Members of the Michigan hockey team marvel at Milan Gajic’s one-timer when it comes from deep inside the left circle.
“I guess that’s my spot,” Gajic said. “Guys are saying they should take that piece of ice out when I leave.”
Yost Ice Arena’s ice isn’t as famous or valuable as the Boston Garden’s old parquet floor that Bill Russell and Larry Bird made immortal, but still, it is doubtful that Michigan senior Milan Gajic could take that sheet home with him to Burnaby, British Columbia when he graduates. And even if he could get that sheet of ice in his possession, it would melt if he took it with him to Atlanta, where the Thrashers drafted him in the fourth round.
Last Saturday in the CCHA Tournament final, Gajic showed why he is so dangerous from the lower left circle. Just three minutes into the first period, he received a pass from defenseman Matt Hunwick and let it rip. The shot whizzed past Ohio State goalie David Caruso just inside the left post. Michigan 1, Ohio State 0.
“That’s as good a shot as anybody is going shoot,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “When we put him in a good spot, we want to see him do well with it.”
He did just fine.
Gajic struck again in the second period. He was positioned perfectly in front of the Ohio State net when senior Brandon Rogers fired a shot from the point. Caruso made the initial save, but the rebound popped out to Gajic. The senior gathered the puck and put it past Caruso to give Michigan a 2-1 lead.
“It was nice, especially against those guys,” Gajic said. “It’s no secret that us and them don’t like each other too much. It was a big game, and I was glad I could put a couple in.”
More and more have gone in for Gajic in his junior and senior years. After scoring just 43 points in his freshman and sophomore years combined, Gajic has scored 72 points in his junior and senior seasons.
“My first two years, I was trying to do a little too much, and it showed,” Gajic said. “The last couple years have been really good for me. I just want to help in any way, as long as I can play.
“I was putting way too much pressure on myself. I was trying to score a goal every friggin’ shift. That’s how it worked in juniors, but here, it’s a different story.”
Gajic has improved other aspects of his game as well.
According to Berenson, Gajic has improved with his consistency, intensity and defensive awareness. “(He’s) really getting involved in the whole game,” Berenson said. “He’s a two-way player and not just an opportunist.”
With his final NCAA Tournament this weekend, Gajic has peaked at the right time.
“I was always on his case about performing at another level,” Berenson said. “I think he’s finally achieved that other level.”
Who’s cup is it?: The Mason Cup — the trophy awarded to CCHA Tournament Champion — has been won by the 10 Michigan seniors three times in their four-year careers. Or maybe it’s two Mason Cups and one “Berenson Cup.”
The trophy that Michigan won last Saturday sits in the Michigan hockey office and has a piece of masking tape over the name “Mason.” Instead, someone inscribed “Berenson” on it.
“One of us did it,” Gajic said. “I can’t remember who. It’s just for coach. We don’t need a reason to do stuff — we just do it. I can’t remember who did it. It’s just a little fun I guess.”
Ron Mason coached collegiate hockey for 36 years, the last 23 at Michigan State. He holds the record for wins at the collegiate level with 924. In East Lansing, Mason made 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, won a national championship, a National Coach of the Year honor and guided 44 players to the NHL. He retired from the bench three years ago and now is the Michigan State athletic director.
“The man who it’s named after did a lot for this league and a lot for hockey altogether,” Gajic said. “It’s not so much of an MSU thing. He did some wonderful stuff for this league and for CCHA hockey, so the cup is in his name. We didn’t put it on there to mock him or anything like that. We just put it on there for the hell of it.”
But Rogers had a different take.
“Just a little Michigan pride,” Rogers said. “(We wanted to) get that Spartan name off the trophy, and put coach’s name on it. As soon as I saw (the cup), the name was on there. The quicker we get Mason off there, the better.”
Notes: Comcast Local will broadcast Michigan’s game against Wisconsin as well as the Midwest Regional final at 5 p.m. on Saturday should Michigan advance. The games will also be available on ESPNU, which will be broadcasting the game on DirecTV (Ch. 609) and on Adelphia Cable.