Reaching the top the NCAA hockey heap has been a common occurrence with the Maple Leafs college prospects this season. Two of the Leafs three NCAA prospects, Robbie Earl and Chad Rau, have played on teams that have at one point claimed the nation’s top ranking this season, the University of Wisconsin and Colorado College.
Wisconsin’s rise to the top of the NCAA rankings, for the first time since 2000, has coincided with Brian Elliott’s (OTT) spectacular goaltending, and Earl’s stellar offensive play. Earl has provided consistent scoring for the Badgers this year. Having slipped to the second day of player selection in 2003, Earl has spent the last two years proving a lot of teams wrong. Since his 27-point freshman campaign, Earl has continued to improve. The junior forward ranks second on the team in goals (13), assists (18) and points (31) in 25 games. With a 1.24 points per game average, he is on pace to eclipse last season’s career high of 44 points. He currently ranks 11th in WCHA scoring, one point behind Minnesota’s standout freshman Phil Kessel.
Earl began the season as a key part of the Badgers come-from-behind overtime win versus St. Lawrence. With his team down 2-0, Earl set up Ben Street’s goal and then tied the game at 13:08 of the third period. As 2005 was coming to a close, Earl was just heating up. In a five-game span, beginning with a Dec. 10 contest against Michigan Tech, Earl scored ten points including five goals. He capped off the scoring streak with a two-goal, two-assist night Jan 14 in a 9-1 win against Colorado College.
Rau proved his scoring touch in the USHL last season with 71 points in the 57 games. He hasn’t been quite as prolific in his first season at Colorado College, but his seven goals and nine assists place him as the Tigers top rookie scorer. Rau is the only freshman and one of only five other Tigers to have played in all 28 games. Rau is now playing on a line with seniors Brett Sterling (ATL), and Joey Crabb (NYR). He wasted little time familiarizing himself with collegiate hockey with goals in his first two NCAA games. The Maple Leafs selected Rau in seventh round, 228 overall, of the 2005 Entry Draft.
Alex Berry has seen only limited action at the University of Massachusetts due to a serious leg injury suffered on Nov. 11. The Maple Leafs fifth round selection in the 2005 Entry Draft scored once in the Minutemen’s exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier but has appeared in only 12 games so far this season. He has no points and is a –4. Berry is a member of a fairly young Minutemen squad with 11 other freshmen on the roster. Berry is coming off a 21-goal, 31-assist and 172 penalty minute season for the Boston Jr. Bruins of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
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