Bruins NCAA prospects update

By Janine Pilkington

The Bruins have plenty of prospects in stock from the ranks of the NCAA. The defensive talent is most notable with this crop of young players, including a couple of exceptional goalies and award-winning defensemen. Skill and versatility have been key, as well as size, as the Bruins wait for them to develop.

Colorado College headed to the NCAA Frozen Four this week to face rival University of Denver. Colorado had hoped to capture its first national championship since 1957, but succumbed to a 6-2 loss. They were solid on offense and defense this season, with the help of players like Bruins first round pick Mark Stuart, who was named WCHA Defensive player of the year and a First Team All-American. The 6’2 218 lb junior defenseman has proven himself effective as a very physical, all-around player, after leading the team with blocked shots and hits last season, he was also effective in penalty-killing and part of the gold medal winning USA team in the 2002 World Junior Championships. He finished with 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) and 94 penalty minutes. His freshman point total was 20 (3 goals, 17 assists), and dipped down to 15 (4 goals, 11 assists) the following year, but Stuart has established himself as a tough and fearless defenseman, earning between 80 and 100 penalty minutes a year.

The Bruins boast another solid defensive prospect in 5’11/195lb Matt Hunwick of the University of Michigan. Though only a sophomore, he’s consistently ranked high in the CCHA and finished off this season with 25 points (6 goals, 19 assists) and 60 penalty minutes, a substantial improvement from last year’s 15 points (1 goal, 14 assists). Matt was a part of the CCHA All -Rookie team as a freshman and has participated in the IIHF junior championships in 2004 and 2005. He was drafted by the Bruins in 2004.

The Bruins have reason to be excited about the prospects near home as well. Boston College finished off its season by taking the Hockey East title and is among the top defensive teams in the NCAA. Senior defenseman and Bruins prospect Andrew Alberts battled knee injuries yet still managed to play a big role in BC’s success and has earned recognition for his play, including Hockey East’s “Best Defensive Defenseman” in the 2003-2004 season. At 6’4 215 lbs the two-time Hockey East All-Star is a force on the ice and capped off his final college career with 67 penalty minutes and a point total of 15 (4 goals, 11 assists). Alberts is surprisingly agile for his size and is a fearless, hard-hitting defenseman who helped make BC one of the top defensive teams in the country. He recently signed a contract with Boston’s minor league affiliate, the Providence Bruins.

Another standout on BC’s roster is senior goaltender and B’s prospect Matti Kaltiainen. After beginning his college career as a backup, Kaltiainen slid into the starting role during his sophomore year and left no doubt about where he belonged. His junior year performance earned the Hockey East goaltending title with an astounding 27-7-4 record, a 1.76 average, 644 saves and a .928 percentage. With the addition of outstanding freshman goaltender Cory Schneider to the roster (12-0-4 record, 1.51 average, 349 saves, .933 percentage), Kaltiainen saw a slight dip in his stats this season. The 6’2 215 lb native of Finland played in 23 games and went 13-6-3 with a 1.81 avg, 478 saves, .921 percentage.

Bowling Green University senior Jordan Sigalet has finished an impressive college career as well. The 6’0 172 lb goalie and Hobey Baker Award top ten finalist cornered the team record for saves last season (1,140) and has also led the nation this year with saves, shots faced and minutes played.

Offensive powerhouse UNH also has a promising future with goaltender Kevin Regan. Though only a freshman, Regan’s numbers ranked him among UNH’s best. In 21 starts he had an impressive 15-4-2 record with a 2.35 average and .928 save percentage. The South Boston native received the “Superskills Hockey East Rookie of the Week” honor on more than one occasion this season, and Bruins staff are keeping a close watch on the development of this young player.

On the offensive end of things, Cornell has sophomore right wing Byron Bitz. After a breakout season his freshman year, injuries kept him from producing the numbers expected this year. Still, he finished with a respectable 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists), and proved his ability to adapt after he was moved from wing to center. His shooting skills are excellent, and at 6’4 200 lbs he’s got the potential to be a powerful presence on the ice. Bitz will need to hone his skating and the physicality of his game, but with two years left in his college career, he has plenty of time to evolve into an NHL caliber player.

Finally, UMass Lowell forward Ben Walter has had a standout year. Another Hobey Baker Award top ten finalist, he’s shown steady improvement with each season and has established himself as one of the better forwards in Hockey East. Walter ranked at or near the top in goal scoring in the entire nation and finished this season with 39 points (26 goals, 13 assists) in 36 games. The 6’1 193 lb forward was picked by the Bruins in the fifth round of the 2004 draft.

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