The opening month of the 2014-15 NCAA hockey season featured a number of excellent prospect performances as well as a few surprises. Hockey’s Future takes a look back at the month of October around the college hockey world. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Nov. 10th.
Season-opening tournaments roundup
Five tournaments kicked off the season in October, including the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge that runs through the end of November. Three of the five tournaments took place on the weekend of Oct. 10-12.
In South Bend, IN, the annual Icebreaker Tournament got things started with Notre Dame hosting Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and RPI.
Minnesota won the tournament for the second consecutive year, defeating Minnesota-Duluth and RPI respectively. Junior Adam Wilcox (TBL) was named the tournament’s MVP after a 22-shot shutout performance in the championship game versus RPI. Sophomore Hudson Fasching (BUF) joined Wilcox on the All-Tournament team after posting four points (two goals, two assists) in the tournament.
Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Dominic Toninato (TOR) was also named to the All-Tournament team after posting four points (three goals, one assist) in the Bulldogs’ third-place finish. RPI redshirted junior Jason Kasdorf (WPG) posted his first win in nearly two years after stopping 31 of Notre Dame’s 33 shots in the Engineers’ semi-final game.
Two series opened this season’s Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge.
The first was between newest Hockey East member Connecticut facing off against Penn State. The two teams would split the series set. In the first game, both teams skated to a 2-2 tie before heading to a shootout. The Huskies would win it 2-1 in the third round. Officially, the game goes down as a tie. In the second game on Oct. 11th, Penn State roared back to post a 7-1 victory. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Segalla (PIT) picked up an assist on Connecticut’s lone goal.
The second series to get underway in the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge took place in Columbus, OH where Ohio State hosted Providence College.
Like the first series, the Buckeyes and the Friars split the weekend with each posting wins in overtime. Providence College freshman Brian Pinho (WSH) notched his first two collegiate goals, one in each game. The second game, which ended in a 2-1 Friars win, featured excellent goaltending performances by Providence junior Jon Gillies (CGY) and Ohio State sophomore Matt Tomkins (CHI).
The following weekend (Oct. 17-18) saw two more series get underway in the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge.
The first was Michigan State hosting UMass. The two teams split this series. The Spartans took the first game, while the Minutemen took the second. Michigan State junior Matt DeBlouw (CGY) netted the game-winner. It was his first goal since March of 2013. Sophomore Mackenzie MacEachern (STL) added a goal and two assists for the Spartans, as well.
The second series to get underway that same weekend took place at Yost Ice Arena, with Michigan hosting New Hampshire. And like the rest of the series in the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge, this series also ended in a split for the two teams.
New Hampshire freshman Shane Eiserman (OTT) posted his first collegiate goal in the first game, which was also the game-winner. Junior defenseman Brett Pesce (CAR) also added a goal and an assist for the Wildcats. Michigan sophomore Zach Nagelvoort (EDM) stopped 30 of New Hampshire’s 35 shots in the losing cause. Wolverines’ sophomore defenseman Michael Downing (FLA) posted one of Michigan’s two goals in the second game.
Michigan along with Michigan State would continue play in the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge the following weekend on Oct. 24-25 versus Boston University and UMass-Lowell.
The Wolverines earned a weekend split with an 8-4 win over UMass-Lowell in the first game and a 4-2 loss to Boston University in the second game. Senior Zach Hyman (FLA) posted his first collegiate hat trick in the game against the River Hawks. Hyman’s hat trick was part of his five-point game, with all three goals coming in the second period.
Meanwhile, Michigan State suffered one-goal losses to Boston University and UMass-Lowell in the weekend set. Senior defenseman R.J. Boyd (FLA) posted the Spartans’ lone goal on the weekend in the second game versus the River Hawks. It was Boyd’s first goal since December of 2013.
Boston University swept the weekend series with Michigan and Michigan State, respectively. Junior defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) posted an assist on the Terriers’ lone goal in the first game versus the Spartans while fellow junior Danny O’Regan (SJS) added a pair of assists in the second game versus the Wolverines.
Up in Anchorage, AK, the 24th annual Kendall Hockey Classic took place on Oct. 10-11. Alaska-Anchorage played host to Maine, Wisconsin and intrastate rival Alaska this year.
Although Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage finished with two wins apiece, Alaska won the tournament by virtue of the goals-against tiebreaker. Nanooks sophomore goaltender Davis Jones was named the tournament’s MVP after stellar performances in wins over Wisconsin and Maine, respectively. Junior defenseman Colton Parayko (STL) joined his teammate on the All-Tournament team with a three-point (two goals, one assist) outing that included netting the game-winner in Alaska’s semi-final game versus Wisconsin.
The next tournament to get underway on Oct. 17-18 also took place up in Alaska, but this time in Fairbanks with the Brice Alaska Gold Rush. Alaska welcomed Alaska-Anchorage, Air Force and Penn State to this year’s tournament.
The host team won the tournament for the third consecutive year after defeating Air Force and Penn State, respectively. Nanooks freshman Austin Vieth was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after posting a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the second game versus Penn State. Nittany Lions senior Max Gardiner (STL) posted his first goal in nearly 18 months in the same game.
The final tournament to get underway was the Liberty Hockey Invitational that took place on Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. This year’s field featured Ivy League rivals Yale and Princeton, along with Hockey East foes Connecticut and Merrimack.
Yale would claim the tournament title after defeating Princeton in the shootout in the semi-final game and edging Connecticut in the championship game. Yale sophomore Alex Lyon was named the tournament’s MVP after a terrific performance, stopping a combined 67 shots to lead the Bulldogs. Sophomore John Hayden (CHI), who posted three points (one goal, two assists), joined Lyon on the All-Tournament team.
