Sharks AHL and USHL All-Star, and Beanpot Tournament prospects update

By Aaron Beck

While many eyes in the hockey world were focused on the NHL All-Star Game weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota, the NHL wasn’t the only league with notable events on the docket, as the Sharks having seven prospects in major AHL, USHL and NCAA events.

AHL All-Star Game

Representing San Jose’s AHL affiliate at the AHL All-Star Game February 9th in Grand Rapids, Michigan were Miroslav Zalesak and Garrett Stafford. The 24-year-old Slovak Zalesak in his fourth AHL season leads the league in scoring with 30 goals and 34 assists in 56 games, surpassing his previous career high 49 points in one season (in 50 games).

Stafford, a rookie AHLer who was passed up by the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars in pre-season tryouts, currently finds himself leading all AHL defensemen in scoring with 9 goals and 26 assists. San Jose signed the 24-year-old University of New Hampshire player on December 9th after impressing on a tryout contract with San Jose’s AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Barons. The Los Angeles native’s season further improved as he was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for January, scoring three goals and 13 assists in 15 games for the Barons a registering a +7 rating for the month.

In the AHL Skills Competition, held February 8th, Stafford participated in the puck control relay event, helping PlanetUSA win that competition and also faced Springfield Falcons goalie David LeNeveu in the breakaway relay, unable to score against the Phoenix Coyotes prospect netminder.

Zalesak participated in the shot accuracy competition, the 3-on-goalie competition, and the breakaway relay for PlanetUSA. The sniping Slovak managed to hit three targets on eight shots. The 3-on-goalie competition treated Zalesak well, as his line scored on all three shots with Zalesak scoring one and Milwaukee Admiral Timofei Shishkanov finishing the other two on Bridgeport Sound Tigers goalie Wade Dubielewicz. Binghamton Senator goalie Ray Emery fared better against Zalesak, as he turned aside the AHL’s leading goal-scorer in the breakaway relay.

Neither Stafford nor Zalesak scored in PlanetUSA’s 5-9 loss to Team Canada in the All-Star Game. Zalesak’s All-Star Game was especially dubious, as Zalesak ended up a -4, although his linemates Jozef Balej and Tomas Plekanec (both of the Hamilton Bulldogs) were -5. Stafford found himself out with Zalesak’s line on most of their goals against, thus his plus/minus took a beating finishing at -4.

USHL All-Star Game

San Jose Shark seventh round pick Joe Pavelski of the Waterloo Blackhawks found himself busy the weekend before the NHL All-Star Weekend, skating at the USHL All-Star Game in Lincoln, Nebraska February 3rd. After 40 games in his second USHL season, Pavelski has 13 goals and 21 assists, second in Waterloo scoring to linemate Joel Hanson at 45 points. Although behind his scoring pace of 69 points in 60 games last season, Pavelski has been committed to attend the University of Wisconsin since last summer.

Pavelski’s Team World lost to Team USHL 4-3 in overtime, with the Plover, Wisconsin native failing to tally any points playing on Team World’s fourth line. Highlights in the game for the right winger, and occasional center, included a breakaway shot stopped by Lincoln Stars goalie Phillippe Lamoureux and several good defensive plays cutting off cross-ice passes. Unlike many All-Star games, the USHL contest featured physical play, although the 6’0” 190-pound Pavelski relied more upon his awareness than physical play.

Although Pavelski often kills penalties for the Blackhawks, he had one shift penalty-killing in the All-Star Game, during which Team USHL scored. Often around the net and in the crease during the All-Star Game, Pavelski must improve his skating and speed if he is to become an impact player for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Beanpot Tournament

Second only to the Frozen Four in college hockey fame, each year the Beanpot Tournament features Boston’s four NCAA DI teams. This year’s affair the 52nd Annual Beanpot Tournament, featured four Shark prospects.

San Jose’s top prospect in the tournament was Northeastern right winger Mike Morris. Morris, San Jose’s first round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft with the 27th pick overall, currently has eight goals and 17 assists in 30 games, second on Northeastern to only junior center Jason Guerriero’s 27 points. The Huskies’ first game was a 5-2 loss to the Boston University Terriers, but Morris managed five shots in the contest.

Fighting for third place in their second and final game of the tournament, Northeastern faced-off against Harvard, and pulled off an upset defeating the ECAC team 3-1. Morris helped set up Northeastern’s first goal, tallying an assist on the play. Although Morris managed only one shot in the game, he made it count midway through the third period, tallying the game-winner boosting his rating to +2 for the game.

Shark prospect defenseman Dan Spang’s BU Terriers nearly won the tournament thanks to goaltender Sean Fields, but lost in overtime to the Boston College Golden Eagles 1-2 on a power play goal by Ryan Murphy. Although Spang got the start in the Northeastern game, he played primarily as the team’s fifth defenseman in the tournament. For the season Spang has four goals and seven assists in 30 games, fourth on BU in defenseman scoring. Normally BU’s fourth or fifth defenseman, Spang will likely be BU’s first or second defenseman his senior season due to his solid two-way play and excellent conditioning.

Gaining notoriety this season is Harvard junior center Tom Cavanagh, quickly becoming one of college hockey’s best two-way centers. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Cavanagh has played most of the season as Harvard’s first line center, teamed with Tim Pettit and Tyler Kolarik.

Cavanagh’s tournament got off to a rough start as he rushed a clearing attempt, putting the puck into his own net to give Boston College a 1-0 lead. The Rhode Island native’s game became even more bizarre as he was on the ice for BC forward Ned Havern’s goal, a shot which missed the net wide, ricocheted off the glass back over the net to hit Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris on the back of his left leg and into the net. Havern’s goal put BC up 2-0. Cavanagh’s first game wasn’t an entire disaster, as he managed a power play assist on Harvard’s lone goal by Charlie Johnson, but the damage was done and the Crimson lost 4-1.

Harvard’s tournament took a turn further towards the worst against Northeastern, losing 3-1, with Cavanagh’s power play goal as the Crimson’s lone tally. Cavanagh managed five shots in this game, but finished a -3, not reflecting his defensive prowess.

In 27 games for the Crimson this season Cavanagh leads Harvard in scoring with 13 goals and 12 assists. In recent games, Cavanagh has seen Ryan Maki on his right wing instead of Kolarik, with Harvard undefeated in their last three games.

Cavanagh’s December 27-28 weekend at the Coffee Pot Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island earned him the December 29th ECAC Co-Player of the Week award. In Harvard’s December 27th game against St. Cloud Cavanagh was named the Second Star of the Game with a goal and two assists. The following night against Clarkson Cavanagh added a power play goal, a short handed goal and an assist with 12 shots and earning First Star of the Game.

Joining Cavanagh on Harvard was Shark prospect defenseman Tom Walsh. Taken in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Walsh is in his sophomore season for the Crimson and has one goal and three assists in 23 games. Walsh’s two assists against Union on January 2nd earned him a spot on the January 5th ECAC Honor Roll. Walsh’s Beanpot Tournament was largely uneventful, playing on Harvard’s third defensive pair with Dave McCulloch, with whom Walsh often pairs.

Next year’s Beanpot Tournament should see at least five Shark prospects, as Salisbury Prep right winger Carter Lee has committed to Northeastern and will join Mike Morris on the Huskies roster.

Kevin Wey contributed to this article.