College prospects notebook, November/December

By DJ Powers

November and December featured numerous holiday tournaments with some fantastic finishes, news items generating lots of interest and great expectations leading into the second half. Here’s a look back.

Okposo leaves Minnesota

Sophomore winger Kyle Okposo is the latest collegian to leave the NCAA ranks at midseason in a move that generated a lot of controversy both inside and outside the college hockey community. Last season, three players – Michigan forward Jason Bailey (ANA), Denver defenseman T.J. Fast (LA) and Ohio State defenseman Kevin Montgomery (COL) all opted to leave the collegiate ranks at midseason. Unlike Okposo, who signed with the New York Islanders, the three who left at midseason last year all went to the CHL. Okposo has since been assigned to the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers. 

Troubles in Beantown

The first of the season has been more than just a struggle for Boston’s two namesake schools – Boston College and Boston University. Adding to the teams’ woes were long suspensions involving key players. For Boston College, it was the indefinite suspensions of defensemen Brian O’Hanley (SJ) and Brett Motherwell. Motherwell has since left Chestnut Hill, signing a contract with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Eagles troubles were further complicated by the loss of key sophomore Brock Bradford (BOS). Bradford is currently out with a broken arm and is expected to return to the Boston College lineup in January.

Just down Commonwealth Avenue, the Boston University Terriers have had their own problems too. Early in December, four players including then-captain Brian McGuirk (CBJ) and junior Brandon Yip (COL) were suspended indefinitely due to unspecified team rules violations. The four were reinstated in time for the Terriers Dec. 30 contest versus conference rival Merrimack. Boston University was without freshman center Colin Wilson and sophomore defenseman Brian Strait (PIT) for a period, when they were at the World Junior Championship with Team USA.

We hardly knew you

Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Casey Pierro-Zabotel has decided to play in the CHL after being unable to get through the NCAA Clearinghouse. Pierro-Zabotel, who was drafted by the Penguins last summer, was originally scheduled to make his Michigan Tech debut in the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 28. He failed to qualify academically in the fall and was working towards it while playing with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials. Instead, he has opted to give up his NCAA eligibility altogether and is now with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Luca Cunti has decided to play in the USHL with the Chicago Steel for the remainder of the season after failing to get through the NCAA Clearinghouse. The Lightning’s 2007 draft selection was schedule to play for St. Cloud State this season, and the possibility of him ever playing for the Huskies looks to be slim. Cunti was cleared academically to play for St. Cloud State this season, but there were some issues surrounding his time with EHC Dübendorf and the Swiss U-18 National Team.

Buffalo, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Toronto prospects earn high first half marks

Four NHL teams – the Buffalo Sabres, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Toronto Maple Leafs have gotten outstanding first-half production out of their collegiate prospects.

Leading the group are the Phoenix Coyotes, who currently have four collegiate prospects with 20 or more points this season in Michigan seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, Boston College junior Benn Ferriero and Minnesota junior Blake Wheeler. The Coyotes have also gotten good mileage out of Wisconsin rookie phenom Kyle Turris and Michigan sophomore defenseman Chris Summers.

The Buffalo Sabres have a small but very formidable group of collegiate prospects led by a pair of juniors in Boston College’s Nathan Gerbe and Michigan State’s Tim Kennedy, both of whom rank in the top 20 in the nation in scoring.  The Sabres have also seen very good production coming from Michigan State rookie Corey Tropp and Denver junior defenseman Chris Butler. But the most pleasant surprise of all has been that of Bowling Green rookie goaltender Nick Eno. The Howell, MI native has been splitting time with sophomore Jimmy Spratt (CGY) and is a big reason behind the Falcons first-half success. Eno, who came to Bowling Green near the end of this past summer after Josh Unice (CHI) decided to play in the CHL, has a 5-3-0 record with a 2.64 goals against average.

The Philadelphia Flyers have an abundance of collegiate prospects, many of who are enjoying or on their way to having career years. St. Cloud State sophomore Andreas Nodl leads the group with 24 points. Among those who the Flyers have also gotten outstanding production from are Providence College senior Jon Rheault, Minnesota State-Mankato junior Jon Kalinski, and New Hampshire freshman sensation James vanRiemsdyk. However, it’s two CCHA-based prospects who may be the most surprising of all. Michigan State sophomore Mike Ratchuk currently ranks second in the nation in scoring among defensemen with 18 points, while Notre Dame rookie Brad Phillips is a perfect 4-0-0 in his starts as the Irish’s backup netminder this season. His 0.75 goals against average currently leads the nation.

