Whose line is it anyway?

Nate Gotlieb

Teammates affectionately refer to the Minnesota WildâÄôs top line of Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette as âÄútwo blondes and a brunette.âÄù The Gophers number one line this past weekend had the components to snatch the nickname. Amanda Kessel is blonde, Sarah Erickson is blonde, and Jen Schoullis is a brunette, and they played just as well, tallying 11 points as a unit in a weekend sweep of Clarkson. In a game in which six players are allowed on the ice (a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards) and must be subbed out frequently, lines are a major part of hockey consciousness. Instead of substituting players out individually, coaches rotate in groups âÄî offensive players are grouped with a center and two forwards, and defensive lines are grouped in pairs âÄî in about one-minute stretches. A minute is only a benchmark, however, and the rotating game becomes a chess match between coaches. Sending a top line against a tired or weaker line can create quick scoring opportunities if orchestrated right. ThatâÄôs the headache head coach Brad Frost has to manage. He focuses on substituting offensive players while assistant coach Joel Johnson works with the defensive pairs. âÄúFor us, weâÄôre trying to balance who works well together, chemistry, speed and scoring ability,âÄù Frost said. âÄúUsually your top one or two lines you expect to score goals and also be very good defensively.âÄù While Frost hasnâÄôt set the lines for this season, he used a combination of experience and fresh talent for the first and second lines this past weekend in Clarkson. Kessel, the pre-season WCHA rookie of the year, along with Erickson, the teamâÄôs second leading returning scorer, and Schoullis made up made for a potent first line. Frost put freshmen Kelly Terry, Sarah Davis and senior Emily West on the second line, and they added another three points over the weekend. Many teams use the third line as the âÄúenergy lineâÄù âÄî giving the top two lines a breather with the capacity to stay on the ice for long chunks of time âÄî but Frost expects the Gophers third line to be just as competitive as the first two. âÄúOur third line, we expect to score goals as well,âÄù Frost said. âÄúTheyâÄôre a really veteran kind of group, so we rely on them to be strong in our own zone as well.âÄù The Gophers have another chance to fiddle with lines in an exhibition against the Minnesota Whitecaps on Friday night. The Whitecaps, the defending champs in the professional Western WomenâÄôs Hockey League, have a roster that includes five former Gophers and eight Olympians. One of their goalies, Manon Reahume, is the first female ever to appear in a NHL preseason game. The Gophers lost their only other game against the Whitecaps in 2006, 4-2. âÄúOur goal is to take these games very seriously, especially Friday night, even though itâÄôs quote unquote an exhibition game,âÄù Frost said. The Gophers also play Wayne State Saturday in their final tune up for conference play. They begin the WCHA season Oct. 15 against North Dakota.