Reunited ... and it Feels Good in Oxford
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
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.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
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
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.
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.
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.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• 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
• 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
• 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.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation
of this report.