NCAA college prospects notebook, October

By DJ Powers

The opening month of the 2009-10 NCAA college hockey season featured a little bit of just about everything. Below is a look at back at some of the high (and low) lights of the month. Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are current as of Nov. 1 and are for all non-exhibition games.

Spartans resurgent

The 2008-09 season couldn’t end soon enough for the Michigan State, but fast forward seven months later into a whole new season, and the Spartans are back in top form.

At this time last season, the Spartans posted just 13 goals through eight games. This season that number has more than doubled to 29, which also leads the nation.

Two players that have been significant contributors to the Spartans’ early season success are junior Corey Tropp (BUF) and freshman Derek Grant (OTT).

Tropp, who was suspended for the duration of the 2008-09 season following an incident in the Jan. 25 game at Michigan then reinstated in March, has been on tear for Michigan State since the season began. The junior winger from Grosse Pointe Woods, MI currently ranks second in the nation with 13 points (seven goals, six assists). His seven goals also co-lead the nation. Tropp’s highlight performance of the season thus far came on Oct. 16 when he posted his first career hat trick in the Spartans 5-3 win at Maine.>

Meanwhile, Grant has quietly become arguably the nation’s best performing freshman. He currently co-leads the nation in rookie scoring with 10 points (four goals, six assists). But what is perhaps even more remarkable has been Grant’s consistency. In Michigan State’s eight games, Grant has tallied points in all but one, which was the Oct. 30 game versus Western Michigan. In that same stretch, he has also posted three multi-point games.

The Age of Cheverie

One of the components that have made the University of Denver so successful throughout their recent history has been the quality and development of their goaltenders. The trend has continued this season with junior Marc Cheverie (FLA) being the latest to take his game to the next level.

But that rise came to a temporary halt when the Cold Harbor, NS native suffered a calf injury on Oct. 30 versus Minnesota State-Mankato that will keep him out of the Pioneers lineup for two to four weeks.

Cheverie’s numbers to date this season have been exceptional. He currently has a perfect 4-0-0 record in six appearances that includes a nation-leading three shutouts. His .959 save percentage currently ranks second in the nation, while his 1.27 goals against average ranks third.

Most recently, Cheverie set a new school record for consecutive shutout minutes with 223:51. Peter Mannino held the previous record with 208:42.

He’s not Phil

He may not be quite as recognizable as his older brother, but Blake Kessel (NYI) has been doing just fine making a name for himself at the University of New Hampshire this season. The sophomore from Verona, WI currently leads the nation in scoring among defensemen with 10 points (three goals, seven assists). In the six games that Kessel has appeared in, he has posted multiple points in four of them. His most memorable outing came on Oct. 17 versus Miami when he tallied a pair of goals and an assist in the Wildcats’ 5-5 tie with the RedHawks.

Surprises aplenty in Hockey East

In the current overall standings in Hockey East, the teams at the top may come as a surprise. The team with the best overall (conference and non-conference combined) is Providence College with a 5-2-0 record in seven games. The team with the best conference record is the University of Massachusetts with a 4-1-0 record in five contests. Also above the .500 mark is Merrimack College, with a 4-3-0 record in seven games. All three schools’ successes have been based in part to the performance of some of their NHL prospects.

While the Friars only have two NHL prospects on their roster this season, both have made significant contributions to the team’s early season success. Senior Mark Fayne (NJ) currently leads the team in defenseman scoring with five points (two goals, three assists) through seven games, while rookie rearguard Alex Velischek (PIT) has posted four points (all assists) also in seven games.

Like Providence College, UMass has also gotten offensive production from their blueline. The Minutemen were riding a four-game unbeaten streak until Oct. 31 when they were handed their first loss of the season by the Friars. Senior Justin Braun (SJ) has posted six points (one goal, five assists) in five contests, while fellow senior Martin Nolet (LA) has posted three points (two goals, one assist) also in five games.

The much-improved Merrimack College Warriors have also enjoyed some early-season success thanks in part to sophomore goaltender Joe Cannata (VAN) and rookie defenseman Kyle Bigos (EDM). Cannata has been able to build on his successful rookie season. He has appeared in four games, posting a 2-2-0 record. His most memorable game came on Oct. 23 when he posted a 25-save performance to backstop the Warriors to a 5-2 win over Vermont.

Bigos has appeared in all seven games to date, posting three points (one goal, two assists) playing in a variety of situations for Merrimack, including power play. The Upland, CA native notched his first career goal on Oct. 31 versus Boston College.

While Providence College, UMass and Merrimack all have above .500 records, reigning national champion Boston University is still trying to reach the mark.

The Terriers have had perhaps one of Hockey East’s toughest early season schedules. While Boston University is currently sitting with a 2-3-0 mark, they do have a crucial non-conference victory over Michigan. Sophomore Kieran Millan (COL), who was sensational in the 2009 Frozen Four, has struggled to find that same magic thus far this season. He has played all but seven minutes this year.

