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November 01, 2006 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-11-01

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8A - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

I

Johnson
fills role
off bench
By KEVIN WRIGHT
Daily Sports Editor
Defensive tackle Will Johnson walked to the
sidelines and tried to lift his knee up, and what
happened next convinced him he was injured.
His knee didn't cooperate. Instead, it flopped
sideways.
"I knew somethingwas messed up, but I didn't
think it was that bad," Johnson said. "Oh well."
And that was Johnson's precursor to Michi-
gan.
The August of his senior year at Lake Orion
High School in Oakland, Johnson's team was
playing Bay City Central High School ina scrim-
mage. One of Johnson's teammates went to make
a tackle and crashed into Johnson's knee. The
top-rated high school defensive lineman in the
state didn't find out the extent of the injury, until
he went to Schemblechler Hall.
There, the doctors examined the knee and
told Johnson he had torn his anterior cruciate
ligament. After surgery, he discovered he would
have to redshirt his freshman year.
But Johnson didn'tletthe news get him down.
Instead, he found the support he needed from
physical therapist Phil Krauss, who guided him
through both the physical and mental challeng-
es of the injury.
"He brought me along each day, telling me to
keep going, it's goingto get better," Johnson said.
"It was a long process, five or six months, and he
brought me to where I'm. So I appreciate it."
Even though the injury was severe, Michi-
gan coach Lloyd Carr never considered pulling
Johnson's scholarship off the table. He relayed
that reassurance to the recruit shortly following
the injury.
Still, the coach knew Johnson had a long way
to go before he could contribute to the Wolver-
ines.
"When he gotchere a year later, he wasn't even
close," Carr said. "And really, for the better part
of two years, maybe even three, he was never
without ramifications from that injury."
Misfortune struck again during Johnson's
sophomore year. In spring practice, he battled a
pulled hamstring and mononucleosis. But enter-
ing training camp this season, Johnson, for the

Revamping
rush next step

By NATE SANDALS
Daily Sports Writer
No one wants to have a fro-
zen rubber disc flying 80 miles
per hour toward his head. But
if you're a hockey player, some-
times it's a sacrifice you have to
make.
In overtime last Friday night,
Kevin Porter stood in front of
the crease and deflected a Jack
Johnson shot for the game-win-
ning goal against Northeastern.
After the game, Porter
described the experience of star-
ing down a blazing Johnson slap
shot.
"It's not fun," Porter said. "At
practice, I'm told to get out of the
way. In the game you've just got
to stand there, close your eyes,
put your stick on the ice."
Porter's position in front of
the net prevented Northeastern
goalie Brad Thiessen from see-
ing the shot or the deflection,
makinga save nearly impossible.
After the Wolverines ben-
efitted so much from traffic in
front of the net on Friday, one
would've expected Michigan to
use the same tactics on Saturday.
But the Wolverines were rarely
in position to deflect shots or
pound away at rebounds during
a 3-2 loss to the Huskies.
In the loss, Michigan was 0-
for-12 on the power play. The
Wolverines seldom stepped in
front of Thiessento screen himor
capitalize on rebound chances.
"We're trying to play on the
perimeter too much," Michigan
assistant coach Mel Pearson
explained. "We have to get our
hands dirty, so to speak. Get
to the net, put some screens in
front of (the goalie)."
Pearson said he expects for-
wards Brian Lebler and David
Rohlfs to put forth greater effort
to get in front of the net than

they did against Northeastern.
Pearson wants his forwards
to get in front of the net both at
even strength and during the
power play. While the prospects
can be frightening, each player is
capable of doing the hard work.
"It's just a choice, that's all
it is," senior alternate captain
Jason Dest said Saturday night.
"Stepping in and just concen-
trating on getting traffic in front
of the goalie. That's like the grit
that players have to play with.
It's not pretty, but somebody's
got to do it."
Too many of Michigan's 47 4
shots on Saturday came from the
blue line or a bad angle.
When Thiessen gave up
rebounds, the Husky defense-
men collected them without
pressure.
Michigan'ssecondgoalresult-
ed from one of the rare occasions
when it was in good offensive
position.
With fewer than five min-
utes remaining in the game,
Dest took a shot from the point.
Thiessen made the initial save,
but the rebound leaked to the
slot, where Porter collected it
and buried a shot, top shelf.
But that was one of the rare
bright spots on a night when
Michigan didn't appear to want
to put forth the necessary effort
to establish offense.
"It's uncomfortable to go (in
front of the crease) a lot," Pear-
son said. "It's one of those areas
where you've got to pay the price
to get there. Someone's going to
lay stick on you or a body on you,
pucks are coming in there."
The facts are simple, and
everyone knows them. Michi-
gan can take as many shots as
it wants, but without establish-
ing dominance around the goal
crease, goals will be hard to
come by.

