NCAA prospects notebook for December, 2013

By DJ Powers

Nic Kerdiles - University of Wisconsin

Photo: University of Wisconsin forward and Anaheim Ducks prospect Nic Kerdiles has been generating offense wherever he plays, whether it is for Wisconsin or for Team USA at the 2014 WJC (courtesy of Dan Sanger/Icon SMI)

The final month of 2013 marked the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half of the 2013-14 NCAA hockey season. Hockey’s Future takes a look back at the many notable performances by NHL prospects around college hockey during the month of December. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of January 5th, 2014.

College hockey well represented at the 2014 World Junior Championship

21 current and future collegians representing three countries participated in the 2014 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Malmo, Sweden. Of the 21 players, 18 represented the United States, while two represented Germany, and one is played for the host team.

Team USA finished out of the money at this WJC, after having won the gold medal at the 2013 event.

Leading the way on offense for Team USA was forward Nic Kerdiles, who attends the University of Wisconsin. In five games, the Anaheim Ducks prospect netted two goals and added five assists for seven points while posting a +2 rating.

Tied at six points for the tournament were Miami University forward Riley Barber (WSH) and Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (BOS). Barber, who captained the USA squad, led the team in goals with four while picking up two assists. Grzelcyk, an assistant captain for the team, netted two goals and added four assists.

Kerdiles and University of Michigan forward Andrew Copp tied for the team lead in assists with five apiece.

Boston College freshman and Team USA third-string goaltender Thatcher Demko and Boston University recruit Jack Eichel are eligible for the NHL Draft in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Both are expected to be early round selections in their respective draft years.

Gustav Olofsson (MIN) was the lone collegian representing host Sweden and is one of two Colorado College freshmen defensemen that played in this WJC. The other was Team USA’s Jaccob Slavin (CAR). Olofsson, who posted five points (one goal, four assists) for the tournament, also tied for the team lead with a +5 rating. The Swedes captured the silver medal after a somewhat surprising loss to Finland in the gold medal game.

Two future collegians in Ohio State defensive recruit Janik Moser and Western Michigan recruit Frederick Tiffels represented Germany at this WJC. Tiffels finished the tournament with five points in seven games, including three goals and two assists along with 12 penalty minutes. Moser picked up three points off of one goal and two assists. Both players are eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Chicago and Anaheim prospects hot in December

No NHL team got more collective production from their collegiate prospects in the month of December than the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks. The two teams led with a combined 27 and 26 points, respectively.

Ten of Chicago’s 14 collegiate prospects registered at least one point in December. Boston College senior Kevin Hayes led all Blackhawks prospects with seven points (three goals, four assists). Following Hayes were North Dakota freshman center Luke Johnson and Vermont junior defenseman Michael Paliotta with six points apiece. The lone Chicago skaters not to post a point in December were Cornell senior defenseman Kirill Gotovets, Yale freshman John Hayden, Minnesota senior defenseman Justin Holl and North Dakota junior defenseman Nick Mattson.

Ohio State freshman Matt Tomkins, the Blackhawks’ lone collegiate goaltending prospect, recently returned to the lineup after sustaining an injury early in the November 9th game versus Niagara.

Eight of Anaheim’s 10 prospects registered at least a point in the final month of 2013. Wisconsin teammates Nic Kerdiles and Grant Besse led all Ducks prospects with seven and six points, respectively. Nebraska-Omaha sophomore defenseman Brian Cooper and Notre Dame senior defenseman Kevin Lind were the only Anaheim prospects held without a point in December.

Megna handed three-game suspension

When Nebraska-Omaha opened the second half of their season on January 3rd versus New Hampshire, they were without one of their top defensemen in junior Jaycob Megna (ANA). The Northbrook, IL native was recently given a three-game suspension due to an NCAA benefits rule violation that stemmed from a theft incident that took place in October of 2012 where he was the victim.

According to reports out of Omaha, Megna had his watch stolen from the locker room and when he bought a new one this last April he was reimbursed by head coach Dean Blais out of his own pocket. Blais later reported the reimbursement. While schools can request a waiver to reimburse the player for such incidents, forms must first be filed with the NCAA to do so. Nebraska-Omaha’s compliance department, according to the reports, had incorrectly told Megna that he could not be reimbursed. Megna has since donated the $400 he received from Blais to charity as part of his reinstatement. Furthermore, the school eventually did reimburse Megna after filing the necessary paperwork with the NCAA.

