Carolina boasts five players – four defensemen and one forward – on NCAA teams, and four are playing for ranked teams battling for postseason berths in four different conferences.
Sophomore defenseman Jamie McBain is manning the blueline for perennial college powerhouse Wisconsin. For the second straight season, however, the Badgers are struggling to stay above. 500. But that hasn’t kept McBain from impressing in his second season in Madison.
McBain, a second-round pick by the Canes in 2006, was chosen to play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships for the second straight year. After going pointless in seven games last year, McBain had one assist in six games this year. But the United States fell short of their second straight World Juniors bronze, losing to Russia
4-2 for the medal.
At Wisconsin, despite a roster full of NHL prospects (Kyle Turris, Blake Geoffrion and Ryan McDonagh, to name a few), the 17th-ranked Badgers are only 9-10-3 through 22 games and 5-8-1 in 14 WCHA games. McBain missed four games while at the WJCs, playing 18 games and notching two goals – both on the power play – and nine assists. He has one of the top plus/minus ratings on the team at plus-7 and only 10 penalty minutes. Since returning from the World Juniors, McBain notched an assist in a Jan. 11 loss to Denver and was plus-3 the next day in a win against the Pioneers.
McBain has an NHL frame (6’2, 197 pounds) and intriguing offensive potential from the back end. He is the top-rated Carolina defensive prospect by Hockey’s Future.
Carolina’s 2005 seventh-round selection Kyle Lawson is having another solid season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Lawson has followed up his rookie season in South Bend – when he was named to the CCHA all-rookie team – by nearly matching his scoring output from last year through two-thirds of the 2007-08 campaign.
Through 26 games, Lawson has three goals and 12 assists and is among the Irish’s team leaders in plus/minus at plus-11. In mid-November, Lawson was named CCHA defenseman of the week after notching two assists in a home-and-home sweep of Western Michigan. Lawson and the Notre Dame defense held the Broncos allowed two goals on only 23 shots total in the two-game set.
Lawson and the Irish are 18-7-1 and 11-4-1 in the CCHA after winning the conference last year, good for third behind the nation’s top two teams, Michigan and Miami. Notre Dame is ranked No. 8 in the country in the USCHO poll Jan. 14.
The 5’11, 207-pound blueliner has played on the point of the power play for the Irish this season. Like McBain, he’s seen as having a chance to contribute offensively at the next level.
In 2006, Carolina selected Swiss-born defenseman Justin Krueger in the seventh round. While many saw the selection as a thank you to Krueger’s father – Ralph Krieger is a European scout for the Canes – the younger Krueger has proven to be worth the pick.
Krueger has an NHL body (6’2, 205 pounds) and hockey bloodlines. In a season and a half at Cornell, he has already established himself on the Big Red blueline. Krueger was one of four freshman to play in all 31 games last year, finishing with one goal and five assists and a plus-4 rating in his rookie year. Krueger has two goals and two assists in 14 games for Cornell this season, missing one game because he was ejected for fighting against Dartmouth in November, thus earning a one-game suspension. But even though he’s still a relative newcomer to college hockey, Krueger is already looked to as a
steadying force on the Big Red’s defense corps.
Cornell is 7-6-2 on the season and 5-3 in ECAC, allowing a league-low 14 goals in eight conference games and only 33 goals in all 15 games this season.
Boston College defenseman Tim Kunes is in his third season with the Golden Eagles. Through 19 games, Kunes has three assists, including two in the past three games. A fifth-round pick in 2005 by Carolina, Kunes was in and out of the lineup in his first two seasons on Chestnut Hill, but has played in all but one game this year.
The Golden Eagles are 10-5-5 overall and 6-3-4 in Hockey East, and were ranked 11th in the Jan. 14 USCHO poll.
Kunes (6’0, 185 pounds) is a solid skater who has the skill set to contribute at both ends of the ice.
Clarkson senior captain Nick Dodge is the only college forward prospect in the Carolina system. Dodge led the Golden Knights to an ECAC title and No.-1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. But a first- round 1-0 upset in the tournament opener to UMass has motivated Dodge and the Golden Knights to improve on their 2006-07 season.
"That loss to UMass was definitely disappointing and definitely stung," Dodge told Hockey’s Future in November. "We just couldn’t score."
Last year, Dodge was a second-team All-American, finishing the season with 18 goals and 21 assists in 36 games. While his numbers are down in comparison this year (seven goals and eight assists through 20 games), Dodge has again proven to be one of the top all-around players in college hockey.
Dodge plays in all situations for the Golden Knights, but will probably make his way into the pros due to his polished defense, faceoff acumen and penalty killing. His scoring ability is also an asset – illustrated by his consistent point totals while at Clarkson
and ability to score on the penalty kill (three shorthanded goals this year).
"I just want to make myself a solid overall player," Dodge said. "I like playing both ends of the rink. I’m trying to make myself a more complete player."
The Golden Knights (12-7-1) are ranked No. 12 in the latest USCHO poll and are 7-3 in the ECAC, chasing Princeton and Quinnipiac for top spot in the conference.
Dodge was nominated for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award in December, which honors student-athletes that pursue their academic and athletic goals by utilizing all of their athletic eligibility.
"I’m definitely happy with how things panned out here (in college)," Dodge said in November prior to his candidacy for the CLASS award. "To be able to come out here and go to a great school and get a great degree. It’s a great insurance policy. … The competition in the NCAA is top notch and they take care of you really well in terms of
scholarships and facilities."
Dodge and Clarkson are surely most interested in making good on last season’s early NCAA exit and advancing deep into the single- elimination tournament.
"One game, it’s a neutral site and anything can happen."