October 27, 2005
Reunited ... and it Feels Good in Oxford

By James Jahnke

 CCHA Notebook

Matt Christie, Miami's leading scorer a year ago, is reunited with his favorite linemates.

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After trying a few lineups with negligible success at the Lefty McFadden Invitational, Miami coach Enrico Blasi fired his secret weapon at Nebraska-Omaha last weekend. He reunited Matt Christie with Chris Michael and Marty Guerin on the top line, gladly watched as they posted 10 points during the series, and bused back to Oxford with a sweep of the Mavericks in his pocket.

That’s what perhaps the best line in the CCHA can do for you.

“We knew that when we got put back together, the rest of the team was going to be looking at us to be leaders,” said Michael, the unit’s center and only senior among two juniors. “And we came through for them.”

Michael tallied three goals, Guerin netted one goal and three assists, and Christie added three helpers in the road sweep of a UNO team that had just beaten New Hampshire. The RedHawks are considered a fringe contender in the CCHA title race, but having a unit as dangerous as the – well, let’s buy American and call them the “GMC line” – gives them reason for hope.

Guerin and Michael have played together all season, but Christie was on a different line at the Lefty in an attempt to spread offensive firepower throughout the lineup. It’s a tricky balancing act for Blasi, who doesn’t want opposing teams to be able to focus solely on one unit. But the results when the GMC line is together are tough to ignore. The trio combined for just one point while separated at the Lefty.

“None of us really did much on our own,” Guerin admitted, “so I think I’d keep us together.”

The GMC line was together for most of last season, except when injuries knocked all three players out of the lineup at different times and also a late-season attempt by Blasi to jumpstart the offense by spreading them out. The threesome’s results were nice, as they finished first (Christie), second (Guerin) and fifth (Michael) on the team in scoring. As with all successful lines, their success is rooted in complementary skills.

Christie is the fastest of the three and is “a natural-born goal scorer,” Guerin said. Guerin similarly likes to get the puck while moving, using his skating ability to create shots and set up plays. He’s the best passer of the trio. Michael isn’t as flashy but has exceptional ice vision and can snipe from the slot. The idea for their reunion came from a post-Lefty brainstorming session with coaches and players, Christie said. Needless to say, they got what they were looking for at Omaha.

“I think it started my freshman year when Marty and I played together,” Christie said. “With the offense we run, there’s a lot of interaction from winger to winger, so our relationship really picked up that year. Then adding (Michael’s) great vision at the center position, we had no problem coming together.”

The RedHawks have a bye this weekend (their second in three weeks) then have an intriguing home-and-home against Ohio State on Nov. 4-5. The GMC line had better be ready.

“The one thing I can say is that it’s very easy to play with them,” Michael said. “We play a sport where there needs to be chemistry among a line and among a team. We know each other real well off the ice. I like to know my linemates away from the rink like that, just so that we know we can trust each other on the ice. Hopefully, everybody stays healthy this year and we won’t have to break up.”


Don’t turn your back – One of the few hot-button issues around the nation thus far has been the officials’ new zero-tolerance attitude toward checking from behind. Obviously, nobody is arguing against the intent of the enforcement, which is safety. Hits from behind are probably the most dangerous part of hockey.

But some people think that the consequences – an automatic five-minute major penalty and either a game misconduct or disqualification – are too dire for some “benign” checks from behind that carry no malice or attempt to injure.

“Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid,” Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said. “Like in defensive-zone coverage, if you go to hit somebody with the puck and then he turns his back to you at the end, it’s not vicious. I think the powers that be have to make sure the puck carrier has the same onus to avoid hitting from behind. Right now, there’s no discretion. There are far too many checking-from-behind penalties in situations where there is no intent.”

According to Doyle Woody of the Anchorage Daily News, there were 22 checking-from-behind calls around the nation last weekend, with two of them resulting in game disqualifications – numbers several times greater than years past. But CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos stands behind the nationwide crackdown.

“We have to maintain our resolve and make sure the game is safe to play,” Anastos said. “Checking from behind is a major penalty, even though it wasn’t called like that for years and years. This is a different approach, and we expect some growing pains, but at the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the pursuing checker not to hit anybody from behind.”

He’ll Jack you up – For an idea about how solidly built Michigan freshman defenseman Jack Johnson is, consider this: He looks like he wears football shoulder pads underneath his sweater. Johnson (6-1, 210) is a serious bruiser along the blue line.

So much so that he has taken nine penalties in the first five games of his college career. The next most-penalized Wolverine has five. But be warned, Johnson said he’s not going to change his game.

“I’m still adapting to the new rules, how they’re trying to get rid of checking to the head and all of that,” said Johnson, the third overall pick in this summer’s NHL draft. “I’d like to stay out of the box more, but being physical is how I play.”

