Milan Gajic is serious.

Ice Hockey
Ice Hockey
Michigan senior Milan Gajic skates up-ice with the puck. (JEFF LENHERT/Daily)

OK, not that serious. But the senior forward wants to make his
last season in Ann Arbor his best yet.

After three roller coaster seasons on and off the ice, Gajic
aims to put everything out on the ice en route to what he hopes is
Michigan’s first National Championship since 1998.

“If we don’t win it this year, I think, hockey-wise,
my four years will be much of a disappointment,” Gajic
said.

This season marks an important crossroads to his career. After
two-and-a-half years of underachieving, Gajic finally began to live
up to the hype in the middle of last season. Playing on a line with
Jeff Tambellini and then-freshman T.J. Hensick, Gajic scored 25
points after winter break.

For 2004-05, Michigan coach Red Berenson paired Gajic with
another freshman, Kevin Porter. Berenson might not have made the
move if Gajic had continued the sluggish play and questionable
attitude that marred his first two seasons.

“We look at Milan Gajic as one of our top players,”
Berenson said. “We expect him to set a good example on his
line and to make a big contribution on his line.”

Gajic recognizes the importance of helping the freshmen. During
Saturday’s game with Windsor, Gajic often tried to put the
puck on Porter’s stick instead of taking his own shots
æ almost to the point of passing up on too many
opportunities.

“He makes good plays in the offensive zone, but I want to
see him score goals,” Berenson said. “When he gets his
chances, he’s got to bury them.”

While Gajic feels that the younger players need to learn some
things on their own, he knows he has a lot to share.

“You just show them the way — they ask questions and
you try to give them your advice,” Gajic said.
“It’s a nice compliment from the coaches when they
think you can help out those guys.”

Gajic quickly points out that his role on the team is to score
goals. Many critics have pointed to his lackluster defensive play
over his career. But he feels that as long as the goals are coming,
he doesn’t need to stand out in his own zone.

“(The stigma has) been with me for the last four years,
but honestly I don’t really care,” Gajic said. “I
know what I’m here to do.”

Along with putting pucks in the net, Gajic hopes that his
attitude and determination this season will prompt his coaches to
rely on him in high-pressure situations.

“Numbers-wise, I want to really jump out,” Gajic
said. “But there’s a lot of other things. You want to
be the guy that coach throws out in the last minute-and-a-half of a
game to get a goal.”

Berenson, who has always pushed Gajic hard, is confident that
the Gajic on the ice this season will be the one he recruited out
of Burnbay, B.C., and not the one he’s had to suspend
twice.

This season gives Gajic a chance to not only finish his stay in
Ann Arbor on a high note, but also to put himself in a good
position when he reports to the Atlanta Thrashers organization
æ which drafted him in the fourth round in 2001 æ next
September.

With all the focus on a national championship, Gajic still
manages to keep things simple:

“That’s what I do, I score goals.”

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