March 29, 2008
East Regional | Regional Final
Top Billing Suits Michigan Just Fine
Nation's No. 1 team and tournament top seed cherishes target

By Joe Gladziszewski

Michigan 2, Clarkson 0
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-MI Aaron Palushaj (10) PP
14:23 K. Porter, M. Mitera

Second Period

No scoring
Third Period
2-MI Kevin Porter (33) EV
0:26 C. Kolarik, M. Pacioretty
Goaltending
MI: Billy Sauer, 59:55, 27 saves, 0 GA
CLK: David Leggio, 57:52, 30 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: MI 10/20; CLK 9/18
Power Plays: MI 1-8; CLK 0-9
Attendance: 4,301
All-Tournament Team
G: Billy Sauer, Michigan
D: Mark Mitera, Michigan
D: Grant Clitsome, Clarkson
F: Kevin Porter, Michigan
F: Shea Guthrie, Clarkson
F: Chad Kolarik, Michigan
Most Outstanding Player: Porter

ALBANY, N.Y. — Contrary to what the lyric in Michigan's famous fight song suggests, these 2008 hockey Wolverines are champions of the East. The top-seeded Michigan Wolverines rolled to the Frozen Four with a 2-0 win over Clarkson in the East Regional final on Saturday night at the Times Union Center.

The victory featured a late first-period power-play goal by Aaron Palushaj and a goal in the first minute of the third period by, who else, Kevin Porter. Billy Sauer made 27 saves to earn the shutout.

It was the 33rd victory of the season for Michigan, a team that has rarely stumbled all season long. They've rightfully earned the nation's top ranking in most major polls and the No. 1 overall seed for this championship tournament. They're the team to beat, and they come to the rink every day knowing that. The swagger and confidence is apparent. It comes in public comments such as Chad Kolarik's Friday night declaration that it is going to be nice to pick up Kevin Porter's Hobey Baker Award when they go to the Frozen Four, made 20 hours prior to their regional final game against Clarkson.

It's seen on the ice with flashy, skilled plays in tight space and the knowledge that a teammate will be there in support of the pass or shot attempt. The Wolverines don't always initiate post-whistle collisions and discussions, but if engaged, they never back down.

So it was in Albany. The Wolverines dispatched of Niagara by a 5-1 score on Friday before blanking Clarkson 2-0 on Saturday. Strong performances on back-to-back nights are what they expect of themselves, and they delivered.

Billy Sauer denied all of Clarkson's scoring chances, including one by Clarkson's Brandon DeFazio.

"Our goal all year was to be the No. 1 team in the nation, and so far we've done a good job protecting it," Kolarik said. "But it doesn't matter, the rankings and the seeds. You can throw them all away when you get to Denver."

Praise also comes from the opposition. Clarkson's forwards have good size and speed and attack defenses in straight lines. All game long, Michigan's defenders shut down Clarkson on line rushes and limited the Golden Knights' scoring chances.

"They're the best defense we've faced this year," Clarkson's Nick Dodge said. "They have size and quickness, and that's a great combination. They definitely kept us out of the middle and did a good job of coming back and keeping the center of the ice clogged up."

Kolarik and Porter have carried this team to the Frozen Four and set an example that the rest of the team follows. They're at the top of the college hockey world right now, and will remain atop that perch until someone knocks them from it.

"It's nice being the team to beat," Kevin Porter said.

They're hoping that's the case for two more games.

SEEN AND HEARD AT TIMES UNION CENTER

Tribute to the coaching staff: Clarkson seniors Grant Clitsome and Nick Dodge, two players who earned numerous ECAC Hockey accolades and were key members of an outstanding senior class for the Golden Knights, paid tribute to the Clarkson coaching staff during the postgame press conference.

They complimented head coach George Roll, associate head coach Greg Drechsel, and assistant coach J-F Houle for their energy, work ethic, and leadership of the Golden Knights. Clitsome said, "I am a better player for having played under this staff," and Dodge said that the staff does an excellent job of watching video and preparing scouting reports on the opponents that Clarkson faces on a weekly basis.

The compliments weren't one-sided. Roll saluted the Clarkson senior class for four excellent years, and their leadership of the program back to national prominence after falling into the middle-to-lower portion of the ECAC Hockey standings for a period of time four to five years ago.