In addition to Megna, Nebraska-Omaha also suspended Blais for three games. Both of them will be eligible to return when the Mavericks host Minnesota-Duluth on January 10th.

Holiday tournaments roundup

Six tournaments kicked off the second half of the 2013-14 season.

Two of the six tournaments got underway on December 27th with the 49th annual Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) in Detroit and the 2nd annual Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh.

This year marked the first time that the GLI was played outdoors, taking place at Comerica Park, and it was one of the best GLI tournaments in recent memory.

The thrilling first semi-final match between Michigan State and Michigan Tech needed a shootout to determine the winner. While the game officially goes down as a 2-2 tie, the Huskies would advance to the championship game thanks to senior Ryan Furne’s shootout tally in the fifth round.

The equally thrilling second semi-final match between Michigan and Western Michigan needed overtime to determine who would face Michigan Tech in the championship game. Sophomore Josh Pitt netted the game-winning power play tally in the extra session to send the Broncos to the championship game. Wolverines freshman J.T. Compher (BUF), who was cut from Team USA’s World Junior roster due to injury, returned to action in the GLI and tallied his first career shorthanded goal in the loss.

The championship game on December 28th between Michigan Tech and Western Michigan would become one of the best games in the history of the GLI. The game was highlighted by the brilliant goaltending battle between Huskies sophomore Phoenix Copley and Broncos sophomore Lukas Hafner. The game ended in a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation time. Then at the 2:01 mark of overtime, junior Justin Kovacs would end it giving Western Michigan their first GLI title since 1986. Hafner, who stopped all 33 Huskies shots, was named the tournament MVP.

In the consolation game, Michigan State defeated archrival Michigan 3-0 behind a great performance by sophomore goaltender Jake Hillebrand, who earned his first shutout of the season.

At the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Boston College overpowered their opponents Bowling Green and Penn State respectively to capture the Three Rivers Classic championship. The Eagles outscored their opponents by a combined 13-2. Junior Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), who led all players in the tournament with five points (two goals, three assists), was named MVP. Teammates Bill Arnold (CGY) and Kevin Hayes joined Gaudreau on the All-Tournament Team.

In the consolation game, Bowling Green got out to a three-goal lead before hanging on to edge host Robert Morris, 3-2. Freshman Kevin Dufour posted the game-winner for the Falcons.

On December 28, the 18th annual Catamount Cup and the 14th annual Florida College Hockey Classic got underway.

In Burlington, VT, UMass-Lowell defeated Canisius 5-2 in the early game of the Catamount Cup. Sophomore defenseman Christian Folin posted three points, including the game-winning power play goal. Sophomore Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) turned in another outstanding performance, turning aside 21 of the Golden Griffins’ 23 shots for his seventh win on the season.

In the late game, host Vermont edged a pesky Clarkson team 3-2. Freshman Tom Forgione netted the game-winner for the Catamounts.

Unlike other tournaments, the Catamount Cup is played in more of a round-robin style. Because of that, the two semi-final winners did not face one another on the second day of the tournament on December 29th. UMass-Lowell defeated Clarkson 3-1 in the early match. Junior Scott Wilson (PIT) netted the game-winning power play goal and freshman Evan Campbell (EDM) posted his first collegiate goal to propel the River Hawks to victory. Senior Ben Sexton (BOS) tallied the Golden Knights’ lone goal.

In the late game, host Vermont defeated Canisius 6-2 to win their tournament by virtue of goal differential. Junior defenseman Michael Paliotta, in arguably his best game of the season, posted four points (one goal, three assists) in the tournament en route to being named the MVP.

In Estero, FL, Maine defeated Princeton 4-0 in the first semi-final game of the Florida College Hockey Classic. Sophomore Devin Shore (DAL) posted two assists including one on fellow sophomore Steven Swavely’s game-winner. Senior Martin Ouellette (CBJ) was stellar between the pipes for the Black Bears, stopping all 33 shots he faced en route to earning his third shutout of the season.

