Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chad and Kevin's Excellent Adventure

Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik both signed with the Coyotes today. A 4th and 7th round draft pick respectively, they may be longshots to have NHL careers (though I'd think that Porter's status has gone up in the intervening four years), but I can't remember a pair of NCAA players that I'm pulling for as hard as I am for them. Johnny Pohl and Jordan Leopold is about the only pair that I can think of. I grew up in Ann Arbor, and the Michigan hockey team is the only squad there that I still have any affection for. I left to come to the University of Minnesota 22 years ago, and the Gophers have become my #1 team. Since 1998, the Michigan team has often been unlikable, and I thought that my attachment to even the hockey team had withered away. The 1998 dating is even very precise; the big freshman class that won the title that year turned out to be thoroughly unappealing. Porter and Kolarik proved me wrong. It's a team that has had a complete lack of leadership in recent years. Few top players stay for all four years of eligibility now, and Red Berenson seems to have adjusted poorly relative to other coaches. Red is still a great coach, and his revival of what was a terrible program when I was a kid won't be forgotten. Still, the college game seemed to have moved past him. Porter and Kolarik changed that. The current huge freshman class may or may not turn out to be fun to watch, but the two seniors on the team gave it everything they have to make it the former. I have found that I do still want to root for Michigan. The team had a season that far surpassed expectations. They were picked to finish fourth in the CCHA, and won both the regular season and playoff titles. They came into the NCAA Frozen Four as the top ranked team in the country. I suppose that that means that a lot of people will think of the team as a failure, since they lost in the semi-finals to Notre Dame, a team they went 2-0 against in the regular season. Where others will remember underachievers, though, I see a team with 12 freshmen that gelled instead of struggling, despite the mid-season dismissal of Kevin Quick for, essentially, stealing money from one of his teammates. That coming together is partly due to the coaches: Berenson, Mel Pearson and Billy Powers. More, though, needs to be attributed to Porter and Kolarik. After backup goalie Bryan Hogan let in the overtime goal that ended Michigan's season, I watched these two. It was a sad scene. Most of the team went to console Hogan, another member of the freshman class, who has unfairly blamed himself for the loss. Kolarik and Porter hugged each other about ten feet to the right of the goal. I haven't ever seen anything quite like it. I have nothing bad to say about Notre Dame, a school that, in most instances, I love to root against. Rather than waiting at the end of the handshake line, head coach Jeff Jackson very quickly separated himself from his team's celebration, and went to console his opponents. (Anyone who watched Jackson's tenure at Lake Superior State wouldn't be surprised.) As Porter and Kolarik went through the line, there must have been at least five Irish players who hugged them as well. Players that can evoke that kind of response from the other team should be noted. I am happy that they were both drafted by the same NHL club. If nothing else, they get a chance to play together again in San Antonio. I hope that they can do the same in Phoenix.

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