That style already has endeared Johnson to the Michigan faithful. Five girls in the student section at Saturday’s tie against Michigan State wore bright orange shirts that spelled out “J-A-C-K-!” The highlight of their night appeared to be when he (what else?) went to the penalty box directly across from them and couldn’t help but see their homage.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Michigan at Alaska-Fairbanks (Fri.-Sat.)
For the second time in three weeks, the Nanooks get a crack at the No.1 team in the nation, and you’d think they would be happy to repeat the win and tie they garnered at Minnesota. It’s a realistic goal, too, given the fact that the games will be on their home ice surface, which is bigger than U-M is used to, and half of Michigan’s super-young roster will be making its first trek to Alaska. Also, the Wolverines will be without defenseman Tim Cook on Friday because he received a game disqualification late in the MSU game.

While you’re there: If there’s not enough blood for you during the series, take in an adaptation of “Dracula” at the Riverfront Theatre at 2 p.m. Sunday. Red Berenson might make a cameo.

Stick Salute

Not only did former Michigan player Dan Lerg get to watch his son, Bryan, play for Michigan State on Saturday in Ann Arbor, he also won the 50-50 raffle. Wonder if he would count that as his greatest victory ever at Yost.

Bench Minor

Bowling Green freshman goalie Jimmy Spratt is finding college hockey to be a bit tougher than the USHL. The Flames draft pick has an 8.25 goals-against average and .760 save percentage after starting the Falcons’ 9-6 loss to Boston College and 7-2 loss to Ohio State. Needless to say, senior Jon Horrell is looking more like the No. 1 tender in northern Ohio right now.


• Michigan State’s casualty list continues to grow, as freshman forward Tim Kennedy broke his hand in a few places against the Under-18 U.S. Team on Tuesday night and is likely out until after Christmas. Forwards David Booth and Nick Sucharski and defensemen Chris Snavely and Brandon Gentile also are out for the Cornell series this weekend. Snavely is the only one who might come back for the Northern Michigan series on Nov. 4-5.

• Lake Superior State will lose some practice time this season after reporting two secondary NCAA violations from last year. The problems stem from evaluating players outside of the season and having too many “countable hours of athletics activity per week” during the 2004-05 preseason. The violations report also noted “deliberate actions” to circumvent the rules and “willful” intent to cover them up.

• More notes from the Upper Peninsula: Lake Superior State’s 1988 national championship team was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame last weekend. ... At 1-0-3, the Lakers are unbeaten after four games for the first time since 1995. ... Northern Michigan set a school record for attendance when 4,260 fans showed up at the Berry Events Center for Friday’s win over Michigan Tech.

• Alaska Fairbanks apparently is moving toward hosting an annual regular-season tournament, starting in 2007. Nanooks interim athletics director Forrest Karr told Danny Martin of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that the four-team, exempt event is pending NCAA approval. “It’s an opportunity for our players to see different styles of play,” UAF coach Tavis MacMillan said, “and it’s a strong selling point when you can tell recruits that you have a tournament.” UAF previously hosted the Great Alaska Faceoff from 1992-94.

• Catch the interview with Ohio State sophomore Tom Fritsche and his injured brother Dan during the Blue Jackets/Red Wings game Monday on OLN? The new NHL national network must have been as impressed by Tom’s five-point weekend against Bowling Green and subsequent CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors as we were.

• Western Michigan is now 0-2 against College Hockey America after Saturday’s loss at Niagara. The Broncos add a “C” and go from the CHA to the CCHA this weekend, but it’s the – gulp! – Buckeyes who are coming to Kalamazoo for a pair. Who knows? Maybe that’s what they need.

• The CCHA followed up a solid first two weeks of nonconference play with a mediocre performance last weekend (3-4-0). Northern Michigan swept Michigan Tech, Alaska Fairbanks split with Alaska Anchorage, Notre Dame lost at Colorado College and Denver, and Western Michigan fell at Niagara. This weekend’s nonconference slate is highlighted by Michigan State’s two-game visit to Cornell, while Notre Dame hosts Princeton for a pair in South Bend.

• Two of the more interesting goalie situations in the league are at Nebraska-Omaha and Ferris State. The Mavericks have gotten two decent performances from sophomore Eric Aarnio and one good and one bad game from freshman Greg Barrett. Freshman Jerad Kaufmann, who hasn’t played since an exhibition win over Manitoba, is still in the mix, too. For the Bulldogs, freshman Mitch O’Keefe started both ties at Lake Superior State and has played in three games compared with sophomore Derek MacIntyre’s one. But that race also is expected to continue.

• We might have been imagining things, but when Michigan fans were chanting “Bill-y Sau-er” Saturday night, we think we saw Wolverines assistant coach Billy Powers stand up and wave.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.