Avalanche NCAA prospects update

By DJ Powers

The Colorado Avalanche have ten prospects currently playing in the NCAA. The group consists of six forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. Three play for Boston University, while three others play for the University of Minnesota. One each play for Miami University, the University of Michigan, the University of North Dakota and The Ohio State University.

Billy Sauer, G

Junior, University of Michigan

For the University of Michigan Wolverines, it has been a season to remember and showing no signs of slowing down. A big reason behind the Wolverines success is the maturity and consistency of Sauer’s play in goal. The Walworth, NY native ranks in the top five in the nation in most of the goaltending categories. With a 23-4-3 record, Sauer has the best record in the nation coming into the weekend and leads the nation with a .817 winning percentage. His .925 save percentage currently ranks ninth, while his 1.96 goals against average ranks fifth.

Sauer’s most memorable performance to date came back in late December in the Great Lakes Invitational tournament. In the two-game series, he made a combined 87 saves on 87 shots, including a career-high 50 against Providence College in the semi-final game, in backstopping Michigan to their 12th GLI championship and earning tournament MVP honors.

Sauer has earned four CCHA Goaltender of the Week honors, with the most recent coming back on Jan. 2. He was also named the CCHA Player of the Month for December after posting a perfect 3-0-0 record with a 0.59 goals against average and a .983 save percentage during the month.

Colby Cohen, D

Freshman, Boston University

One of the problems that plagued Boston University last season was their lack of offensive production. That isn’t the case this season due in part to the contributions from their blueline. Of Boston University’s 275 points going into last weekend, 70 (25%) came from their defensemen, including rookie Cohen.

As good as Cohen was in the first half of the season, he has been even better in the second half. Other than missing two games in early December due to a finger injury, Cohen hasn’t missed a beat with Boston University. He ranks behind current defensive partner and fellow Avalanche prospect Kevin Shattenkirk in rookie defensemen scoring with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists).  Cohen recently came off a six-game point streak where he posted seven points (two goals, five assists) in that span. His superb puck-moving skills along with great vision and hockey sense have been a big reason behind the Terriers’ offensive surge from their defensive corps this season. One notion that Cohen looks to be gradually putting to rest is that he suffers from work ethic issues.

Derek Peltier, D

Senior, University of Minnesota
Drafted in 2004, Sixth Round, 184th overall

As the Golden Gophers team captain, Peltier has had the daunting task of leading a Minnesota team that has seen their share of struggles this season. An area where Minnesota’s weakness has been exposed this season is the lack of a top-end offensive defenseman. While Peltier has done an admirable job in helping to fill the huge hole left by Alex Goligoski, it is clearly not where his strength lies. He has, however, shown progress in being more involved offensively, particularly on the power play, and shooting more often. Perhaps Peltier’s greatest contribution to the Golden Gophers this season has been his strong leadership and guidance, which have provided the much-needed stability to Minnesota’s very youthful blueline.

Peltier has posted 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) playing in all 34 games thus far. His first goal on the season, a game-winner, came on Jan. 5 versus Wayne State and his second was this past weekend.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D

Freshman, Boston University

He was one of the most highly-touted defensemen coming into college hockey this season and Shattenkirk hasn’t disappointed. The rookie rearguard currently ranks first on the Terriers roster in defensemen scoring with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists). He earned his first Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor on Feb. 11.

The first half of the season proved to be a challenge for the New Rochelle, NY native particularly where defensive zone play was concerned. A change in the team’s defensive strategy after the Christmas break proved to be particularly beneficial to Shattenkirk. His defensive game vastly improved, mainly due to the fact that it played to two of his best attributes – his mobility and transitioning. And as Shattenkirk adds more physical strength, those attributes will help to make him an even more effective and dominant defensive player.

Michael Carman, C

Sophomore, University of Minnesota
Drafted in 2006, Third Round, 81st overall

After sitting the first half of the season due to being academically ineligible, Carman began his sophomore campaign playing with Team USA at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic, before rejoining the Golden Gophers on Jan. 11. During the WJC, Carman posted two goals and an assist for Team USA, including the game-winner in the crucial game versus Russia that propelled the Americans into the WJC semi-finals.

Since rejoining the Golden Gophers, Carman has posted four points (three goals, three assists) in 12 games. Carman’s return to the Minnesota lineup couldn’t have come at a better time with Ryan Stoa out for the season and Kyle Okposo bolting for the New York Islanders. His great puck-moving skills and speed are two assets that certainly help a goal-starved Minnesota team. Unfortunately, goals have been hard to come by for Carman, but it isn’t due to a lack of trying. Once Carman is able to find his scoring touch again, the rest of his game will eventually fall into place as well.

