It’s the kind of subject you could debate for hours and still come back to the original question.
It’s a little like the old riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Is Jeff Panzer a product of strong linemates and a powerful team? Or is a strong North Dakota top line and a powerful Fighting Sioux team a product of Jeff Panzer?
For some, it doesn’t matter.
“Jeff’s the best player in the country. Put it that way,” said North Dakota coach Dean Blais, clearly favoring the side that says Panzer drives the Sioux.
While the end result often doesn’t change either way, it’s a perplexing question that many coaches haven’t been able to solve.
And it’s easy to make a case for the Panzer-the-leader theory or the Panzer-the-follower theory.
— Jeff Panzer
Panzer, himself, seems to follow the belief that he’s a product of his linemates’ production. He’s often given the credit for his fantastic season to Ryan Bayda and Bryan Lundbohm.
Those who think Panzer is a product of the North Dakota system argue that Panzer wouldn’t have 81 points if he didn’t have highly talented linemates.
Lundbohm, with 32 goals, has exhibited a pure goalscorer’s touch this season, making the most of the chances Panzer and others have provided him.
It’s been much of the same for Bayda, who has done a lot of the dirty work for the line, but still notched 58 points.
If the line makes the man, it’s no surprise Panzer has been so successful this season. Fifty-five of his 81 points have come on assists, most of them on goals by either Lundbohm or Bayda.
Then again, it might be a bit naive to think the national scoring leader got that way solely because of the players with whom he’s matched.
Panzer assisted on 21 of Lundbohm’s 32 goals. He has figured into the scoring in 45 percent of the Sioux’s goals.
The true answer to the riddle probably lies somewhere in the middle of both theories, but those close to Panzer say the Grand Forks, N.D., native is the ringleader.
“I think he makes people around him better, and I’ve seen it,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, who was a Sioux assistant in Panzer’s first three collegiate seasons.
“He has that ability to score, but, as evidenced by his assists, he makes plays. Case in point, look at the game against CC, where he ended up with four assists. He just creates so much because of his quickness.”
Panzer assisted on all four of his team’s goals in the national quarterfinal game against Colorado College. It was the fourth game this season the senior Hobey Baker finalist has figured into the scoring on all the Sioux’s goals.
Blais said that should be enough to clearly show that Panzer is the heart and soul of the Sioux.
“Someone has to look at our scores and the games that he’s got points in and realize that he’s the guy that carries our team,” Blais said. “A good player can do that, and Jeff’s certainly done it for us.”
Like most combinations, the UND top line would be little without a connection between its members. Over the season, Panzer, Lundbohm and Bayda have built a level of communication at which they often don’t need verbal cues.
After a while, Panzer said, each knows what the other two are going to do in any given situation.
“You get a chemistry. You know what they’re going to do,” Panzer said. “Not exactly, sometimes, but you have a clue where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do. We’re all working together to do the same thing, and that’s what kind of nice. You don’t have one guy that’s trying to be something he can’t be. That’s when you’re successful, when you can use each other.”
The members of the Panzer line have drawn from each other to get the Sioux in position to defend their national championship.
Whether Panzer is the catalyst, the Sioux’s top line is the biggest reason for that.
“They’re very unselfish,” Sandelin said. “They’re very team-oriented and line-oriented. I don’t think they really care who gets what.
“The scary thing is that when they want to do it, they can do it.”