Bitter taste gets better: Chad Kolarik's older brother, Tyler, was a very good player for Harvard earlier this decade, a Crimson team that played a number of games in the Albany building in ECAC Hockey championship weekends and in NCAA regionals. Chad had been to the Times Union Center at least twice previously as a spectator. This time, he participated and had six assists over two games to earn a spot on the All-Regional Team.

The Kolarik family memories aren't particularly good from that building. Chad cited one game that he remembers watching, an NCAA Tournament game in 2004 that Harvard lost to Maine 5-4. The Black Bears scored four goals in the third period of that game, including the game-winner on a turnover by Tyler Kolarik.

"I was at the game that they lost to Maine," Chad Kolarik said. "Tyler threw the puck right into (Maine forward Greg) Moore's chest and he scored. It left a bitter taste in our family's mouths, but this weekend was much better."

Tyler Kolarik was in attendance for Saturday's game.

FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG

INCH's Three Stars of the Night

3. Kevin Porter, Michigan
Among many well-developed skills, Porter's best and most beneficial is the knack for being in the right place at the right time. Awareness, anticipation, and hockey sense pay off for the likely Hobey Winner.

2. David Leggio, Clarkson
The senior goalie closed his career with two outstanding seasons and was exceptional in the final game of his collegiate career. Back-to-back stops on Chad Kolarik late in the second period were especially memorable.

1. Billy Sauer, Michigan
He admitted that he didn't have a ton of work until Clarkson's late flurry on the power play with a two-man advantage, but he made those spectacular saves to preserve the shutout. More importantly, he answered any naysayers about his playoff toughness and has been mentally strong all year.

• Michigan's top line of Porter, Kolarik, and Max Pacioretty has now combined for 154 points.

• Clarkson's power play went offsides three times during a man-advantage approximately seven minutes into the second period. They were trailing 1-0 at the time and recorded no shots during that two-minute window.

• Throughout the weekend, promotional activities between periods included "sumo" competitions between participants dressed in heavily padded and weighted sumo costumes along with t-shirts being thrown into the crowd. A video highlighting the 10 Hobey Baker finalists was also shown on the scoreboard, as usual.

• Among the sweaters spotted in the crowd in addition to a number of Michigan and Clarkson jerseys, were some of the professional variety (Blackhawks and Capitals) and two noteworthy college sweaters – North Dakota and Rensselaer.

• The last Clarkson shutout loss ended their season one year ago. It was a 1-0 overtime defeat against Massachusetts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

• One fan was spotted wearing a Michigan jersey, a Boston Red Sox jacket, and an Atlanta Braves cap. All at the same time. His New York Giants apparel was probably in the wash.

• As part of the fan fest inside of the building, a balloon sculpture artist tied balloon swords including several in green and yellow. They made useful toys for many in the Clarkson section and also symbolized the school's Golden Knights moniker.

PLUSSES AND MINUSES

Despite a relatively small number of fans in attendance, the Times Union Center had good atmosphere for the Regional Final. Having pep bands from both schools certainly helped, and you got the feeling that not many neutrals were in attendance. Those who were there had a rooting interest and voiced their support throughout the game.

However, the reported attendance for the regional final was just 4,301. Black curtains were lowered from the ceiling to hide most of the upper sections of the arena as the majority of fans chose to sit in the lower bowl. The curtains were not lowered during Friday's opening rounds.

WHAT'S NEXT

Michigan is back in the Frozen Four and will go into that weekend as the favorites to win the National Championship. Kolarik and Porter have provided veteran leadership and talent, and a stable of young studs has been effective on the ice while keeping the team loose and fun off the ice. A semifinal matchup against CCHA foe Notre Dame looms on April 10. Michigan won both regular-season meetings between the teams, which took place in mid-January. Michigan got a 3-2 win at home, and a 5-1 victory at The Palace in suburban Detroit.

Clarkson must replace a senior class that meant so much to its recent success, but the foundation of success has been established. In the last two seasons Clarkson has won an ECAC Hockey regular season title, and ECAC Hockey playoff title, advanced to two NCAA Tournaments, and this season advanced to the second round for the first time in 12 years.