When the sun set on the 2004-05 season for the University of Michigan, there was a big void left in the Wolverines roster. The maize and blue graduated six forwards and ended up losing their most electrifying scorer when junior forward Jeff Tambellini opted to sign with the Los Angeles Kings this past summer.
As the calendar rolled around to the 2005-06 season, the new Wolverines were going to have to depend on the majority of their underclassmen, and sophomore forward Kevin Porter heeded the call.
Known primarily as a good two-way forward, Porter has enjoyed his improved point production this year, but he knows his strength is in his overall game.
“I think it is extremely important,” Porter explained about his dual role. “We have players that are our primary offensive players and then some are solely defensive players. I think playing with T.J (Hensick), it helps that I’m more of a defensive player, but someone who can contribute offensively too.”
Playing the majority of the year on the team’s top line with Hensick (COL), until this past weekend Porter ranked second in overall scoring for Michigan with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists). Senior captain Andrew Ebbett, who has been coming strong as of late, has just nipped him by a single point to grab the second spot with 34 points. It’s Hensick who has a commanding lead for the Wolverines.
Porter humbly defers the credit back to Hensick.
“T.J is just a great offensive player,” Porter said about the affect his linemate has had on his increased point production. “He’s consistently getting me the puck and I believe that has been the difference.”
Michigan head coach Red Berenson also sees Hensick as the key factor in Porter’s offensive success; however, he does note that the sophomore forward is progressing as an individual.
“I think he is just that much better then he was last year,” Berenson said.
A Frosh Start
It was just last year that Porter entered the University of Michigan as a freshman with fellow classmate and Coyotes prospect Chad Kolarik. While Kolarik went on to establish himself as a scorer for Michigan, Porter stayed focused on honing his overall package, the element that intrigued the Wolverines from the get go.
“He looked like he was a good two-way player,” Berenson recalled about Porter when the university started scouting him. “He was aware of his defensive responsibilities and he had good instincts offensively.
“I thought he was the kind of player who could play one of our power play units, he could be a good penalty killer and I thought he was smart enough to play with good players.”
As he continued to earn his minutes, he also began to see increased time on Berenson’s special units.
“Coming in as a young freshman, I didn’t think I was going to see the time I did,” Porter admitted. “I got time to play on the power play and penalty kill. It was great to see time in all situations.”
It always seems to be a crapshoot when you throw freshman into the fire, in any sports program. No matter how much success or failure new players endure at a bigger stage, it’s a test that ultimately requires patience from both the coach and the player.
“I was impressed,” Berenson stated about his first impressions of Porter’s play. “We didn’t lose any forwards from last season’s team heading into the 2004-05 season, yet Kevin fit right in and he played a responsible role on a good line. “
Berenson and his staff monitored Porter to make sure he didn’t get ahead of himself or sink with the pressure. Neither was the case, and Porter just continued to work on turning in a solid season.
“Because I was playing in a lot of the games, I started to get comfortable about halfway through the season,” Porter explained why his confidence started to build last year.
Not so fast
Porter has had yet another good season to build upon. And if these first two years are a precursor to what the future may hold, then is he merely scratching the surface of his full potential?
While he’s under Berenson’s watch, the storied coach will be sure to give him the same guidance and advice he has afforded to players for the last 22 seasons.
“He needs to continue to learn what it is about to be a complete player,” Berenson said. “It’s not about being just an offensive player. You have to be able to play at both ends of the ice if you intend on being a hockey player at the next level.”
Porter knows he’s keep up the hard work because he knows how challenging hockey is at this level.
“You have to bring it and play your hardest every night,” he explained. “Any team at this level can win any game any night. If you don’t bring it every night, you could fall to the bottom of the pile.”
So in a time when the Wolverines program needs new heroes back in Ann Arbor to carry on the tradition, Porter seems to have the inside track. And while there is no hiding he has made progress while playing with the University of Michigan, only the few find ways to become great.
“It’s too early to tell,” said Berenson about what future potential Porter holds. “But he’s got some good qualities.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.