In the second semi-final game, Cornell defeated New Hampshire 4-2. Junior Brian Ferlin (BOS) netted the game-winning power-play goal. Fellow juniors John McCarron (EDM) and defenseman Joakim Ryan (SJS) chipped in a goal and an assist each for the Big Red.

Cornell would face Maine for the tournament title on December 29th. And like the GLI championship game the day before, it was one for the ages. While the match officially goes down as a 1-1 tie, it would take a thrilling shootout to decide the winner. The sensational goaltending of Ouellette and Cornell senior Andy Iles was evident throughout the game, especially in the shootout. Senior Rodger Craig would give the Big Red the championship in the ninth round. Iles was named the tournament MVP. Ouellette, Shore, Ferlin and Cornell senior defenseman Kirill Gotovets joined Iles on the All-Tournament Team.

The final two tournaments to get underway were the 21st annual UConn Hockey Classic and the 25th annual Ledyard Classic on December 29th.

At the XL Center in Hartford, CT, Quinnipiac needed a shootout to get past UMass in the first semi-final game of the UConn Hockey Classic. While the game officially goes down as a 2-2 tie, the Bobcats advanced to the championship game in the second round of the shootout on goals by freshman Sam Anas and senior Jordan Samuels-Thomas (WPG).

Quinnipiac would meet Sacred Heart for the tournament championship after the Pioneers defeated host UConn 3-0 in the second semi-final game. Freshman Coltyn Hansen netted the game-winner, which was also his first collegiate goal. Redshirted sophomore Alex Vazzano was stellar in goal for Sacred Heart, stopping all 29 Huskies shots he faced en route to earning his first shutout on the season.

In the championship game on December 30th, Quinnipiac defeated Sacred Heart 5-0. Samuels-Thomas chipped in two assists, including one on junior Bryce Van Brabant’s game-winner. Vazzano turned in another excellent performance in the loss, stopping 49 of the Bobcats’ 54 shots en route to earning the tournament MVP despite playing on the losing team. Samuels-Thomas and fellow senior Kellen Jones (EDM) were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

After falling to Sacred Heart in the semi-finals, UConn would bounce back to edge UMass 2-1 in the consolation game. Senior Billy Latta, who was also named to the All-tournament Team, netted the game winner for the Huskies.

At Thompson Arena in Hanover, NH, Air Force snapped their six-game losing streak by defeating Northeastern 5-2 in the first semi-final game of the Ledyard Classic. Senior Mitch Torrel potted a pair of goals and sophomore Ben Carey netted the game-winner for the Falcons.

Air Force would go on to face Providence College in the championship game on December 30th, after the Friars handed host Dartmouth a heartbreaking 3-2 loss. Providence College, playing without Jon Gillies (CGY), got a pair of goals from senior Derek Army and the game-winning power play tally from junior Ross Mauermann. Sophomore Mark Jankowski (CGY) also added an assist for the Friars.

Air Force edged Providence College 3-2 to win the tournament. The victory was the Falcons’ first holiday tournament victory since 2004 when they won the RPI Thanksgiving Tournament. Senior Tony Thomas netted the game-winner for Air Force. Senior netminder Jason Torf turned in another excellent performance, stopping 29 of the 31 Friars shots he faced. Torrel, who also netted a goal in the game, was named the tournament MVP. Torrel was joined by teammates Torf and junior Cole Gunner on the All-Tournament Team.

In what can best be described as the wildest of all the holiday tournament matches, and perhaps of the season games so far, Dartmouth and Northeastern skated to an 8-8 tie in the Ledyard Classic's consolation game. Because the game did not go to a shootout, both teams finished in third place. 11 different players combined to score the 16 goals, including senior Cody Ferriero (SJS) and junior defenseman Josh Manson (ANA) for the Huskies. In addition, freshman defenseman Matt Benning (BOS) chipped in two assists and sophomore Kevin Roy (ANA) added an assist for Northeastern. Junior Eric Neiley, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, paced the Big Green with a pair of goals and an assist.

Taking it outside

In addition to the GLI tournament, two other non-tournament games also took place outdoors in December.

The first took place at Frontier Field in Rochester, NY between Atlantic Hockey foes Niagara and RIT on December 14th. The two teams skated to a 2-2 tie. Senior Ryan Rashid netted the game-tying goal to preserve the tie for the Purple Eagles. Sophomore Matt Chartrain netted Niagara’s other goal. Sophomore Dan Schuler and freshman Danny Smith posted the Tigers goals. Freshman Mike Rotolo remained undefeated after posting 34 saves for RIT.