Will Johnson has struggled through injuries in his time at Michigan, but this season he is filling a much-needed role.

first time in his three years at Michigan, finally
felt completely healthy.
Johnson found a suitable role coming into the
season, filling in for either Alan Branch or Ter-
rance Taylor.
So far, he has performed up to expectations
This season, he has played in all eight games.
The 6-foot-5 291-pound defensive tackle has
rotated into a defensive front that leads the
nation in rush defense, making four tackles.
Once again completely healthy, Johnson also
credits defensive line coach Steve Stripling
for helping him make the impact he has on the
field.
"I worked hard in the off-season," Johnson
said. "Coach Stripling has brought me a long way
technique-wise, and he's helped soy playing abil-
ity. ... I know the game plan a lot better so I can

play faster."
Johnson almost seems out of place on a defen-
sive line featuring Taylor, who some on the team
say is the team's funniest player, and LaMarr
Woodley, who never stops joking around. But
the calm, quiet Johnson only smiles and, after
admitting he's near the bottom on the funny
scale, says he can hold his own.
With the outgoing personalities and dominat-
ing performance on Saturdays, Johnson may get
lost in the shuffle of a talented and deep front
four, but his coach has definitely taken notice of
his contribution to the team.
"Last spring was the first time he really played
with good health," Carr said. "By that time, he
had really grown into a big, powerful guy. He's
tough. He's competitive. He's smart. And he's
got a great role on this team."

NBA thrills not
enough to make
it interesting

J'monot going lie.
I don't like the NBA.
Or at least I don't like the
regular season.
Don't get me wrong; the NBA
playoffs have supplied some of
my best sports
memories, but
the regular
season is a
joke. y
You don't
have the clas-
sic matchups 4.
like Larry
Bird vs.-
Magic John- KEVIN
son in the Wm( ff
NBA finals.
There aren't
last-second The Sixth Man
shots that
measure up to the lasting image
of Michael Jordan holding his
follow-through after pushing off
Byron Russell and hitting the
game-winning shot.
The only thing that the regu-
lar season has on the playoffs is
what happens between games.
You couldn't possibly make up
some of the crazy situations
some of the players get them-
selves into to.
Let's look at some of the stor-
ylines from the past few seasons.
You have the Pistons/Pacers
brawl, which was a prominent
story for much of the year.
Then, who could forget Shel-
ley Smith covering Kobe Bryant
and his misinterpretation of
consensual sex?
Teammates of Vin Baker said
he would reek of mouthwash
whenever he came to practice.
These are priceless anecdotes
and conversation starters.
Even though this year's NBA
campaign is just getting into
gear, shocking news has already
resonated through the sports
world.
And commissioner David
Stern's right at the heart of it.
That's right, good 'ole Stern
decided the tried-and-true
leather basketball wasn't edgy
enough for the fast-pace, run-
and-gun style of the revamped
NBA. This offseason, Stern
introduced a new synthetic ball
into the game.
Real exciting.
But if the new ball isn't
enough to energize you for the
upcoming season, Stephen Jack-
son has done his best to increase
attention on the NBA.
The poster-child had an inter-
esting trip to a strip club, where

he almost got run over by acar
and pulled a gun on someone.
I can remember all the news
away from the actual game
without even looking it up,
but ask me about a memorable
regular-season contest, and not
many come to mind.
I mean, can you name one,
other than Kobe Bryant's 81-
point performance?
As much as ESPN and other
networks want to parade the
NBA as a primetime event, I'm
not buying into it.
Unlike the playoffs, where
each game is important, the
regular season seems like a
scene right out of Groundhog
Day - the same thing happening
over and over again.
Yes, Kobe Bryant scores a lot
of points. Boring. Sure, LeBron
James is leading a team con-
sisting of rejects all the while
coming into his own as the next
Michael Jordan. Yawn. Dwyane
Wade gets an automatic foul
shot every time he drives into
the lane. Frustrating.
The list goes on.
No one plays defense, unless
it's to pad the stats. Coaches
don't really do anything but pace
the sideline and look confused,
angry or complacent. The major-
ity of the players pay more atten-
tion to what their agents tell
them than advice from coaches.
And then there's the annoying
music the arenas play to fire up
the crowd while the home team
is playing defense. (Like a music
track, with a monotone voice
repeating the word "defense"
is going to inspire the fans and
players.)
Maybe I just haven't caught
up with the times - I still think
the internet is just a passing
phase - but the NBA has lost
touch with the roots of the
game James Naismith originally
invented for women.
While Kobe, Dwyane and
LeBron will score more points
than Wilt Chamberlain had
kids at some point this season,
the fundamentals like the mid-
range jumper and defense just
continue to get pushed further
into the background.
Unless anyone can convince
me otherwise, I'll talk to you 82
games from now, when the real
NBA season begins.
Until then, enjoy. I know I
won't be missing anything.
- Wright can be reached
at kpwr@umich.edu.

I

Michigan coach Steve Burns has remained optimistic despite the Wolverines' struggles this season. His motivational tools have been inspirational to his players.

Burns inspires beyond

Jamie Josephson on
Men's Soccer
After an emotional win on Senior Night
against Penn State last Saturday - a victory
that ended the Michigan men soccer team's
nine-game winless streak and four-game
scoreless skid - the team seemed to breathe a
collective sigh of relief.
But for one man, the game was just proof
of the mantra he has preached all season:
"belief."
Enter the team's biggest motivator, patient
teacher, metaphor king and eternal optimist
- Michigan coach Steve Burns.
Though the Wolverines (1-2-3 Big Ten, 6-9-
4 overall) signed off on their regular season
with a "W," the past two months were argu-
ably some of the most disappointing and frus-
trating times in the program's history.
The team's nine-game winless streak that
extended from Sept. 24 until Oct. 22 is by far
the longest skid since the birth of the varsity
program in 2000. The Wolverines' 18-goal
total through the regular season marks their
lowest offensive production since the team's
inception. Playing in a program-high five
double-overtime games this season, Michigan
failed to pull out a victory in a single one.
But through each bitter loss, each scoreless
day and each heartbreaking overtime result,
Burns never lost confidence in his freshmen,
faith in his senior leaders or the belief that
the goals would come.
On Saturday, they did. And much is owed to
Burns' optimistic attitude.
"It's very important to have a coach who
believes in you," senior tri-captain Kevin Sav-
itske said. "It keeps you going. When you're
playing well, Burns doesn't let you get too
high on yourself. When you're playing bad, he
tries to lift you up. That's the biggest role of
the coach."
When Burns hangs up his coaching cleats

someday, he may want to consider teaching
English. He's known for employing metaphors
and analogies to bring his team's on-field
struggles to light.
Burns once used the image of walking
across a two-by-four 80 feet above the ground
to talk about the fear of failure. Another time,
he compared playing with a one-player disad-
vantage amid the elements to learning to play
with the hand you are dealt, as in a game of
euchre.
Burns imparts wisdom to his team not only
about working through failures in the game
of soccer but also disappointments in the
game of life.
In years past, Burns has coached soccer
legends - see Knox Cameron - who stamped
their names in the Michigan record books and
went on to play at the professional level.
Though talented, this year's team roster
does not boast a soccer prodigy like Cameron.
There is simply no single Michigan magician
to whom the rest of the team can give the ball,
sit back and enjoy the show.
And the coach was first to admit this very
early in the season. Burns is no doubt an
optimist, but he is also - and perhaps more
importantly - a realist.
"We don't have the same level of special
players that can break a game open (like
years past)," Burns admitted in early Septem-
ber. "But we do have great team chemistry
and great understanding for how we want to
play."
Burns's emphasis on the team rather than a
single player translated to this year's group of
relatively unselfish players. Seven different
players have scored Michigan's goals this sea-
son, from forwards to midfielders and even to
defensemen.
Though Burns has truly been a motivating
force, he sees the road to confidence as a two-
way street.
"I think, more than anything, the players
have that belief in themselves," Burns said.

coaching
"It resonates from the coaching staff through
them and right back up to us."
After netting the game-winner on Satur-
day, senior tri-captain Kevin Hall echoed
Burns.
"(Burns's confidence in us) means a lot,"
Hall said. "Everyone on the team believes
we are a good team. It's just hard coming out
of games without goals. We're doing all the
right things on and off the field. We were just
unlucky for awhile.-But this win will spark us.
We're excited."
As the No. 6 seed for the Big Ten Tourna-
ment in Columbus, Michigan will take on
Wisconsin in the first round at 1:30 p.m. on
Thursday. The Wolverines suffered a devas-
tating 2-1 overtime loss at the hands of the
Badgers on Sept. 17.
If Michigan earns its revenge against Wis-
consin, it will face the winner of the Ohio
State-Michigan State contest. That semifinal
match would take place at 7:30 p.m. on Fri-
day.
Burns hopes to ride the momentum from
the shutout against Penn State and expects to
compete for the conference championship.
It's difficult to know what kind of tourna-
ment results to expect from the Wolverines.
They played with undeniable confidence and
hunger last Saturday that they lacked for most
of October. But finishing goals has undoubt-
edly been a problem that has plagued Michi-
gan, and the recurring nightmare could very
well resurface in Columbus.
Whether or not Michigan makes it to the
finals or exits early in the first round, one
thing is for sure. Win or lose, rise or fall,
coach Burns will most likely gather around
his troops at the end of the game and speak to
the pride he has in his team.
And, somehow, the great orator will prob-
ably conjure up yet another profound meta-
phor for the bus ride back to Ann Arbor.
I for one will never play another hand of
euchre without thinking of "Burnsy."

4

I

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