The final month of 2014 marked the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half of the NCAA hockey season. Due to the holiday break, there were fewer games played. Nevertheless, December saw some impressive performances from prospects around the NCAA. Hockey’s Future takes a look back at some of the more notable ones.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Jan. 5th.
NCAA well represented at 2015 World Junior Championship
The NCAA was once again well represented at this year’s World Junior Championship (WJC). While the United States had the most current collegians in this WJC (15), three other nations also featured NCAA players on their rosters. Western Michigan winger Frederik Tiffels and Ohio State defenseman Janik Moser played for Team Germany. In addition, Germany featured two Minnesota State-Mankato recruits in forwards Marc Michaelis and Parker Tuomie. St. Cloud State defenseman Mika Ilvonen patrolled the blue line for Team Finland. University of Minnesota forward Leon Bristedt donned the colors of Team Sweden. All of the aforementioned players are 2015 draft-eligible, as well.
Of the European-born NCAA players, the most impressive in the tournament was Tiffels. The Western Michigan freshman netted both of Germany’s goals in the team’s recent 3-2 loss to Slovakia. Tiffels has been off to a terrific start for the Broncos as well, leading the team’s rookies with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 13 games to date. His seven goals are currently second on Western Michigan’s roster. Tiffels’ excellent start with the Broncos as well as his strong performance with Team Germany makes him a player well worth keeping an eye on for the upcoming NHL Draft.
Holiday tournaments roundup
Five of this season’s seven holiday tournaments took place in the month of December. The other two tournaments – the Ledyard Bank Classic and the Mariucci Classic – take place on Jan. 2nd.
The inaugural Frozen Holiday Classic kicked things off in Bridgeport, CT on Dec. 27th. UMass-Lowell won the tournament in convincing fashion with victories over Sacred Heart and Connecticut, respectively. RiverHawks sophomore defenseman Dylan Zink earned the tournament’s MVP with an outstanding performance that included goals in each game.
The granddaddy of all holiday tournaments, the 50th Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) at Joe Louis Arena was one of three tournaments to get underway on Dec. 28th. Michigan claimed their 16th tournament title, edging archrival Michigan State 2-1 in one of the best championship games in recent GLI memory. Senior Zach Hyman (FLA) and junior Andrew Copp (WPG) posted the goals for the Wolverines and were named to the All-Tournament team. Sophomore defenseman Rhett Holland (ARZ) netted the Spartans’ lone goal, which was the first of his collegiate career. He was also the only player from Michigan State to be named to the All-Tournament team.
Further east in Burlington, VT, the 19th annual Sheraton/TD Bank Catamount Cup was taking place. Providence College won the tournament with victories over UMass and host Vermont, respectively. Friars senior Shane Luke was named the tournament MVP with a four-point (one goal, three assists) performance that included the game winner in the championship game. Junior Jon Gillies (CGY) was brilliant between the pipes for Providence College, stopping all 29 Vermont shots to post his fourth shutout of the season en route to earning a spot on the All-Tournament team. Vermont senior defenseman Mike Paliotta (CHI) was also named to the All-Tournament team, posting a pair of assists in the Catamounts’ 4-2 win over Air Force in their semi-final game.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in all the holiday tournaments took place in Estero, FL in the 15th annual Florida College Hockey Classic. Lake Superior State emerged as the tournament’s surprise winner, defeating powerhouses Cornell (in the shootout) and Notre Dame, respectively. Lakers freshman Gordon Defiel was stellar in net, stopping a combined 67 of 68 shots en route to earning the tournament’s MVP award. Notre Dame freshman winger Jake Evans (MTL) had an excellent performance, posting three points (two goals, one assist) including the overtime game-winner in the Fighting Irish’s 3-2 win over Miami in their semi-final game, helping him earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. Evans was joined by senior defenseman Robbie Russo (NYI) and freshman netminder Cal Petersen (BUF) on the All-Tournament team for Notre Dame.