The second outdoor game of the month took place at Fenway Park in Boston as part of the Frozen Fenway series, with two other Atlantic Hockey foes, Bentley and Holy Cross, squaring off. The Falcons edged the Crusaders 3-2 to win the game. Senior Brett Gensler posted his third career hat trick, which included two on the power-play, to lead Bentley. Seniors Adam Schmidt and Shayne Stockton netted the goals for Holy Cross.

Who’s Hot

No collegiate prospects put up more points in December than Boston College junior Johnny Gaudreau and Ohio State junior Ryan Dzingel (OTT). Both players each posted eight points during the month of December.

Gaudreau posted three goals and five assists in December that was capped by his MVP performance in the Three Rivers Classic tournament. The Carneys Point, NJ native currently leads all collegiate NHL prospects with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 19 games to date. His 35 points also rank second nationally.

Dzingel is quietly having a career year with the Buckeyes. In December, he posted two goals and six assists in Ohio State’s three games during the month. The Wheaton, IL native has been the driving force behind the Buckeyes offense this season. After finishing with 38 points last season, Dzingel is on pace to top the 40-point plateau this season. He has appeared in all 16 games for Ohio State so far and leads the team with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists).

Wisconsin senior Michael Mersch (LAK) continues to be one of the nation’s hottest and most consistent goal scorers. He led all collegiate prospects with five goals in December. The Park Ridge, IL native tallied a goal in five of the Badgers’ six games during the month. Overall, Mersch co-leads Wisconsin with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists). In Wisconsin’s 18 games to date, Mersch has tallied at least one goal in 11 of them.

North Dakota sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (STL) had his best month of the season in December when he posted six points (all assists) in the team’s four games during the month. The Verona, WI native’s six points also led all defensive prospects in December. Schmaltz and senior Dillon Simpson (EDM) have been one of the nation’s best defensive pairings so far, giving North Dakota some added offensive punch from the blueline. Interestingly, the two defensive partners currently co-lead North Dakota in defensive scoring with 10 points each.

Senior goaltender Sam Brittain (FLA) has been a main catlyst behind the surging Denver Pioneers heading into the second half of the season. The Calgary, AB native was stellar in December, posting a 3-1-1 record in the team’s five games. What is perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that during that stretch, he allowed just 10 total goals. Overall, Brittain has posted a 10-5-4 record that includes three shutouts. His 1.75 goals-against average currently ranks second in the nation, while his .941 save percentage ties him for second in that category.

Who’s not

The offensive woes continued in December for Michigan State sophomore Matt DeBlouw (CGY). After being a mainstay on the Spartans top line last season, DeBlouw has been playing on the team’s third line this season. While the Chesterfield, MI native has played better in recent games for the Spartans, he continues to struggle to generate points. DeBlouw, who has just two assists in 13 games so far, posted his last point back on November 1st versus American International.

Meanwhile, Colorado College sophomore Hunter Fejes (PHX) and Michigan junior defenseman Brennan Serville (WPG) are still looking for their first points of the season.

Fejes, who has seen time on the Tigers’ top three lines playing in 16 of the team’s 17 games so far this season, has played quite well and is generating shots but has yet to find his way onto the scoresheet.

Serville has assumed more of a defensive defenseman's role for the Wolverines this season. Like Fejes, he has played well and generated shots but hasn’t been able to get on the scoresheet. The Pickering, ON native has played in 14 of Michigan’s 16 games to date.

As the new calendar year began, Yale freshman John Hayden and North Dakota freshman Wade Murphy (NSH) were looking for their first collegiate goals.

Hayden had three assists on the season in Yale's first 13 games, but the Chicago Blackhawks prospect finally notched his first NCAA goal in the school's 14th game, a 3-3 tie with Vermont on January 4th.

Murphy has two assists on the season playing in 15 of North Dakota’s 18 games to date. The Victoria, BC native posted his last point on November 23rd versus Boston University. Murphy has played on North Dakota’s third line this season seeing time at both wing positions, most recently playing on left wing.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF