Third line gives 1st rate production

first_imgBen Grotting has benefitted recently from the addition of Aaron Bendickson to the Badgers\’ third line.[/media-credit]Men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves claims his team doesn’t have a true top line. Nor do the Badgers have a real fourth line. Rather, anyone can step in on any given night and contribute.But regardless of where Wisconsin’s third line of John Mitchell, Aaron Bendickson and Ben Grotting falls in the pecking order, the unit seems to be clicking.“Is that our third line or our second line?” Eaves joked when asked about the trio.In a 6-3 win against Alaska Anchorage, the line contributed with four points — with Bendickson netting a goal, Mitchell adding an assist and Grotting picking up one of each. The following weekend against Colorado College, the three finished with six points.Call them the third line if you want, but they’ve been putting up first line numbers.“It says that we’re going to be tough to play against,” Mitchell said of his line’s production.“I think we as a team have a lot of depth,” Bendickson added. “We can put out all of our lines versus any line in the league a lot of times.”Bendickson couldn’t point to just one thing that’s led to the recent upswing for the trio. Instead, he feels all the pieces have been falling into place.“We’re finding each other; we’re getting other places; we’re supporting each other well,” Bendickson said. “I think it’s all those things combined that’s making a difference.”Mitchell and Grotting played most of the 2007-08 season on the same line, developing a chemistry that has carried over into this year.“John and I are so familiar with each other,” Grotting said. “We’ve been going out there and doing the things we do well. He and I are just making sure we keep it simple, get the puck deep.”It wasn’t until recently, however, that Bendickson joined the pairing. For most of the season, sophomore Sean Dolan had been centering the third line. But the coaching staff decided to mix things up in order to spark production in both Dolan and Bendickson.“I think that, to be honest with you, Sean was struggling a little bit,” Eaves said. “We needed to make a change and try to get him going a little bit and it opened up the opportunity for [Bendickson], and he’s taken advantage of it.”While Dolan may have been struggling, scoring wasn’t exactly coming easily for Bendickson, who tallied an assist playing on the “top” line in UW’s season opener against Boston College but then went 16 games without recording a point. Since playing with Mitchell and Grotting, however, he’s scored a pair of goals — in two consecutive games — and added an assist in the past two weekends.“I think with the success has come confidence,” Eaves said of Bendickson. “That’s a big thing for any athlete, and it’s no different for [Aaron]. I think the confidence has allowed him to stay on top of his game and be more consistent with that high level of play.”In moving up to the third line, the smaller, quicker Bendickson has brought an element not seen in Mitchell or Grotting’s games.“What Aaron’s brought is when we get the puck in, he’s able to shift in and out of small areas,” Grotting said. “He’s really good with the puck. He’s able to find us in the offensive zone, and John’s able to put the puck in the net. We’ve been having a lot of success.”For both Bendickson and Grotting, playing on the same line as the team’s leading goal scorer hasn’t hurt. Mitchell has found the net 11 times on the season, tied with Badger captain Blake Geoffrion for tops on the team.Three of Mitchell’s goals have come since Bendickson joined the line in the second game of the Northern Michigan series. He’s also picked up five assists in that five-game span.“He’s finding a way to find the back of the net, and that’s a good thing,” Bendickson said of Mitchell. “He’s putting the puck away. What else can you say? He’s getting the job done.”While Mitchell sits at the top of the scoring sheet after the halfway mark of the season, it wasn’t something he set out to do at the start of the year.“My personal goal was to do as much as possible to help this team. It wasn’t to lead the team in goals,” said Mitchell, who scored eight goals last season. “I do have three or four goals off my hip or off my shin pad, but it’s going to the net, making it difficult on the goalies. These goalies these days are so good. It’s hard to beat them clearly. We need everyone going to the net.”But with a player like the 6-foot-5 Mitchell scoring as often as he has, the Badgers have proven yet again that balance and depth is their strong suit.“It is one of our strengths, and we have to play to that strength,” Eaves said. “We feel like we could play any of our lines against the other team’s top lines because of the way we play without the puck. If we could play well without the puck and chip in offensively, then we’re pretty solid.”With 10 games left in the season, UW’s lineups could shift between now and the end of the year. But will Bendickson, Grotting and Mitchell stay together on what has become a productive Badger line?“As long as they keep playing well,” Eaves said. “We’re not that dumb.”last_img

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