Bruins NCAA prospects update

By Janine Pilkington

The Boston Bruins currently have four prospects playing for NCAA teams – two forwards, a defenseman and a goaltender.

Defensemen

When Matt Hunwick was drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) of the 2004 draft, he was 5’10 187 lbs and considered somewhat of a longshot to make the NHL. Now, as a senior at the University of Michigan, he is listed at 6’0 198 lbs, and has taken on the role of team captain. During the span of his career with the Wolverines, Hunwick has emerged as a solid two-way defenseman and a natural leader with an excellent shot at a pro career.

“He’s a very responsible person and he knows what it takes to win a hockey game,” said Michigan’s assistant coach Billy Powers. “He always plays against the other team’s best line, he will always be matched against the No. 1 center, and he usually does a great job of making it a very difficult night for that player.”

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For the second season in a row, Hunwick has been paired with sophomore defenseman Jack Johnson (LA) for the majority of games. The two make up one of the most dynamic defensive pairings in the CCHA, with a combined plus/minus of +20, and as the two highest scoring defensemen on the team. While Michigan has not had a terrible season, it has not been the best by their standards, either, and they currently sit third in the division with an overall record of 17-9-0.

Hunwick is a little behind last year’s pace for points, with only 3 goals and 11 assists to his credit in 26 games, but the slight drop in production is something that has been team-wide, particularly on the power play. Powers was not in any way concerned about the young defenseman’s performance, and had a tough time pinpointing areas where Hunwick would need
work during the final stretch of the 2006-07 season.

“I’m nitpicking here,” admitted Coach Powers. “It’s a very little thing, but it’s something that sticks out because we’ve been on him – he gets a lot of shots blocked, and we’d like to see him get more of those shots through.

“The thing about it is he’s been our best defenseman since his sophomore season, no matter who we bring in. Jack Johnson is as special as they come, but Matt Hunwick has a huge part in Jack’s growth here. Matt has taken the time as a leader to help Jack handle all the little situations that arise, and he’s made it really easy for Jack to play well, because he’s been an anchor for him.”

Since he is a senior, Hunwick could get the opportunity to play in Providence following the end of this college season, and the Bruins will have to decide if they are going to sign him.

Goaltending

The University of New Hampshire has dominated the top spot in Hockey East for the majority of the season. Part of that success is due to solid goaltending from junior Kevin Regan, who has made the majority of the starts for the 2006-07 season, and has proven that he can not only handle the starting role, but that he is thriving.

Regan, currently listed at 6’2 190 lbs, has an athletic build, strong puck -handling skills and quick reflexes. He was drafted by the Bruins in the ninth round (277th overall) of the 2003 draft, and while he might have plenty of competition to beat if he’s to see time between the pipes in Boston, he’s also an extremely hard-working player who has found success at every level he’s played.

To date, Regan is having the best season of his college career, finding even more consistency in his game as the season has gone on. He’s already surpassed his season high record of 15 wins, which came back in his freshman season (2004-05). He’s near the top of Hockey East with a 2.08 GAA and .931 save percentage, but perhaps more impressive is that he gives his team a chance to win every game. Regan currently has the top goaltending win-loss record in Hockey East at 16-3-1, a winning percentage of .825 and between Nov. 3rd and Dec. 6th he went 10 straight games without a loss.

With just one loss to Cornell University at the end of December, Regan is working on another win streak at five straight in which he’s only let in an average of one goal per game.  Of his three losses, two came in regulation- a 3-2 loss to U Mass back in October and a 5-2 loss on Dec. 29th to Cornell University. His only tie game came on Nov. 10th against Boston University. Regan also has one shutout to his credit this season, 5-0, over Merrimack on Nov. 28th.

Forwards

Boston College was expected to be the dominant team in Hockey East, picked by many to lead the division prior to the season. With a 12-8-1 record and in the No. 4 spot, they are currently in a tight race with four other teams in the division.

Prior to the season, BC’s Associate Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh felt that the one thing he like to see from sophomore Brock Bradford, was for him to take more shots at the net. Bradford, a seventh-round draft pick by the Bruins in 2005, is a small, yet skilled forward, who boasts array of offensive tools and an impressive amount of hockey intelligence. Bradford has been playing at the right wing position all season and got off to strong start in the month of October. He collected points in each of his first five games, for an impressive nine points overall, skating alongside left wing Joe Rooney and center Benn Ferriero (PHO). His point production seemed to level off after that, and Bradford then went for a six-game stretch with getting on the scoresheet at all. In mid December, he started skating on a line with Nate Gerbe (BUF) and Dan Bertram (CHI), a combination that has for the most part worked well for BC, and has been together for much of the season.

While his stats have not seen a dramatic improvement in the 2006-07, there has been an improvement nonetheless, and Bradford is currently on pace to surpass his freshman season totals. He’s played in all 21 of BC’s games so far this season, with a total 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists), a +8 and 16 penalty minutes. One goal came on the power play, and two were game-winning. His shot total is at 57, which averages about 2.71 per game, an improvement over the 2.19 he averaged in the 2005-06 season.

After a strong start to the 2006-07 season, 9-7-3 Cornell University has struggled of late, going without a win since late December. Team captain Byron Bitz (4th round, 2003 draft) is one out of a relatively small senior class that includes only two other forwards, Mark McCutcheon (COL) and Mitch Carefoot (ATL), all of whom were expected to make big contributions this season. To date, Bitz has collected the most points of the three, with a total of 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in the 18 games he’s played. However it is junior Topher Scott and freshman Tony Romano (NJD) who currently lead the team in scoring.

A poised and confident forward, Bitz is strong on his skates, and defensively responsible. While he’s listed at 6’4 220 lbs, he’s not an overly physical player, but he is able to hold off defenders and absorb a hit without getting rattled. Bitz has played at the center position this season, most recently between sophomore Evan Barlow and senior Mark McCutcheon, though the team’s lines have been juggled quite a bit. He’s been competent in the faceoff circle and is the type of player that is more apt to pass the puck than shoot it.

Bitz has proven that he can be a dominant player at the college level, particularly on the power play, where he’s scored three of his four goals this season. The senior forward has a goal and an assist in his last two games, and has regularly contributed offense this season. If he keeps up his current pace, he could come close to matching last season’s totals of 28 points, the highest of his college career. Like Hunwick, Bitz could get a shot with Providence at the conclusion of the college season.

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