Eichel living up to expectations
Top 2015 NHL Draft prospect Jack Eichel was the most highly anticipated player to make his collegiate debut this season, and he has more than lived up to expectations. The North Chelmsford, MA native made his presence known in Boston University’s lineup right from the start. In the Terriers’ season-opening 8-1 rout of UMass back on Oct. 10th, Eichel posted four points (two goals, two assists). Since then, he has gone on to lead the Terriers in scoring with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and a +13 rating. Eichel’s 13 points also currently leads the NCAA in rookie scoring. Furthermore, he has tallied at least a point in all of Boston University’s games (excluding exhibitions) to date. Most recently, Eichel was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for October.
Tip of the hat
In addition to Michigan senior Zach Hyman, three other NHL prospects recorded hat tricks in the month of October.
The first to complete it was St. Cloud State junior Jonny Brodzinski (LAK), who accomplished the feat on Oct. 11th versus Colgate. This was his second career hat trick. Brodzinski accounted for all three of the Huskies’ goals in the team’s 3-1 victory. The Blaine, MN native posted two of his three goals in the opening period, including the game-winning, power play tally. He completed the hat trick in the third period. Overall, Brodzinski currently leads St. Cloud State with eight points (five goals, three assists) in eight games.
A week later, on Oct. 18th versus Lake Superior State, Notre Dame junior Mario Lucia (MIN) accomplished the feat. The Plymouth, MN native was one of three prospects to post his first career hat trick in October. Lucia posted his first goal at the 13:16 mark of the opening period and added two more in the third period to complete the hat trick. Overall, Lucia has posted 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in 10 games. His eight goals currently lead the nation among all NHL prospects. Most recently, Lucia was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for October.
That same day, senior Mark MacMillan (MTL) also posted his first collegiate hat trick in North Dakota’s 7-2 win over Colorado College. The Penticton, BC native accomplished the feat with all three goals coming on special teams – two shorthanded and one on the power play. The first of his two shorthanded tallies came in the opening period with the other two goals coming in the third period. That performance earned MacMillan his first NCHC Offensive Player of the Week honor of the season. Overall, MacMillan has posted seven points (five goals, two assists) in five games. His five goals also lead North Dakota. Unfortunately, MacMillan is out indefinitely following wrist surgery. He suffered the injury (wrist laceration) on Oct. 24th versus Providence College.
Picking up the slack
In the off-season, a number of NCAA teams saw key players depart from their respective programs leaving some big holes to fill this season. Four NHL prospects were able to fill some of those holes for their respective teams, making notable contributions in the month of October.
With nearly half of last season’s squad gone, UMass-Lowell has had to turn to some of their returning veterans to step up at virtually every position. One player resoundingly answering the call is sophomore Evan Campbell (EDM). The Port Coquitlam, BC native currently co-leads the River Hawks with eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games to date. After floating between wing and center last season, Campbell has been playing exclusively at center so far this season, a move that has paid big dividends for UMass-Lowell. Where the improvement has been particularly evident has been in his passing, which looks both smarter and crisper. Campbell’s special teams play, particularly on the penalty kill, has greatly improved, as well.
When Phoenix Copley (WSH) departed from Michigan Tech in the off-season, it left a significant hole to fill in net. Enter Jamie Phillips (WPG). The Caledonia, ON native’s brilliant goaltending has been a big reason behind the Huskies torrid start. Michigan Tech is currently the only NCAA team that has not posted a loss or a tie, sporting a perfect 8-0 record to this point in November. Phillips has played in all eight games to date. Phillips’ eight wins leads the nation while his 1.13 goals-against average and .957 save percentage both rank in the top 10 nationally, as well. If Phillips can continue his stellar play for the rest of the season, he could become one of the top prospects in an already-deep Winnipeg Jets goaltending pipeline.
Having played alongside the now-departed Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) last season, sophomore Jeff Taylor (PIT) has been thrust into the go-to defenseman role for Union College this season. Taylor hasn’t disappointed. The Clifton Park, NY native currently leads the Dutchmen in defensive scoring with eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 10 games. Taylor has been more noticeably active in jumping into plays this season, and with the departures of Gostisbehere and Mat Bodie (NYR), he has also assumed the quarterbacking role on the Dutchmen’s power play.
When Minnesota-Duluth lost Caleb Herbert (WSH) in the off-season, the team also lost one of its top centers. This season, sophomore Dominic Toninato (TOR) looks to have filled at least part of Herbert’s role quite nicely. The Duluth, MN native currently leads the Bulldogs with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 10 games. One area where Toninato has noticeably improved is in his foot speed. He possesses a quicker first step, which can be seen in his transition game as well as in getting to loose pucks. Furthermore, it also allows him to play a 200-foot game more effectively.
On the shelf
In addition to North Dakota senior Mark MacMillan, three other prospects are also out with injuries.
The day after MacMillan sustained his wrist injury on Oct. 24th, Boston College sophomore defenseman Steve Santini (NJD) also sustained a wrist injury in the game versus UMass. He is expected to be out until January.
Minnesota lost two key players in their recent series versus St. Cloud State. The first was to senior Travis Boyd (WSH), who suffered a lower body injury in the first game. He is expected to be out for a month. The following day, junior defenseman Brady Skjei (NYR) also suffered a lower body injury. He is projected to return around Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, Merrimack sophomore Chris LeBlanc (OTT) has yet to make his season debut. The Winthrop, MA native is still recovering from knee surgery that he underwent back in March. LeBlanc suffered a torn ACL in the game versus Maine on Feb. 14th and has been out of the Warriors lineup since. The good news is that he is expected to play at some point this season.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF