CCM Line breaks through at a critical moment for Michigan

Michigan celebrates its overtime victory over Notre Dame (photo: Shawn Conkle).

CINCINNATI — It seems like every great line at any level of hockey has a dynamite nickname.

The Detroit Red Wings had the “Grind Line” in the 1990s. The Miracle on Ice squad utilized the “Coneheads.” More recently, the St. Louis Blues employed the “SOB” line, which highlighted the first letters in the last names of Jaden Schwartz, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes.

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And this year, at the college level, it seems the Michigan Wolverines have found an acronym that’s working wonders for them.

The CCM Line — an amalgamation of Big Ten player of the year Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte that references the storied equipment-making company, has been a nightmare for opposing squads this season.

Connor and Motte provide a one-two scoring punch that leads the nation, ranking first and second in goals scored with 35 and 32, respectively. Compher was tops in the NCAA with 46 assists heading into the weekend, but it was No. 47 — his blind pass in overtime in a 3-2 victory over Notre Dame on Friday — that was the biggest of the year.

For most of Saturday evening, Notre Dame had the CCM boys locked down. The trio managed just three shots through the first 40 minutes — all from the stick of Motte — and it seemed as if they would be held scoreless for the first time since Nov. 28 versus Dartmouth.

But as the third period progressed, each member started finding space, and over a 20-something-minute span they had reached double digits in the shot count. The 11th one proved the defining strike.

“Credit to them, they’re a phenomenal line,” Notre Dame’s Sam Herr said. “It was a team effort in shutting them down … but just one lapse against those guys and you’re going to pay for it, and we did tonight.”

The two-on-two rush seemed innocent enough at first. Dennis Gilbert and Justin Wade, the pair of Irish defenders that had stymied the CCM Line for most of the night, pushed Connor to the outside. He found Compher on the near post, and Gilbert and Wade turned to close him off from the goalmouth.

But they missed Motte, who trailed the play and filled the seam. Without looking in his direction, Compher hit Motte with a no-look pass, and moments later the Wolverines faithful erupted from the stands.

Motte hesitated to describe the pass as something equating to lucky.

“With our chemistry at this point of the year, [Compher] has a feeling for where I or Connor is going to be, so I wouldn’t call it a blind pass,” Motte said. “It’s a great play by him.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson offered a similar response as to why the line clicked so well in the latter portion of the contest.

“He kind of knows where Kyle is going to be or where Tyler is going to be,” Berenson said. “It’s amazing some of the plays they made. We’re not surprised.”

Plays like the one described above have become commonplace for the CCM Line. Connor, Compher and Motte have combined for 53 multi-point games this season. All three of them have been held off the score sheet in the same game only twice this season, a tie and a loss.

They’re the driving force behind Michigan’s NCAA-best offense, and they’ve supplied ammunition to argue they’re the best line in college hockey time and time again this season.

The freshman and two juniors are now in single-elimination territory, however. All the points in the world won’t matter if they don’t contribute the full 200 feet. In Saturday’s Midwest Regional championship game, Michigan faces an especially stringent North Dakota squad — a group whose 1.85 goals against per game ranks third in the country.

Personal accolades are great. Nicknames are fun, too. But the CCM Line couldn’t care less what you call them; the only term these three Wolverines players want to identify with come April is “champion.”