Porter, Sauer Lead Michigan Back to Frozen Four
by Andy Reid/CHN Reporter
ALBANY, N.Y. Michigan is returning to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2003, and will look for its first national title since 1998, after a 2-0 win over Clarkson in the East Regional final.
Senior Kevin Porter used the East Regional of the NCAA tournament as a stage to prove why national pundits have pegged him as the favorite to win the Hobey Baker.
The five goals, six total points and a highlight-reel-worth of savvy plays Porter posted against Niagara and Clarkson, had Michigan and its opposition praising the Wolverines' senior captain all weekend long.
(Also see: [/news/2008/03/30_etthe.php]The Sauer Taste is a Good One Now for Michigan)
It's usually good news for Michigan when Porter pockets a goal — in more ways than just the added tally on the scoreboard. The Wolverines are a staggering 21-1-2 in games where Porter scores this season.
Saturday against Clarkson, Porter received a perfect pass from fellow senior Chad Kolarik just 20 seconds into the third period. Porter worked the puck across the crease and slickly slid the puck behind netminder David Leggio glove side.
The goal gave the Wolverines a 2-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish and a ticket to Denver for the Frozen Four.
"It was great scoring that goal," Porter said. "And then after that we kept it rolling."
For Porter it capped a Regional MVP weekend that could rank as one of the best of his career.
But Porter's real show took place Friday night. He found the back of the net four times, breaking an NCAA Regional record and tying Kolarik, a forward who refers to himself as Porter's "campaign manager" for the Hobey Baker Award, for most goals scored in a game by a Wolverine this season.
"Yeah, it's about time he matches me," joked Kolarik, a quip that sparked a smile on the usually stern-faced Michigan coach Red Berenson. "No, it's unbelievable. I think this should solidify his spot for the Hobey."
Long time coming
Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer finally posted a playoff shutout. But it didn't come easy.
After giving up a goal in the waning minutes of the last two playoff games the Wolverines have played in — a 2-1 win in the CCHA Championship against Miami and a 5-1 win over Niagara in the first round of the regional — Sauer held off a scrappy Clarkson team in the East Regional final.
In fact, the final two minutes may have been some of Sauer's best play in maize and blue. With Michigan trying to kill two penalties, Clarkson pulled Leggio, creating a 6-on-3 situation.
Sauer made save after save, sprawling out on his stomach on two separate occasions to try and slow the oncoming offensive attack. But unlike recent contests, Sauer the rubber disc past the red line.
"Billy Sauer kept us in the game," Berenson said. "He stood on his head. I don't know how he made some of those saves, but he did."
Sauer said he went into the 6-on-3 ready for the challenge.
"I was actually just glad I got some work," Sauer said. "It was a lot of fun. I like trying to make a difference in the game."
Sauer was cut off by teammate Chad Kolarik, who wanted to give credit to his goalie: "He made eight saves (in the final Clarkson push), not two. I think they only gave him credit for two."
It's been a while since the Frozen Four have seen the likes of Michigan.
Last year was the first time since 1991 the Wolverines has a graduating class that didn't make the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament.
Michigan will face off against the winner of tonight's West Regional final. And their opponent will be a familiar one — either Notre Dame or Michigan State.
Porter said there are advantages and disadvantages to playing a conference foe in the national tournament. Although the Wolverines will know their opponents' strengths and weaknesses, either Notre Dame or Michigan State will have the same advantage.
The Spartans especially seem to have Michigan's number this season, posting a 2-1-1 record against the Wolverines. The two storied rivals have never faced each other in the NCAAs.
Michigan's celebrating its first regional championship since 2003, but the Wolverines don't want to let up on the season just yet.
"Right now, we are the team to beat," Porter said. "We're going into Denver playing that way."