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February 12, 2004 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-02-12

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 9A

Powerplay fueled by defense

By Sharad Mattu
Daily Sports Writer

When Michigan is on the powerplay, it's easy to
focus on the forwards. Whether it's Milan Gajic and
Jeff Tambellini at the faceoff circle itching to fire a
shot, Eric Nystrom and Brandon Kaleniecki banging
-..ubodies in front of the crease or T.J. Hensick weaving
through the defense looking to set up teammates, the
<K; forwards receive most of the powerplay attention
h x from opponents and fans.
x Wolverines have the man-advantage. As last week-
end s series with Alaska-Fairbanks demonstrated, the
blueliners are just as important.
When Michigan went on the powerplay for five
minutes midway through the third period of last Fri-
day's game, the Wolverines capitalized with a pair of
goals to break a tie. And neither goal was scored by
a forward.
Juniors Eric Werner and Brandon Rogers scored
the game-winning and game-clinching goals, respec-
tively. Both goals came the same way - scored off a
good cross-ice pass from the top of the right faceoff
circle.
But Saturday, the same aggressiveness that the
Wolverines were able to capitalize on Friday caught
up with Michigan. Rogers got caught creeping in
from the blueline and, when the puck coasted by
him, the Nanooks took advantage and scored a short-
handed goal on an odd-man opportunity.
While the up-and-down weekend demonstrates the
inconsistencies of Michigan's powerplay success all
season, overall the Wolverines have been stellar on
JOELFRIEDMAN/Daily the powerplay. They have converted 20.9 percent
Defensemen Eric Werner, pictured at right, and Brandon Rogers have been a valuable part of Michigan's success on the (33-of-158) of their powerplay opportunities this
powerplay this season. season, the best mark in the CCHA.
Last chance for Smith to shine vs. State

A big reason for their success has been the efforts
of Michigan's defensemen, whose duties include
keeping pucks in the zone, picking out lanes to set
up forwards and swooping in to get off a shot.
"The powerplay is an opportunity to take advan-
tage," said Werner, who is fourth among the Wolver-
ines in powerplay points with three goals and six
assists. "For defensemen the mindset is to move the
puck around because there will always be people
open."
Rogers, who is second in powerplay scoring with
three goals and nine assists, agreed. He also stressed
that it is important for defensemen to take shots
because it forces the opponents to spread out more
on the ice and opens up more holes.
In situations like on Saturday, when deciding
whether or not to head for the net at the risk of giv-
ing up a two-on-one, both Rogers and Werner
believed that it's usually a worthwhile gamble. The
Wolverines have given up seven shorthanded goals,
but their aggressiveness may be the primary reason
for their powerplay success.
"If there's a lane and you can sneak in and you can
get the puck ... it's worth trying because if it hits
your stick there's a good chance you can get the
puck to the net," Rogers said.
As for why the powerplay is sometimes clicking
and other times in a funk, Rogers believed effort is
the main reason.
"Sometimes when it's not successful it's because
you're a little too lackadaisical or you just expect
things to happen," Rogers said. "It really comes
down to hard work, and if that's not there, goals
won't come."
With Miami, the CCHA's first place and highest
scoring team, up next, Michigan's defensemen need
to be ready to work the hardest they have all season.

By Eric Ambinder
Daily Sports Writer

What if Jennifer Smith played for Michigan State?
Almost four years ago, the Michigan women's
basketball center had the option of playing for
her hometown Spartans, but chose to attend
Michigan.
During Smith's senior season at DeWitt High
School in Lansing, the Spartans were flounder-
ing in the Big Ten, while the Wolverines had just
reached the NCAA tournament.
Seemed like a good decision, right?
Coming into tonight's game, the
Spartans (8-3 Big Ten, 18-4 overall) To
are ranked No. 17 in the country in the Mic l
latest top-25 poll, while the Wolver- Mc
ines' (4-7, 11-13) chance at an NCAA
tournament birth seems as likely as aCto
Michigan Big Ten championship. Cs
Smith came to Michigan under the
persuasion of former Michigan coach
Sue Guevara. Also, the lure of Michi-
gan's academic reputation was too much to turn
down.
But it has been under first-year head coach
Cheryl Burnett that Smith has realized her full
potential. Smith's 21.3 points-per-game average
is eight points higher than last season. Smith is

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the cornerstone of the Michigan offense this sea-
son, in contrast with her first three years when
she shared the role with former teammate
LeeAnne Bies.
While her individual stock has risen, the
team's performance has declined the past three
seasons.
Sixty wins and fifty-four losses later, Smith
gets one final chance not only to show the Spar-
tans what they've missed, but to prove she made
the right decision.
On Jan. 18, Michigan State embar-
rassed Michigan 67-33 in East Lans-
ing. Smith had a less than stellar
[GHT homecoming in her final trip to the
- State at Breslin Center. She scored just seven
igan points on 2-of-6 shooting. Michigan
State used a swarming double team
Atna to trap Smith every time she touched
ATV the ball, cutting off her ability to
shoot or pass effectively.
"We never really thought we would
stop her," Michigan State coach
Joanne P. McCallie said following the game. "Just
simply try and keep her below her average."
Forget what happened last month.
In preparing for tonight's game against Michi-
gan State, Burnett said that she hasn't changed
her game plan.

The team's top two priorities remain the same:
Get Smith the ball and create offense from
defense.
"We do nothing differently just because it's
Michigan State," Burnett said. "We just want to
make sure that we are much more competitive
and play much harder. We definitely expect (the
outcome) to be different."
Don't expect the same Michigan team tonight
that showed up at the Breslin Center.
The Wolverines are in high spirits after Sun-
day's 75-55 win over Wisconsin.
"I can't wait to play State again," Smith said. "I
think we have been getting better and better each
game and it finally paid off last game. We have a
lot of confidence going into the State game."
Confidence after getting outscored by 34
points in their first match-up?
Why not?
The Wolverines have a nothing-to-lose type
attitude, and the Big Ten conference has been
riddled with upsets lately.
"We need to just go out and have fun," fresh-
man Kelly Helvey said. "Anything can happen.
Northwestern took (Michigan State) into over-
time - we could probably do the same thing. I
feel that we could beat them."
If not for Smith, playing Michigan State com-
petitively wouldn't be such a sure thing.

BRETI MOUNTA
Lansing native Jennifer Smith looks forward to her final matchup against rival
Michigan State.

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