March 8, 2006
PO 9R TSiigan tilg
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Cagers hope for Gopher trifecta
By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Editor
There's a theory in basketball that it's hard to beat
a team three times in a season.
Sherrod Harrell didn't know it existed.
"Honestly, I've never heard that, so I'm not really
focused on it," Harrell said. "We're preparing for
them just as we prepared for every other team. Not
changing anything ._
around just because it's
the third time."
Courtney Sims <.>_
believes in it.
"In my high school,
we beat a team by 30 3
the previous two times '>c. f iek":;
that we played them;' EPN_ __
Sims said. "Then,when
we went to the tourna-
ment, we lost to them. We have to be conscious of
that and make sure that we have our energy up."
But that's just the task that the Wolverines
(8-8 Big Ten, 18-9 overall) face this Thursday
at 2:30 p.m. when they square off against Min-
nesota (5-11, 14-14) in the first round of the
Big Ten Tournament.
Already, Michigan has defeated the Gophers
twice, by a combined 38 points. On Jan. 21, the
Wolverines traveled to Williams Arena and handed
Minnesota a 71-55 loss. Then, when the Gophers
came to Ann Arbor on Feb. 15, Michigan played
one of its best defensive games of the year to snap
Minnesota's two-game winning streak.
Since that win, the Wolverines have lost three of
their final four games. Now, with an NCAA Tourna-
ment bid hanging in the balance, Michigan faces a
must-win game against a familiar foe. But the Wol-
verines aren't looking past Thursday.
"There's no pressure at all" Harrell said. "We're
not even thinking about (the NCAA Tournament).
We have to take care of what's at hand right now,
which is our game on Thursday."
Senior Daniel Horton has carried much of the
scoring load for the Wolverines this season, and
Michigan will look for him to continue his success
against the Gophers. The guard scored 53 points in
the previous two games against Minnesota.
But in order to get past Minnesota this time, Hor-
ton and the Wolverines will need to establish more
of an inside presence. In Saturday's loss to Indiana,
Michigan's frontcourt scored 16 points, with 10
coming from Graham Brown.
Courtney Sims failed to attempt a shot, despite
playing 22 minutes.
"It was a tough game because, offensively, I
couldn't really do anything except pass the ball out,"
With senior forward Chris Hunter's status
unclear, Michigan will have to rely heavily on
Young Icer squad must
learn rom its veterans
en senior classes move on, people scored from the high slot to give Michigan an
often talk about that group's time- early lead. But when the defense surrendered
piece. For Michigan hockey's easy shots and Montoya couldn't make key
Andrew Ebbett and Brandon saves, Minnesota knocked out the
Kaleniecki, their timepiece is Wolverines in overtime.
simple: overachieving on under- The following season, Ebbett
achieving teams. and Kaleniecki were both among
These guys aren't your aver- the team's top four scorers but
age Michigan hockey players. were let down when the team
In a league where the average lost to Boston College during the
height is around 6 feet tall, regional final.
Ebbett stands at 5 foot 10 and And last year, the Wolverines
Kaleniecki at 5 foot 8. They dropped a second-round game to
haven't been selected in the NHL JAMES V. Colorado College after blowing a
Draft. They were, seemingly, DoWD three-goal lead. Not surprisingly,
the players Michigan coach Red JaesOn... Kaleniecki was one of the goal
Berenson took a chance on to . scorers.
fill out a class that featured top prospects Jeff
Tambellini, Al Montoya and Danny Rich-
mond - all of whom departed Ann Arbor for
the professional hockey ranks before gradu-
But as their careers wind down, with
between two and nine games left, they should
be remembered for stepping out from the
shadows of departed classmates. They've
scored more goals than expected and made
the key plays when they needed to be made.
Looking back at their final season, the
heart that made this clutch play possible was
clearly visible in Ebbett and Kaleniecki. Night
in and night out, Ebbett was on the ice for
Michigan's penalty kill, forechecking in the
opponent's zone and pinning the opposition
behind its own goal line as key seconds ran
off the clock.
Kaleniecki has been in constant pain the
entire year. He might never admit to the world
just how much, and he never showed outward
signs of it, but you can see it as he comes off
the ice at the end of a practice or game. Only
when a sports hernia prevented Kaleniecki
from being able to accelerate and change
direction did he sit out.
And their contributions go beyond this
season. Throughout their careers, Ebbett and
Kaleniecki have defied the odds and proved
wrong all the scouts who thought they were
too small. Berenson looks for players who
give his team a chance to win, and these two
have always done that.
But as Ebbett and Kaleniecki overachieve,
their teams underachieved each year.
Their freshman season, the team reached
the Frozen Four. In the first period, Ebbett
pulled a faceoff back to Kaleniecki, who
Throughout this season, the team's
younger players - particularly the 11 fresh-
men - have talked at great length about
Ebbett and Kaleniecki's leadership, both on
the ice and in the locker room. The team
has seen Ebbett's tireless forechecking,
Kaleniecki's nose for the net and the pain
this pair has suffered.
Many of these freshmen have been herald-
ed, coming to Michigan as NHL Draft picks
or with Central Scouting Service rankings, but
it is time they take a lesson from the humble
seniors who have led their team through thick
and thin this year.
This year's squad has the talent to take it as
far as it will go. A young Denver team, with
eight freshmen, finished fourth in the WCHA
two years ago, but went on to win the national
championship. The success of this year's team
hinges upon how well the freshmen follow
their senior leaders' examples.
If the team looks at Ebbett and Kaleniecki
and gives an equal amount of effort, chances
are it will move on to the NCAA Tourna-
ment and play well. But if the young Wolver-
ines continue to play in the funk they have
been in since the Great Lakes Invitational,
the resultsswill be the same as the past few
years - worse than they should have been.
Michigan can count on Ebbett and Kale-
niecki to work hard and achieve things the
team isn't supposed to be able to. It's up to the
rest of the squad whether it will underachieve
as the past few teams have.
- Dowd tries to model his penalty
killing on Ebbett'sforecheck in
Adult Rec League hockey. He can be
reached at email@example.com.
Courtney Sims is hoping to improve his offense at this weekend's Big Ten Tournament.
Sims to carry the scoring load down low.
The 6-foot-lI center has struggled in conference
play due to the constant double teams that opponents
have employed against him. Saturday, the Hoosiers
doubled Sims as soon as the pass was on its way to
He understands that he needs to be more aggres-
sive in attacking the basket and contribute in ways
other than just scoring.
"I have to raise my game - rebounding,
blocking and scoring," Sims said. "They need
me, especially missing Chris and (wing) Lester
(Abram). Daniel can't do it by himself."
The Wolverines will also have to cut down on
turnovers. Against Indiana, Michigan committed a
season-high 24 turnovers.
"I think silly turnovers have been our weakness;'
Sims said. "If we cut them down, then I think that
we'll win a lot more games"
Even though the Wolverines have struggled
coming down the stretch, Michigan coach Tommy
Amaker is confident his team can bounce back and
make a statement in the Big Ten Tournament.
"We've done some solid things this year," Amak-
er said. "We've put ourselves in a position to be right
there for postseason play. The most healthy thing for
us is to really focus on Minnesota and see what we
can muster up on Thursday afternoon."
NoTEs: Horton was selected to the first-team All-
Big Ten team as chosen by the media.
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