Juniors Lead Michigan to CCHA Final
by Michael Eisenstein/CHN Reporter
DETROIT All season long, No. 1 Michigan's success has been attributed to the two star seniors, Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, or the 11 freshmen that dominate the Wolverine lineup.
The junior class wasn't on anyone's radar — that is until tonight.
Against Northern Michigan in the CCHA quarterfinals, it was the third-year players, Travis Turnbull, Tim Miller and Mark Mitera, dictating play for the conference's top seed, which advanced to the championship game with a 6-4 victory.
Miller and Turnbull both lit the lamp twice, while Mitera added a couple assists and a plus-two plus-minus ratio on defense. At least one of them either scored or assisted each of Michigan's six goals.
But it hasn't been pretty for the trio all year long.
Miller struggled to score all season and did not tally his first until late February against Michigan State. The junior also wore an 'A' the first half of the year before it was given to Mitera instead.
But it seems as though Miller found a home away from home at Joe Louis Arena. His four goals on the season have all come in Detroit.
"I don't know what it is, whether it's the atmosphere or the ice, but every time I come here I feel like I'm on top of my game," Miller said
Mitera's season was just the opposite. After dominating on defense in the early goings of the season and becoming an early favorite for the conference's best defenseman, Mitera couldn't maintain his strong defensive presence while donning an 'A' on his sweater at first.
Tonight, though, he turned his game around once again, tallying a point in his sixth-consecutive game.
And Turnbull had a breakout night as well — the first two-goal game of his career.
"I was talking to (Michigan SID) Matt Trevor yesterday about how I've had 30 one-goal games, and it ended up being the next game that I finally scored two," Turnbull said. "It's a nice feeling but it's not really what I'm worried about. I'm just happy that we won the game."
Now no one expects Michigan to be led by the juniors for the rest of the season, but the night serves as a microcosm for what's carried the Wolverines all year.
"They just come at you in waves and waves and the majority of fans in there and they start rallying behind them, and it's an amazing team to really go up against," Northern Michigan forward Matt Siddall said.
Even with crucial cogs of the team such as freshman first-liner Max Pacioretty out of the lineup serving a suspension, players like Miller have stepped into different roles and capitalized on the opportunities.
Miller assisted fellow top-liner Chad Kolarik on the game's first goal, tied the contest at three early in the final frame and redirected the eventual game-winning shot past Northern Michigan goalie Brian Stewart with under five minutes remaining.
Tomorrow night against Miami, the question won't be if someone will step up, but whether it'll be Hobey-Baker favorite Kevin Porter, Kolarik, one of the 11 freshmen, or once again, the junior class.