Heading over the barrier between ice and bench means something different for David Gerths and his line mates than other members of the Notre Dame hockey team.
None seek out the adulation that comes along with scoring goals at a high rate. Instead they chase after respect in the dressing room, where teammates and coaches know just how important grinders like Gerths, Nick Larson and Kevin Nugent are to success.
“They’re a tough group,” said center T.J. Tynan, a prolific goal scorer in his college career. “They’re a tough line. You know you’re always gonna get their best effort every night.”
Earlier this season Irish head coach Jeff Jackson dubbed his third line trio the “crash line,” a phrase lost in the usual give-and-take with reporters. Before this week Gerths had never heard the term used, although it remains a compliment to the line he centers.
Heading into a road series with league foe Ohio State this weekend the three “crash line” members have combined for seven goals this season and 12 points total.
Larson has seven times as many penalty minutes (28) as points. Gerths has four goals against nine trips to the penalty box. Nugent has taken only eight shots this season.
Truth is, their contributions come on the walls and in the defensive zone instead of the box score.
“There are so many other ways you can contribute to your team’s success,” Nugent said. “It doesn’t always have to be scoring a goal. It can be killing penalties, blocking shots, creating energy, and keeping the puck down low. That’s kinda become my role over the last couple years. That’s how I’ve gotten to play every game, or recently every game. It’s been by doing those things.”
All three have embraced such a role while becoming friends off the ice. What started in Siegfried Hall has moved to a house off campus, where they will often watch film together to prepare for the next opponent.
Chemistry and a common theme have helped head coach Jeff Jackson keep the line in tact off and on over the last three years. Nugent and Larson are seniors and Gerths a junior.
“To make that line work it has to be guys who have the same mindset,” Jackson said. “That are willing to go out and create havoc in the offensive zone off the forecheck and off the cycle. It’s great for the team and it’s great for the guys on the bench when they see those guys get a goal because they work hard. Everybody is excited to see when they score.”
It might not happen often but last weekend the third line came up big.
Gerths and Nugent both scored Saturday in a 5-2 win over Ferris State, which snapped a five-game Notre Dame losing streak. Nugent had never before scored a goal in his college career but in typical fashion deflected the attention.
“You don’t really know what to say,” Gerths said. “He’s worked for so long. Words can’t really describe how good you feel for him because he wanted this so bad. He wasn’t putting that goal first, which was big. He was more happy that we won than he scored. Hard work and perseverance paid off for him. I just told him, ‘Congratulations and I’m really happy for you.’”
And so it goes for the crash line. One week after a rare scoring flourish the trio will stick with what it does well: Playing with a physical edge, working in the corners and trying to wear down the opponent over the course of a 60-minute contest.
Ohio State is the next opponent to game plan for such a group.
Keeping with that scoring element, however, could be the key to playoff success. Nugent hopes to lighten the load for scorers like Anders Lee, Bryan Rust and Tynan while sticking with their overall identity.
“We can’t rely on Anders and Rusty and Tynan to score every night,” Nugent said. “Looking ahead, if we want to go deep in the CCHA playoffs and hopefully the national tournament we’re gonna need contributions from the third and fourth lines. Not just grinding down low but pitching in the odd goal here and there. It’s definitely important.”
Injury news and notes
Earlier this week Jackson conducted practice with a full complement of players for the first time all season.
Garrett Peterson is back after missing the first semester, Sam Herr is rebounding after a bout with mononucleosis and Mike Voran could be poised to return after suffering an upper body injury a couple weeks back.
“Our team chemistry is strong,” Jackson said. “I don’t think one guy in or one guy out is gonna make that much of a difference. The biggest thing that sometimes makes it tough is that stretch where we haven’t won in awhile, other guys expect to get in. That’s the thing. Hopefully there’s justification for them to get in because that’s what creates the competition.”
Voran is scheduled to travel with the team to Columbus this weekend, Jackson said.