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.
Pawloski has not found the transition to Harvard difficult, despite the fact that his family and most of his friends remain in the Midwest.
"I enjoy being here," Pawloski says. "I've made a lot of good friends. Everybody's really close on the hockey team."
Harvard has been fortunate in the way that the seven freshmen on this year's club have been able to step in at key roles and in key situations.
Pawloski credits the veterans on the team with making the transition to college life and a big-time college hockey schedule easier for all the freshman.
"The upperclassmen are really a bunch of good guys. They've helped us out around campus, showing us where everything was, even giving us advice on classes and studying."
Though Harvard's fortunes may have fluctuated over the latter half of the season, Pawloski's play has been steady throughout.
As the season went on, Cleary has increased the freshman's playing time and is not afraid to play him in shorthanded situations.
"He's been a steady performer all year. He's played exceptional," says Cleary. "He's not flashy, but he's consistent day in and day out."
Many of Pawloski's teammates share their coach's view. As backup goaltender to Grant Blair, freshman John Devin has a vested interest in the Crimson's defensive play.
"He's so steady that you hardly notice him unless he makes a mistake, which he rarely does," Devin says.
"He really grows on you," Cleary adds.
"Jerry's a quiet leader on and off the ice for us," adds Devin.
Pawloski has taken more initiative in carrying the puck up ice, often leading sorties into the opponents' zones. His increased offense has in no way detracted from his physical style of play however.
"Jerry usually sets the tempo of every game by going out and rocking some kid early," Devin says. "It gets him in the game, and it gets the whole team in the game."
There's nothing neutral about that