The first half of the 2007-08 season has seen a number of Toronto Maple Leafs collegiate prospects having excellent seasons. Two superb WCHA forwards in Colorado College junior Chad Rau and Denver sophomore Tyler Ruegsegger lead the group. Rau currently leads the nation with five shorthanded goals, while Ruegssegger is third on the Pioneers roster with 18 points. Both players have been key cogs in the success of their respective teams. Both Colorado College and Denver rank among the best teams in the nation. Among other notables are rookies Matt Frattin of North Dakota and Ben Winnett of Michigan and UMass junior Alex Berry. One Leafs prospect that has continued to progress nicely is Providence College junior Pierce Norton. Last season, the Friars averaged just over two goals per game. This season, the team is averaging well over three, thanks in no small part to Norton’s contributions.

Holiday tournaments roundup

Thanksgiving weekend kicked off the college hockey holiday tournament season with two tournaments.

In the 15th annual College Hockey Showcase, the Michigan Wolverines came out as the big winners, sweeping Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively en route to their 12th consecutive win. In Friday’s 3-2 win over the Badgers, Michigan posted all three goals on special teams from their top line of seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik (PHO) and rookie Max Pacioretty (MTL). The following night, the Wolverines posted a 5-1 win over the Golden Gophers with Porter and Kolarik combining to score seven points (four goals, three assists) in the contest.

Over in East Lansing, Michigan State managed a 3-3 tie with Minnesota on Friday and a 4-4 tie with Wisconsin the following night. Junior Tim Kennedy (BUF) notched the game-tying shorthanded goal on Friday for the Spartans, while Wisconsin junior Ben Street, posted the game-tying goal on Saturday.

The other Thanksgiving tournament took place out in Troy, NY. In the 57th annual Rensselaer Holiday Hockey Tournament, it was the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame that came out victorious. The Irish defeated Alabama-Huntsville in the semi-final 4-1 in a rematch of the thrilling 2007 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semi-final. Notre Dame faced host RPI in the tournament championship game. The Engineers defeated American International in a shootout when the game officially ended 1-1 tie. In the championship game, Notre Dame rallied from a three-goal deficit to defeat RPI 4-3. Sophomore Ryan Thang (NSH) posted the game-winner at the 16:04 mark. Junior Erik Condra (OTT) and sophomore defenseman Kyle Lawson (CAR) each added two assists in the win.

The month of December featured nine holiday tournaments and the Hockey East conference came out as the biggest winners, capturing four of the nine tournament championships.

But the best game and finish came against two non-Hockey East teams in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena. In the opening games on Dec. 28, Michigan shutout Providence College 6-0 behind superb performances by rookies Aaron Palushaj (STL) and Louie Caporusso (OTT), who returned to the Michigan lineup after missing nine games due to injury.  In the other opening day match, Michigan Tech pulled off a stunning 4-1 victory over defending national champion Michigan State thanks to a stellar three-point performance by senior Tyler Shelast.

The championship game between Michigan and Michigan Tech the following night would feature a sensational goaltending duel between a pair of juniors in Billy Sauer (COL) for Michigan and Rob Nolan for Michigan Tech. It wouldn’t be until the 2:32 mark of the second overtime that the first and only goal of the contest would be scored. Junior Travis Turnbull provided the game-winner, ending one of the most thrilling GLI championship games in recent memory. Sauer, who was named tournament MVP was excellent between the pipes for Michigan, combining to post a perfect 87 saves on 87 shots in the two GLI contests.

In the consolation game, Providence College defeated Michigan State 5-3. Senior Jon Rheault (PHI) notched two goals, while junior defenseman Cody Wild (EDM) added two assists to lead the Friars. Providence College posted a whopping 95 combined shots on goal in the tournament.

Sauer was joined on the All-Tournament team by his Michigan teammates Turnbull, Porter, along with junior defenseman Mark Mitera (ANA). Michigan Tech’s Shelast and junior defenseman Geoff Kinrade rounded out the All-tournament team.

In addition to the GLI, three other tournaments also took place on Dec. 28 and 29.

Out west, the Denver Pioneers successfully defended their title in the 16th annual Denver Cup. The Pioneers defeated Sacred Heart in convincing fashion 6-0 in one of the two semi-final games. Senior defenseman Andrew Thomas (WSH) notched his first goal of the season and added an assist in the win. In the other semi-final contest, Dartmouth defeated Northern Michigan 4-1. Senior J.T. Wyman (MON) posted the game-winning power-play goal and added an assist in the win.

