For Jerry Pawloski, there's nothing neutral about the neutral zone. The space between the blue lines belongs to him.
Those not respecting his territorial claim find themselves face-first on the ice, as the Harvard men's hockey team skates off with puck.
The neutral zone becomes the twilight zone, and some of his victims see stars.
Others wow the fans by crunching the opposition into the boards. Pawloski can do that, too, but the freshman defenseman makes his reputation at mid-ice.
"He's a tough, tough competitor," Crimson Coach Bill Cleary says. "He's the best bodychecker we've had here in a long time. He checks at center ice and that's a real skill."
Pawloski's an anachronism, a throwback to the days before Bobby Orr when hard-nosed defense was every defenseman's top priority. At 5-ft., 11-in, 180 pounds, the Northville, Mich. native is certainly no goon. But he's proved big enough to bring what Cleary calls "the lost art of bodychecking" back to Bright Center.
"He's not running around trying to kill everyone," says Cleary. "He checks at center ice, and you don't get many of those at any level."
For his own part, Pawloski downplays the physical part of the game in favor of his greater responsibility to move the puck out of the Crimson zone.
"I like to play it tough," Pawloski says, "but at the same time, it's important to be able to move the puck.
"Playing defenseman you have to be able to do both."
With six assists to his credit. Pawloski is no slouch in the offensive zone. Nevertheless, he is wary of concentrating on his own offensive game over that of his opponents.
"I wouldn't want to increase offense at the expense of defense," says Pawloski. "A defenseman has to think of keeping the puck out of his own net."
Before coming to Harvard, Pawloski attended Northville High School (where he was a four year member of the National Honor Society), while playing hockey for the Compuware midget team, and later, the Great Lakes Juniors.
Pawloski resisted the recruiting efforts of Midwestern hockey powers Michigan. Michigan State and Michigan Tech in favor of coming East to attend Harvard. He has no regrets about his decision.
"I wanted to go to school away from home, and I was also aware of the hockey program at Harvard, which I thought highly of," he says.
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