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Fourth line pulls their weight on the ice

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The trio of Garrett Regan, Justin White and Ryan Guentzel may be listed as Notre Dame’s fourth line, but Irish coach Jeff Jackson is sick of hearing about it – especially after Regan earned CCHA Player of the Week honors after scoring three goals in two 4-1 wins over the weekend while his linemates combined for five assists.

“Everybody keeps on saying it, but I don’t look at them as being our fourth line,” Jackson said. “You’ve got two seniors [Regan and White] that have both been pretty effective players for us over the first three years and a real good sophomore [Guentzel] on that line. I think our lines are fairly balanced – if you look at our scoring right now, it’s hard to really say we have a fourth line.”

The line got off to a hot start Friday at No. 2 Boston College, as White and Guentzel assisted on Regan’s first goal just four minutes into the game.

Regan put the now-No. 9 Irish (6-3-0, 2-2-0-0 CCHA) ahead 1-0 late in the first the next night at Providence on a rebound off a White shot. He made it 2-0 midway through the second when White knocked Guentzel’s shot out of the air and deflected it to Regan, who put it home.

“Coach told us we were going to need some big shifts right away against BC so he’d have confidence to let us keep going,” White said. “We had a couple good shifts right off the bat and were just trying to focus on little things, getting opportunities when we could. We were fortunate enough for Garrett to get a goal there to give the team a boost and give us as a line a boost, too.”

The three linemates have developed a clear chemistry, but it hasn’t happened just in Notre Dame’s first eight games. Regan and White had played together at times in the past, both in games and practice over the past three years, and Guentzel and White played on the same line for much of last year.

Regan and Guentzel go way back, though – the two were linemates at Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, Minn., when Regan was a senior and Guentzel a sophomore.

“[Guentzel’s] a great passer,” Regan said. “Anyone is lucky to play with him, being on the receiving end of his passes. We knew each other coming in and have grown to be even better friends, so it’s been fun to play with him.”

Guentzel added: “He was one of the top hockey players in Minnesota at the time, so just playing with him then was a big boost to my confidence, and it was an honor … It’s nice that we continue that right now.”

And the trio’s individual strengths have helped to form one cohesive unit.

“Playing with those guys is great because I feel we each bring something different,” said White, who is known for his ability to control the puck. “Garrett’s got a lot of speed and really pushes the defense back, and Guentzel’s got really good vision.”

While scoring outbursts like last weekend’s might be rare, Regan said he and his linemates have come to understand and appreciate their roles on the ice.

“The fourth line is always looked on to be an energy line,” Regan said. “We’re going to be looked on to get out there and hit and get down and cycle. That’s the biggest thing – if you can grind out their ‘D’ and get a couple chances here and there, you’re doing your job as the fourth line.”

The line’s emergence will afford Notre Dame’s top players additional rest and provide different looks for opponents to try to handle, Jackson said.

“Our lines are all a little bit different, and that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “It’s good to have different styles of lines – maybe a grind line, a transition or speed line, and a little bit of a cycle line that can protect the puck and play really good down low offensively … It allows us to be a four-line team, which is our strength.”

Not all teams are as deep as the Irish, though, and many squads use their fourth lines sparingly, if at all. The fact that the threesome has had to compete for playing time has played a part in their development and improvement as a line, Guentzel said.

“When we get out there, we’ve just got to do the best we can,” he said. “I know sometimes our shifts might be limited, but if we’re given the opportunity to play, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

And they did just that over the weekend, Jackson said.

“There’s no question, when they’re playing the way they were playing, I have the confidence to use them against a team’s first or second or third line,” he said. “And I thought they did a great job … They created a lot of energy for us and changed the momentum of the game twice on the weekend.”