NCAA hockey: Porter had unfinished business at Michigan

Kevin Porter, who will be skating with Michigan this weekend in the NCAA East Regionals in Albany, p
Kevin Porter, University of Michigan hockey team captain, skates in a tournament earlier this season. (University of Michigan photo)
Kevin Porter, University of Michigan hockey team captain, skates in a tournament earlier this season. (University of Michigan photo)

Kevin Porter had a tough dec­ision to make last summer.

The Michigan forward had a chance to sign a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that owned his NHL rights, or he could return to the Wolverines’ hockey team for his senior season.

Porter decided that a pro career could wait one more year. It turned out to be the smart move.

Porter led the Wolverines

(31-5-4) to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season and conference tournament titles, the No. 1 ranking in the country and top seed overall in the NCAA hockey tournament. Plus, Porter is the leading candidate to win the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the nation’s top college player.

Michigan will face Niagara

(22-10-4) in the second East

Regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Times Union Center. The victor faces the winner of the 4 p.m. Clarkson-St. Cloud State semifinal in the regional final at

7 p.m. Saturday for a berth in the Frozen Four.

Porter, who leads Michigan in scoring with 28 goals and 28 assists, said a lot of factors went into his decision to stay in college.

“Graduating, and becoming a better player, stronger and quicker. Those were the main things,” said Porter, who has 80 goals and 96 assists in 159 career games. “After I thought about all the pros and cons, I thought the better decision was to come back, and grow as a player. I think I have [grown] a lot, especially playing center this year instead of wing. That’s helped out my game. I definitely worked on my defensive game, and offensively ,as well.”

No one would have blamed Porter if he had decided to leave after last season. Several Wolverines

departed, including two key scorers — senior T.J. Hensick to grad­uation, and sophomore Andrew Cogliano to the Edmonton Oilers.

Michigan coach Red Berenson foresaw great things for Porter, if he remained in school.

“I said last summer, if he stays, he’ll have far and away his best year,” Berenson said. “But there are a lot of people that were also saying, ‘Gee, he’s not going to have anyone to play with.’ It was a big question mark, whether Porter could hold his own without playing with Hensick or Cogliano.

“He’s put all those rumors to total rest. He’s been a dominant player from the first practice, and will be until his last game at Michigan.”

Before the start of the season, Berenson moved Porter from left wing, his natural position, to center. The move has paid off.

“It was a good challenge for him,” Berenson said. “He’s always played left wing and a little bit of right wing. I just felt we needed him at center because we already had two freshmen at center, and I didn’t want three. Porter, to me, is so responsible defensively. It was a good, natural fit for him to learn the position. I think it’s been great for him, and he’s played with good players, obviously.”

The adjustment to center didn’t take too long for Porter.

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “The first few games, I struggled just kind of getting used to it, especially playing BC [Boston College] and Minnesota our first two games. But I got the hang of things, and it’s been going well, so far.”

Porter is the team captain. He likes to lead by example, but isn’t afraid to get on his teammates.

“If I’m out in practice working hard or in a game, I’ll have guys look at me, and they all want to do the same thing,” Porter said. “If guys are screwing around, messing things up, you have to get on them a little bit.”

Senior Chad Kolarik, Porter’s linemate, calls him a special player.

“He’s got great character,”

Kolarik said. “He’s the best leader I’ve ever played under. He’s the best player in the country, but you’ll never hear him say a word about himself and his own ac­colades.”

Berenson believes if Porter had left, Michigan may not have been in the running to win its NCAA-best 10th national title.

“We wouldn’t be coming there if it weren’t for Porter’s leadership because we have so many young players,” Berenson said. “We only have two seniors. We started the year with 12 freshmen. One of the reasons we’re having a pretty good year is because of his leadership.”

TICKET INFORMATION

All-session passes for the East Regional cost $82 for adults and $76 for students. Single-session passes are $46 for adults and $44 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the TU Center box office, select Price Chopper outlets, charge-by-phone at (800) 30-EVENT or online at www.timesunioncenter-albany.com.

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