Tom Fritsche, LW

Senior, The Ohio State University

There was much anticipation this season about how much offense Fritsche would generate returning for his first full year since battling ulcerative colitis that forced him to miss the first half of last season. While Fritsche has been able to provide some strong leadership and offensive contributions for his very young Buckeyes team, it is also obvious that he still working to regain the form that had made him one of the top players in the nation prior to the illness. The most notable area is his overall strength. Some are predicting that it could be another several months before he fully regains it.

One area where Fritsche has stood out for Ohio State this season has been in penalty-killing situations. Of his five goals, two have come shorthanded. Overall he has 18 points in 34 games. 

Brad Malone, RW

Freshman, University of North Dakota

Malone’s physical presence is a perfect match to the University of North Dakota’s intimidating style, so it should come as no surprise to see him fit in extremely well. The Miramichi, New Brunswick native has played in 22 games this season, posting two points (a goal and an assist). He posted his first collegiate point (an assist) on Oct. 13 in the season opening U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game versus defending national champion Michigan State. His first and only goal to date came on Dec. 7 versus archrival Minnesota. He missed eight games earlier in the season due to injuries.

Malone’s ultra-aggressive style and fiercely competitive nature are two attributes that have served him well at North Dakota. He has also shown glimpses of what further development and maturity will bring to his team in the future, most notably increased offensive production. But the area that needs the most attention right now is his skating. While Malone gets around the rink pretty well, his lack of quickness in his acceleration hinders his transition game as well as his ability to effectively jump into developing plays on a consistent basis.

Justin Mercier, C

Junior, Miami University
Drafted in 2004.  Fourth round, 111th overall

When people talk about the Miami RedHawks this season, the two names that usually come to mind first are Ryan Jones and Jeff Zatkoff. But one player that deserves a mention right along with Jones and Zatkoff is junior centerman Justin Mercier. Arguably the RedHawks most improved player, Mercier has been showing remarkable consistency and ability to score in all types of situations this season. He is averaging over a point per game this season and has posted multiple points in eight games. Mercier currently ranks second on the team in scoring with 34 points (23 goals, 13 assists). Of his 23 goals, 13 have come on special teams – 10 on the power play and three shorthanded. His +24 ranks fourth on the team.  His six game-winning goals have him tied for second in the nation.

Mercier’s most memorable performance came on Oct. 19 and 21 versus Ohio State. In that series, he posted four points (three goals, one assist) to help guide the RedHawks to a sweep of the Buckeyes. The performance also earned Mercier is lone CCHA Player of the Week honor.

Ryan Stoa, C

Junior, University of Minnesota
Drafted in 2005, Second Round, 34th overall

A promising start to what was shaping up to be an outstanding year for the junior power forward came to an abrupt halt when a knee injury he suffered in just the second game into the regular season ended his season. The injury came in the first period of the Icebreaker Tournament championship game versus Michigan on Oct. 13. Stoa underwent successful knee surgery in November. He has begun skating once again and while there has been some talk of Stoa possibly returning this season, the chances of it actually happening are slim at best. Stoa is expected to be back at the University of Minnesota in the fall.

Stoa got off to a terrific start to the season when he posted Minnesota’s first goal of the season and added an assist to help guide the Golden Gophers to a 4-3 win over RPI in the season-opening Icebreaker Tournament semi-finals on Oct. 12.

Brandon Yip, RW

Junior, Boston University

Coming off of an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, Yip’s junior year got off to slow start at Boston University this season. In the first month, he posted just one point (an assist). In the month of November, Yip looked to be back on track again. That was until a violation of team rules suspended him and three of teammates in December. Despite a mid-January slump, Yip has played remarkably well for Boston University in the second half and is playing some of his best hockey right now. The Maple Ridge, BC native enjoyed his best performance of the season on Feb. 8 when he posted a season-high four points (one goal, three assists) in leading the Terriers to a 6-2 win at UMass-Lowell. To date, Yip has posted 18 points (10 goals, eight assists).

Two of the more notable improvements that Yip has shown this season are in his defensive game and willingness to play the body more often. Though Yip has always possessed an aggressive style, the added physicality and maturation on the defensive side have made him a more well-rounded player that is even tougher to defend against.