Players to Watch: Michigan
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Here is a look at some Michigan players to watch at the Frozen Four, other than Hobey finalist Kevin Porter and senior classmate Chad Kolarik — the Wolverines' two leading scorers.
Travis Turnbull, Junior Forward
Turnbull has scored 12 goals and 15 assists this season — both of which are career highs. But he has also taken on the added responsibility of being the leader on the Wolverines' third line, which includes freshmen Louie Caporusso and Ben Winnett.
Opposing coaches have taken notice of the junior forward from Chesterfield, Missouri.
"I really have always appreciated Travis Turnbull," said one CCHA head coach. "He gets lost behind Porter, Kolarik, and the two big freshmen there. He could be a difference maker, the dark-horse guy in a game like this that could provide a spark for them. I think he's, beyond the big two, he has a lot to do with their team-first mentality right now."
Another CCHA foe, Northern Michigan, was forced to take notice of Turnbull too, as the junior netted two goals in Michigan's 6-4 CCHA semifinal victory over the Wildcats last month.
Turnbull also has the ability to get on a roll if opposing teams focus too much on Porter and Kolarik. During a six-game stretch earlier this season, Turnbull tallied four goals and four assists.
Mark Mitera, Junior Defenseman
Much credit has been given to Michigan's two seniors — Porter and Kolarik — for their leadership qualities this season, leading a team that started the season with 12 freshmen on the roster.
Another player who has been instrumental in Michigan's leadership efforts this season has been Mark Mitera, who wears an 'A' on his sleeve and leads a defense corps that includes not one other upperclassmen. The Livonia, Mich., native leads all Wolverines D-men with a plus-31 on-ice rating and has adjusted to playing with different defensive partners after blueliner Kevin Quick was dismissed from the team earlier in the season.
Mitera, an Anaheim Ducks draft pick, has 2 goals and 21 assists in 42 games this season and enters the Frozen Four as the hottest defenseman in the country, racking up 14 points in his last nine games.
Said Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson, "He's been our leader on defense. He took those four young freshmen under his wing and did a real nice job with them. Defensively, he's played strong and hard. He's a tremendous asset on our team.
"He's consistently playing against the other team's top lines and consistently shutting them down. He's been nothing but excellent all year."
Aaron Palushaj, Freshman Forward
Palushaj, a 2007 second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, is sixth in the nation in rookie scoring, with 41 points in 42 games.
The right-winger is also one of three rookies on Michigan's second line — a line that will be important if opposing defenses choose to key in on the top Wolverines line that includes Hobey finalist Kevin Porter.
Palushaj has responded to the responsibility of being a key offensive player for Michigan, as he enters the NCAA Frozen Four with points in 10 of his last 12 games.
Arguably his most significant point during that stretch came in the East Regional final last weekend in Albany, N.Y. Palushaj opened the scoring against Clarkson with a power-play tally. The goal proved to be the game-winner in a 2-0 Michigan triumph.
Freshman Role Players
With 11 freshmen on the team, it was imperative for Michigan's success for the rookies to quickly adapt to the Michigan brand of hockey.
Last week, captain Kevin Porter praised the Michigan freshmen fairly bluntly, saying in part, "These are all great kids. You don't catch them screwing around too often, which makes it easier on myself, Chad [Kolarik], and Mark [Mitera], and all the coaches.
"They come to the rink, they work hard, they keep their mouth shut, and they do what they're told."
The freshmen role players for the Wolverines include defenseman Chad Langlais, who has 19 assists this season, and Matt Rust, who centers the second line that consists of rookie Carl Hagelin and their aforementioned classmate Aaron Palushaj.
Rust and Hagelin have chipped in with 21 and 20 points this season, respectively. And three of Hagelin's 10 goals have been game-winners.
Said one CCHA coach, "A lot of them have assumed the roles. A kid like Hagelin, who's not a quote-unquote high-flying freshman, he's done very well for them. Rust has done well. Langlais on defense has really done a great job, particularly on the power play."