BY NICK SPAR
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 10, 2009
The last time the Michigan hockey team squared off against Michigan State, defenseman Steve Kampfer was carried off on a gurney by paramedics.
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The Wolverines won the Jan. 24 game, 5-3, to clinch a five-game season-series sweep against the Spartans. But the game's outcome wasn't what the college hockey world was buzzing about.
With a minute remaining in the game and the Wolverines leading by two goals, Kampfer threw a clean open-ice hit on Michigan State forward Corey Tropp. In retaliation, Tropp’s teammate, Andrew Conboy, checked Kampfer from behind into the boards when Kampfer was nowhere near the puck. Then, as Kampfer lay motionless on the ice, Tropp slashed him in the neck with his stick. Kampfer was taken to the hospital that night but returned to practice the following week.
The controversy didn’t end there. Kampfer’s father, Bruce, illegally entered the visitors' locker room after the game to confront Tropp, but no punches were thrown and no criminal charges were filed. Conboy and Tropp left the team after Spartan coach Rick Comley suspended them for the remainder of the
Conboy is currently playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League while Tropp has since returned to the Spartans.
More than nine months later, Kampfer and Tropp will play major roles in the outcome of this weekend’s home-and-home series between Michigan and Michigan State. Kampfer is one of the Wolverines’ top defensemen, and Tropp currently leads the CCHA with 15 points.
But the consensus in Michigan's locker room is that last year's events will have no bearing on the games this weekend.
“I really don’t think the thing that happened with Steve really even plays a role this weekend,” junior center Matt Rust said. “It (has) passed, it’s done with. The players that were involved — they were dealt with. We have no hard feelings. This is strictly hockey, and we need wins.”
The sixth-ranked Wolverines were swept by No. 1 Miami (Ohio) at home last weekend. Michigan coach Red Berenson labeled Saturday’s 5-1 loss as the team’s low point of the season so far. That makes this weekend's series even more important.
“Everyone is excited for (these games),” Kampfer said. “I don’t think last year has anything to do with that. We’re all excited. I’m excited and I want to play again. And I think we all want to rebound after Saturday’s game.”
The problem for the Wolverines is whether that excitement will be channeled in the right direction.
Last Saturday, they entered the third period against the RedHawks with a lot of energy. But it led to no goals scored, two goals against and 51 penalty minutes — including three misconducts.
In an always-emotional series against their archrivals, the Wolverines are well aware that they can’t allow the events of last year to lead to a continuation of Saturday’s penalty-filled third period.
“You gotta keep your emotions in check,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “It got out of hand there in the third period (against Miami). That’s not Michigan hockey. It’s embarrassing. You can’t be doing things like that and it just shows that we’re sore losers.
“That’s not the reputation we want. ... We have to play the game and take it to them just on the ice and stay out of the extracurricular stuff.”
As far as Michigan is concerned, focusing on the Kampfer incident will do it no good in bouncing back from the disheartening losses to Miami. The Wolverines currently stand at 4-4 and have yet to defeat a ranked team this season.
But this weekend, they will have two chances to do that against No. 13 Michigan State. According to assistant coach Billy Powers, this weekend will be about redemption — not revenge.
“(We have) to get back in a game situation, redeem ourselves and prove that Saturday was an aberration and that’s not our team,” Powers said. “I don’t think there’s anything extra to read into this series.”