The final holiday tournament to take place during the month was the 3rd annual Three Rivers Classic at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Dec. 29th. Colgate won the tournament with victories over Western Michigan and Robert Morris, respectively. Sophomore Charlie Finn was outstanding in goal for the Raiders, stopping a combined 54 of 56 shots en route to earning the tournament’s MVP award. Although he wasn’t named to the All-Tournament team, sophomore Tim Harrison (CGY) had a strong performance, netting the game-winner for Colgate in their semi-final game versus Western Michigan. The Broncos lone player to make the All-Tournament team was freshman Aidan Muir (EDM), who posted a pair of goals in Western Michigan’s 4-1 win over Penn State in the Third Place game.
Two of the hottest prospects in the month of December are property of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No NHL collegiate prospect put up more points during the month than Nebraska-Omaha sophomore Jake Guentzel. The Woodbury, MN native posted eight points (one goal, seven assists) in the Mavericks’ eight games in December. Guentzel is the catalyst on one of the NCHC’s best lines this season that also features senior Dominic Zombo and sophomore Austin Ortega. He currently ranks second on the Mavericks roster with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 17 games. Guentzel’s most memorable performance came on Dec. 21st when he posted the game-tying goal and added an assist in Nebraska-Omaha’s 3-3 tie with Alabama-Huntsville.
The other Penguins’ prospect having an equally stellar December was University of Maine sophomore, Blaine Byron. The Manotick, ON native posted five points (four goals, one assist) in the Black Bears’ three games during the month. While much of the attention up front has been on junior Devin Shore (DAL), Byron has really stepped up this season to take some of the offensive pressure off his talented teammate. Byron currently leads Maine in both points (16) and goals (9) playing in 20 games to date. His most memorable performance in December came on Dec. 14th versus New Hampshire. In that game, Byron posted two goals in Maine’s 7-4 loss.
After an outstanding November, Boston University junior Danny O’Regan (SJS) continued his torrid point production in December. The Needham, MA native posted five points (four goals, one assist) in the Terriers’ three games during the month. O’Regan’s most memorable game came back on Dec. 6th versus Merrimack where he posted his first career hat trick and added an assist in Boston University’s 4-2 win. The performance also earned him his first Hockey East Player of the Week honor. Overall, O’Regan currently leads the Terriers with 12 goals in 17 games to date.
Sophomore Dominic Toninato (TOR) has been the motor that has driven the Minnesota-Duluth offense this season, and December was no different. The Duluth, MN native posted five points (four goals, one assist) in the Bulldogs’ four games during the month. Toninato’s most memorable performance in December came on Dec. 12th versus Michigan Tech. In that game, he posted two goals to guide Minnesota-Duluth to a 3-1 victory. The performance also earned him his second NCHC Player of the Week honor on the season. Overall, Toninato leads the Bulldogs with 18 points (13 goals, five assists) in 18 games to date. His 18 points eclipses the 15 points he posted as a freshman last season.
Harvard is currently the hottest team in the nation. One reason has been the continued stellar play of senior goaltender Steve Michalek (MIN), who posted a perfect 3-0-0 record in December. The Glastonbury, CT native is coming off of an equally impressive November that earned him the ECAC Goaltender of the Month honor. Michalek’s most memorable performance during the month was on Dec. 6th at Quinnipiac where he stopped 43 of the Bobcats’ 45 shots to help guide the Crimson to a 5-2 victory. Overall, Michalek sports a 10-1-2 record that includes two shutouts in 13 games. His .846 winning percentage, .943 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average all rank in the top 10 nationally.
Another goaltender that was excellent during the month of December was North Dakota junior Zane McIntyre (BOS). The Thief River Falls, MN native posted a 3-1-0 record in North Dakota’s four games during the month. His most memorable game came back on Dec. 5th versus Lake Superior State. In that game, McIntyre came into the game in relief of freshman Cam Johnson and stopped 12 of the Lakers’ 13 shots to guide North Dakota to a 7-4, come-from-behind victory. The performance also earned McIntyre his second NCHC Goaltender of the Week honor on the season. Overall, McIntyre has appeared in 19 games, posting a 13-4-2 record. His 13 wins trails only Michigan Tech junior Jamie Phillips’ (WPG) 14 for most in the nation.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF