by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Every good team has one. That so-called "crash" line that plays hard, gets dirty, does the little things, and drives other teams crazy. It's a line that doesn't need to score to help the team win. But when it does start scoring — watch out.
That's where Maine's line of Dustin Penner, Jon Jankus and Mike Hamilton is right now. It's a rag-tag cast of characters that has come together in the postseason to form a force to be reckoned with. It has made an already deep Black Bears team that much deeper.
Hamilton, in particular, has three goals in the playoffs, including a huge one to kickstart the comeback against Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and an even bigger one the following night when he scored the overtime winner against Wisconsin to send Maine to the Frozen Four.
[ir1]But Hamilton knows better than anyone, that when he scores, there's credit to go around — even when his linemates don't actually show up in the box score.
Jankus is almost as responsible for the game winner against Wisconsin, and he didn't even get an assist on the play. Hamilton beat All-USCHO Rookie Team defender Ryan Suter on the right wing, and got it past goalie Bernd Bruckler — but there was much more to it.
"It was a 3-on-3, and Hammy tried to dump it in and have me and Penner go get it," said Jankus. "But it hit the defender's shin pad and came out [of the zone], and I had to straddle the line. Next thing I know, he beat him [Suter] and he flicked it to the net. It took a weird bounce.
"I was just crashing the net, and trying to push for the puck, but I hit the defender's shoulder and pushed his stick into the puck and it rolled in.
"We watched the highlight over and over and were just laughing at how it happened."
But the play of that line has been no laughing matter. They have a serious connection going on, one they are rolling into the Frozen Four against Boston College.
"Mike has scored a lot of big goals lately, but every time he has, all three of us are involved," Jankus said. "It's just a matter of Mike being the hot hand right now, so we've been trying to feed him. Right now it's Mike. Other times, Dustin can be the one, or I can be the one."
Hamilton and Jankus played together most of the season, until Hamilton got hurt in February and missed five games. That's when the 6-foot-4 Penner was moved onto the line with Jankus. When Hamilton returned, he initially played with Derek Damon and Greg Moore, but coach Tim Whitehead didn't like what he saw in the team's Hockey East quarterfinal series against Merrimack, so he moved Hamilton to Jankus' line and the three were united for the first time.
"They bring the type of game I like to play," Jankus said. "We get in there and get open, beat you up down low."
It's a group of mutts, with the 5-foot-9 Jankus at center. Jankus left school in 2001-02 after one semester, playing in nine games. After taking a year off, he returned this season with sophomore eligibility.
Penner, in the meantime, comes from Minot State University-Bottineau, a junior college in North Dakota. He had to redshirt a season, and now has junior eligibility. He came out of nowhere to contribute 10 goals, including a big one in the Hockey East championship game against Massachusetts.
That leaves Hamilton, the 6-foot, 200-pound Victoria, B.C., native who had just one goal through Jan. 10, but has obviously come on since then.
Typically, he deflects praise to his linemates.
"He's been doing that a lot in the corners, and winning the key draws," said Hamilton about the unsung Jankus. "He does the little things that people don't see. I know that if it was not for him, I wouldn't score a lot of the goals I do.
"[Penner] has a lot of size and strength and he's good at brushing guys off."
Just as typically, Jankus said he doesn't care about the glory as long as the team wins.
"We get credit for different criteria each week for the extra things we do, where guys get noticed," he said. "If you ask anyone on the team, they know who the guys are who does the job effectively."
Another element that goes unnoticed by casual fans is faceoffs. Jankus was having a good year in that department early on — enough that his mother took notice.
"After the game, I talk to my mom," Jankus said, "and the first thing she says is, 'Wow.' So it's nice to get noticed for winning faceoffs. Possession is such a big part of the game."
Lately, Jankus says he has struggled with faceoffs, and as a result, Penner has been taking more of the draws and doing well. It's just another part of the team effort.
They will need it against Boston College, which goes four lines deep, just as Maine does, though in different ways. Boston College will have the last line change, so Jankus said his line is preparing for anyone it has to face, including the vaunted Eaves line. Though recently, in the two-game sweep by Maine against BC to end the regular season, Whitehead got Jankus' unit lined up against the smaller Shannon line. If they get the opportunity, it might happen a lot again.
This is what Maine will use to its advantage. And even though Jankus is just 5-9, he plays big, as they say.
"I've always been a physical player, so nothing has changed for me," Jankus said. "The other guys' height is bigger, but we all play the same style."
Right now, that style is a winning one.