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Published: Thursday, 4/13/2006

Grinding 'Kid Line' also scores for Storm

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Toledo Storm's most productive trio of forwards this season is a grind line that also has play-making attributes and an uncanny ability to finish.

Rookies Bracken Kearns and Chris Blight have been paired with veteran Mike James to form the "Kid Line." Kearns and Blight are Toledo's top two scorers and James is ranked seventh.

"I don't know where it came from, but it definitely has stuck," Kearns said. "We're not that young. Two of us are first-year guys and 'Jamer' plays like a rookie. We've meshed really well."

The line has been responsible for seven game-winning goals in the last 21 games to help the Storm claim the ECHL North Division title. The Kid Line was on the ice for both of Toledo's goals in regulation in the clinching win over Johnstown last Friday. It will be called upon to continue playing beyond its years when Toledo opens the Kelly Cup playoffs tomorrow night against the Chiefs at 7:35 p.m. at the Sports Arena.

Kearns has centered the Kid Line since coach Nick Vitucci put it together in December. Kearns has scored a team-high 33 goals and totaled 36 assists. He has collected nearly a point a game with 69 in 71 games.

"Bracken does everything," Blight said. "He is a complete player. He can skate, hit, shoot and pass. He has great vision. He's the perfect centerman to have. He always knows what plays to make."

Blight has anchored the right wing, scoring 29 goals along with 32 assists. James, a left winger, has tallied 43 points (14 goals and 29 assists) in 69 games.

"It's a grind line, but they bring energy and the ability to make special things happen out there," Vitucci said. "They've been like peas and carrots."

James said the line tries to keep things simple, chipping pucks in deep. The forwards don't try to beat defenders one-on-one and they focus on cycling pucks.

"We bring it to the net and score goals off of mistakes," James said. "Everything seems to be working perfectly for us."

James, who is playing in his third season in the ECHL, is the veteran of the Kid Line. But James and Kearns are 24 years old and Blight is 23.

"I've played a few more years. But I don't look at them as rookies," James said. "We all talk about things. I've never had a line that has been this successful. They are unbelievable to play with. They're fast and really skilled. We're just clicking, I can't explain it."

Blight said the line relies on grinding in the corners and "doing the things that some guys don't like doing.

"We are not overly skilled," Blight said. "We make it up with hard work."

In fact, James had been known as a "rat" for his ability to stir things up in Johnstown.

"My first two years, I was considered to be a rat. I ran around like an idiot and tried to [upset] guys," he said.

"But [assistant coach Stan Drulia] told me to go out and relax and not think of myself as a rat."

Blight said James is all energy, is always in the opposition's face and gets under the other team's skin.

"I think he does it better than anyone in the league. I'm sure everyone who doesn't play with him, hates him," Blight said. "But people don't give him credit for the skill he has. He has an incredible shot. He's also a great passer and always makes the right plays. He's a high-end skill guy."

Vitucci said Blight has speed, a powerful shot and intensity. He said Kearns is the total package with swiftness, shooting ability, passion and a smart hockey mind.

"I complement them very well," Kearns said. "I try to move the puck and try to get it in the opposition's zone and occasionally I'll put the puck in the net."

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6110.



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