The following night, Denver defeated Dartmouth 5-3 in the tournament championship game. Junior defenseman Chris Butler (BUF) posted his first tally of the year on the game-winning power-play goal. Senior Peter Mannino, who is already garnering serious consideration for the Hobey Baker Award, was outstanding with a 30-save performance in backstopping the Pioneers to their sixth consecutive win. Mannino, Thomas, Butler and Wyman were all named to the All-Tournament team.

In the consolation game, Northern Michigan defeated Sacred Heart 5-2. Freshman Phil Fox, the Wildcats lone representative on the All-Tournament team notched a pair of goals and an assist for Northern Michigan. Sophomore Matt Butcher (VAN) also added a power play for the Wildcats.

Down in Estero, FLA, the RiverHawks from UMass-Lowell captured the eighth annual Florida College Classic tournament championship. UMass-Lowell defeated Cornell 3-2 in the one of the two semi-final games. Sophomore Chris Auger (CHI) posted a goal in the RiverHawks win. UMass-Lowell would face Maine in the championship game after the Black Bears defeated Clarkson 5-3. Junior defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin (CHI) notched his first goal of the season on the power play and senior Billy Ryan (NYR) added a goal and two assists for Maine, who posted just their second win since Nov. 2.

Maine wouldn’t be as fortunate against their Hockey East foes from UMass-Lowell. The RiverHawks posted a convincing 6-0 win behind Auger’s goal and assist. Auger, Danis-Pepin and Ryan were also named to the All-tournament team. In the consolation game, Cornell defeated Clarkson in a seven-round shootout to break a 3-3 tie. Senior Steve Zalewski (SJ), who missed the semi-final game due to a one-game suspension for an unspecified team rules violation, notched a goal for Clarkson.

Up in Madison, WI, the red-hot Northeastern Huskies emerged as the big winners of the 19th annual Badger Showdown at the Kohl Center. Northeastern is currently riding a ten-game undefeated streak (8-0-2). In one of the semi-final games, the Huskies defeated Bowling Green 4-3 behind a pair of goals by senior Jimmy Russo. In the latter semi-final game, host Wisconsin had their hands full with Colgate before falling to the Raiders in the eight-round shootout. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Senior Mark Dekanich (NSH) was outstanding between the pipes, stopping 33 of the Badgers 35 shots to backstop Colgate to an appearance in the championship game.

Colgate again got solid goaltending from Dekanich but it wasn’t enough, as junior Ryan Ginand would tally the game-winner at the 18:38 mark to give Northeastern the win and championship. Northeastern sophomore sensation Brad Thiessen, the tournament MVP, stopped 26 of the Raiders 27 shots in the victory.

The remaining tournaments got underway on Saturday, Dec. 29.

Up at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, the Boston College Eagles emerged as the champions of the 17th annual Dodge Holiday Classic. The Eagles defeated Air Force in convincing fashion 8-2 in their semi-final contest. Senior Dan Bertram (CHI) posted two goals and junior Nathan Gerbe (BUF) added a goal and three assists in the win. In the semi-final nightcap, RIT upset host Minnesota 4-3. Senior Matt Smith notched two goals, including the game-winner for the Tigers.

In the championship game the following day, Gerbe would continue his torrid scoring pace, adding another goal and two assists to lead Boston College to a resounding 6-0 win over RIT. Gerbe was named the tournament MVP. RIT’s Smith was the only non-Boston College player on the All-Tournament team.

In the thrilling consolation game, Minnesota met Air Force in a rematch of the 2007 NCAA Tournament West regional semi-final. The Falcons hung tough with the Golden Gophers and it took a four-round shootout to decide the winner after the game ended in a 2-2 tie. Junior Brent Olson posted both of Air Force’s goals, while the line of junior Blake Wheeler (PHO), sophomore Jay Barriball (STL) and senior Ben Gordon accounted for Minnesota’s scoring.

Down in Tampa, the UMass Minutemen emerged as the big winners in stunning fashion in the Lightning College Hockey Classic. The victory was the first ever-midseason tournament win for UMass. In their opening semi-final game, the Minutemen handed Notre Dame a 4-3 defeat. A pair of San Jose Sharks prospects in sophomore defenseman Justin Braun and senior forward P.J. Fenton each posted multiple points in the win. In the other semi-final match, Colorado College defeated RPI 3-2 behind a pair of goals by senior Jimmy Kilpatrick and with a depleted roster. Just days before the tournament, forwards Cody Lampl and Derek Patrosso had been given lengthy suspensions due to student conduct issues. In addition, top-scoring centerman Chad Rau (TOR) was handed a one-game suspension for an unspecified team rules violation.

In the exciting championship game, UMass would need overtime to hand Colorado College a 5-4 loss. Senior Matt Burto, who interestingly enough was the lone UMass player on the All-Tournament team as MVP, posted the game-winner at 1:55 mark of the extra frame to give the Minutemen their third straight win over a top ten ranked team. Rau, who made his tournament debut in this game, notched two special teams goals (one power play and one shorthanded) for the Tigers. In the consolation game, Notre Dame met RPI in the rematch of the Rensselaer Holiday Hockey tournament from a month earlier. The Fighting Irish defeated the Engineers 3-1 behind a goal and an assist each from junior Erik Condra (OTT) and sophomore Ryan Thang (NSH). Rau, Kilpatrick and Condra were among the players named to the All-tournament team.

In Columbus, OH, the Miami RedHawks continued to roll right along, capturing the championship of the fourth annual Ohio Hockey Classic. The championship victory was the 500th in the program’s history. Miami defeated in-state rival Ohio State 3-2 to win the tournament, thanks in part to a stellar 25-save effort by junior netiminder Jeff Zatkoff (LA). Zatkoff was one of two RedHawks named to the All-Tournament team. Miami reached the championship game after defeating St. Cloud State 2-1 in overtime.  Junior Justin Mercier (COL), who is on his way to a career year, notched his 15th tally of the season to help propel the RedHawks to victory in their semi-final contest. The Buckeyes reached the championship game after defeating Harvard 4-2. Senior Tommy Goebel tallied the game-winner and added an assist to lead Ohio State. The Buckeyes were without the services of starting netminder Joe Palmer (CHI), who was with Team USA at the World Junior Championship.

In the consolation game, St. Cloud State defeated the struggling Harvard Crimson 4-1. Sophomore Ryan Lasch, who has been one of the nation’s hottest scorers in the first half, posted his first career hat-trick and fellow sophomore Andreas Nodl (PHI) added three assists to lead the Huskies. Lasch was St. Cloud State’s lone representative on the All-Tournament team.

Up in Burlington, VT, the Quinnipiac Bobcats defeated host Vermont 4-1 to claim the TD Banknorth Catamount Cup championship. Junior Dan Travis (FLA) scored two goals, including the game-winner to lead the Bobcats. He was one of three Quinnipiac players named to the All-Tournament team. Quinnipiac advanced to the championship game after defeating Western Michigan 2-1 in their semi-final match. Broncos freshman Max Campbell (NYR) tallied an assist on the team’s lone goal of the game. Vermont advanced to the championship game after winning a six-round shootout with Holy Cross the night before when the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

As if the Crusaders didn’t get enough of the shootout in Saturday’s semi-final game against Vermont, they were involved in another one again in Sunday afternoon’s consolation game versus Western Michigan. The game ended in a 1-1 tie prior to the shootout thanks to freshman Everett Shean’s shorthanded, game-tying goal with 2:01 left in regulation to get Holy Cross on the board. But once again, the Crusaders would come out on the losing end of the shootout 2-0 in five rounds. Shean was also named to the All-Tournament team. With the two tournament ties, Holy Cross extended their streak to four consecutive games ending in ties.

Over in Storrs, CT. the Ferris State Bulldogs’ trip back to Michigan was a celebratory one after winning the 15th annual Toyota UConn Hockey Classic championship 5-0 over host UConn. Sophomore Brian Riley, the tournament’s MVP, posted his first career hat-trick to lead Ferris State. The Bulldogs reached the championship game after defeating Brown 2-1 in their semi-final match. Junior defenseman Chris Zarb (PHI), who played as a forward in this tournament, notched an assist on the Bulldogs’ game-winner. UConn advanced to the championship game after defeating their Atlantic Hockey conference rival Army 4-1. Sophomore Beau Erickson was solid between the pipes for the Huskies, making 30 saves in the win.

In the consolation game, Brown skated to a 1-1 tie with Army for a share of third place in the tournament. Senior Chris Poli scored the game-tying goal for the Bears at the 11:03 mark of the third period.