As I strolled down the hallway toward my
seat in media box E for Friday night’s hockey game against
Lake Superior State, I struggled to keep my overflowing coffee cup
steady. Suddenly, my awkward, keeled-over, don’t-spill strut
came to a screeching halt due to a program gracing the silver
screen in media box C — “Seinfeld.” After a quick
evaluation, I determined it was the “Soup Nazi”
episode. Seinfeld in Yost Ice Arena 32 minutes before the puck
dropped? Random? Not really. The pregame presentation of this comic
masterpiece supported a notion that I’d had since last Monday
when I looked over Lake Superior State’s season numbers: This
weekend’s series is gonna be a laugher.

Mira Levitan

And it sure was.

Michigan, which has run off seven straight wins, trounced the
CCHA bottom-dweller by a combined score of 9-1. The Wolverines
handled business by dominating the Lakers in every facet of the
game. While the Michigan blue-liners and Al Montoya looked
brilliant all weekend — allowing a grand total of 31 shots on
goal and just one score — the offense truly ran circles
around the slower Lakers. Michigan slapped 78 shots on goal and
made the Lake Superior State defense look completely helpless in
doing so.

Basically, the Wolverines’ offense picked up where it left
off the weekend before … and the weekend before that
… and the weekend before that … and — well you
see where this is going.

During Michigan’s current seven-game win streak, the
Wolverines have averaged over 4.5 goals per game, outscoring
opponents by a total of 32-10. And they haven’t been taking
on the Lake Superior States of the hockey world every weekend,
either. During this streak, Michigan has enjoyed series sweeps over
then-No. 10 Ohio State and Western Michigan — a team Michigan
had trailed in the CCHA standings before demolishing it by a
combined weekend score of 11-1.

The biggest reason for this offensive outburst is that all 12
forwards in Michigan’s nightly lineup feel comfortable with
their line — something that hasn’t always been the case
this season.

In the first few months of the year, Michigan coach Red Berenson
cooked up so many original lineups, Iron Chef Italian almost called
for advice. Left wing Eric Nystrom has definitely been a part of
this process. The alternate captain’s line — which
usually starts the game — has tried out more looks than Mr.
Potato Head. Nystrom began with Dwight Helminen and Michael
Woodford at his side. Then, Berenson stripped Helminen and Woodford
from the line, opting for center T.J. Hensick and right wing Jeff
Tambellini. A few weeks later, Nystrom and Helminen reunited, and
right wing Mike Brown replaced Tambellini — who traveled to
Finland for the World Junior Championships. But Tambellini took
back his spot on the No. 1 line when he returned to the States.
Confusing? Affirmative. All those changes give my head that Sunday
morning, pre-aspirin feeling, too.

This mix and match strategy hasn’t been unique to
Michigan’s first line. Extensive changes have occurred on
every line because of injuries, World Junior Championship absences
and Berenson’s desire to discover the perfect mixture.

Lately, he’s found it.

“It’s nice to see some momentum and some confidence
and some chemistry starting to flow on those lines,” Berenson
said. “And we’re not just a one line team — on
any given night, any line can step up and make the difference. We
feel good about them right now.”

Each line contributed mightily against Lake Superior State, as
they all notched at least one goal.

Recently, all 12 Michigan forwards have made significant
contributions, and the four lines have created individual
identities.

Michigan’s premier scoring line — Brandon
Kaleniecki, Milan Gajic and Hensick — has experienced
frightening success in the opponents’ zones. Dubbed
“the Costco Line” because it scores in bulk, the trio
has produced 10 goals in the last two weeks. Nystrom says this line
is “as good as any line in college hockey right
now.”

After struggling at center earlier this season, David Moss has
flourished at right wing — — on a line with Jason
Ryznar and Andrew Ebbett — scoring two goals on Friday. This
is Michigan’s most versatile line, combining the finesse of
Ebbett and Moss with the power of Ryznar. Generously listed at
5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Ebbett expresses joy in finding a home
between two big bodies.

“I call them the twin towers,” Ebbett said.

The starting line of Nystrom, Helminen and Tambellini has
struggled to score but has created numerous opportunities. But this
is Michigan’s most experienced line and it usually faces off
against the opponents’ finest.

And then there’s the line comprised of David Rohlfs,
Woodford and Brown — “the banner line.” Yes,
they’re “outstanding,” but it’s a different
meaning of “banner.” This line earns the title through
its innate ability to hit hard and provide opponents with an
unwanted back-to-the-ice view of Michigan’s nine national
title banners that hang from the ceiling.

Every line is clicking, and every forward seems ecstatic about
his role on the team. It seems that barring injury,
Berenson’s lineup is basically set.

If Michigan’s forwards continue to gel and play like they
have been in the last month, one phrase will be voiced from Ann
Arbor to the rest of the CCHA in regard to the league title:

“NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

Gennaro Filice can be reached at
“mailto:gfilice@umich.edu”>gfilice@umich.edu.

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