of the net. He’s going to make some good subtle plays. He’s got smart hands.”
Good first impressions were all around for the group of five freshmen playing their first game at Yost. Rookie blueliner Steve Kampfer scored a power play goal for the White team in the first period with a scathing slapshot from the center that zoomed through traffic and past senior goalie Mike Mayhew.
Fellow freshmen Anthony Ciraulo and Chris Summers also worked their way onto the stat sheet, both notching assists.
But one of Saturday’s standout players shined mostly because he’s no longer a freshman. Sophomore goalie Billy Sauer notched 36 saves, playing the entire game for the White team.
“He looks like an improved, little more confident, little more controlled goalie,” said Berenson. “It was a good test for him to play the whole game, just physically and mentally to get through it. I’m happy with his play.”
Last season Sauer struggled with consistency, sharing the net with former Wolverine Noah Ruden.
“There’s a lot less pressure, to not have to look over my shoulder,” Sauer said. “This year I really know what I’m coming into.”
Seeing Sauer and the rest of the Wolverines play outside of practice, even if it was against themselves, helped answer some questions about this season’s goaltending and new faces. And with two more exhibition games on the schedule, there’s still time to tune up.
“You can kind of see what our team’s made of this year, the character we have, the grittiness,” said Hunwick. “Even in a game we’re playing against one another you can see the intensity out there and how bad these guys want to win this year.”