To make things worse for the Terriers is the fact that they’ll be without the services of junior Nick Bonino (ANA) for about the next month due to a shoulder injury that he suffered back on Oct. 24 versus Michigan.

Gophers climbing out of the hole

With a whopping 20 NHL prospects on their roster and nearly a month into the 2009-10 season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have only just begun to get things going in the right direction. What is the most surprising number is the fact that they have been shut out in three of their first six games. Furthermore, the Golden Gophers first two wins of the season came just recently on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 versus Alaska-Anchorage.

Two other surprises are the fact that senior Tony Lucia (SJ) is currently leading the team in scoring with five points (three goals, two assists) and sophomore Jordan Schroeder (VAN) has yet to score a goal this season with all four of his points coming on assists. Two of Lucia’s three goals were short-handed tallies.

NHL prospects engineering success for RPI

RPI is off to a good start to their 2009-10 campaign with a 4-3-1 record. And it is their best start since their 5-2-0 start back in the 2007-08 season.

Much of the Engineers’ early season success has been thanks in large part to four of their six NHL prospects. And none have been as crucial to that success as sophomore Allen York (CBJ). The netminder from Westaskwin, AB has appeared in seven games to date, posting a 3-2-1 record. One of York’s most memorable games came back on Oct. 17 when he stopped 33 of 34 shots to gain a tie with Alaska in the Brice Gold Rush tournament in Fairbanks. RPI is also the only team thus far that Alaska has faced that they did not defeat.

Sophomore Mike Bergin (DAL) has returned to the RPI lineup looking better than ever after missing much of last season with an injury. He has appeared in all eight games to date. His five points (two goals, three assists) currently leads the Engineers in defenseman scoring.

A pair of highly touted freshmen in Brandon Pirri (CHI) and Jerry D’Amigo (TOR) round out the group. Both have lived up to their billing and have been keys to the much-improved RPI offense this season. Pirri leads RPI in rookie scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists). His four-point weekend versus Sacred Heart and AIC back on Oct. 23 and 24 earned him his first ECAC Rookie of the Week honor. D’Amigo follows Pirri with six points (two goals, four assists). Both of his goals have come on the power play. The two rookies have appeared in all eight games.

It’s a first for two of Miami’s NHL prospects

The Miami RedHawks are off to a flying start, with a 6-1-1 record as the nation’s top-ranked team. As the month came to a close two of the teams NHL prospects had particularly memorable games.

In the Oct. 30-31 series versus Northern Michigan, two of the RedHawks NHL prospects achieved firsts. Junior Justin Vaive (ANA) posted the first multi-goal game of his collegiate career when he potted a pair in Miami’s 4-3 win on Friday. The following night, sophomore defenseman Chris Wideman (OTT) notched his first collegiate goal, on the power play, in the RedHawks 2-1 win.

Thrashers prospect the center of controversy

It was a hard-fought CCHA contest between the Bowling Green Falcons and the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks that went to overtime and came down to a shootout, but it was anything but typical. And when it was all over, it was mired in controversy with Bowling Green rookie Jordan Samuels-Thomas right in the middle of it.

The game occurred on Oct. 30 in Omaha. At the 4:44 mark of overtime, Samuels-Thomas and Mavericks defenseman Eddie Del Grasso were involved in a scuffle that resulted in matching roughing minors to each player. With the score still tied at 3-3, the game would go to a shootout.

And that’s when it happened.

Samuels-Thomas was one of Bowling Green’s shooters in the shootout, but under NCAA rules he should have been ruled ineligible due to having still been in the penalty box when the overtime session expired. The CCHA officials had missed it during the course of the game and Nebraska-Omaha disputed the outcome afterwards. The league let stand the outcome of the game – Bowling Green winning the shootout, with Samuels-Thomas scoring the lone goal in that stanza.

Samuels-Thomas scored another goal earlier in the game, giving him the first two goals of his collegiate career.

A pair of Red Wings prospects among the hot

Maine junior winger Gustav Nyquist has picked up where he left off last season for the Black Bears. He currently leads his team in scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games. His 11 points are tied for fourth in the nation in scoring. Three of Nyquist’s four goals have come on the power play.

Wisconsin junior Brendan Smith (DET) has continued to give the Badgers some scoring punch from the blueline. He currently has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in five games. Smith’s nine points are tied for second in the nation in defenseman scoring.

On the Shelf

Northeastern sophomore Steve Quailer (MON) is out indefinitely and could be done for the season after suffering a knee injury on Oct. 3 in an exhibition game versus St. Thomas.

Notre Dame sophomore defenseman Teddy Ruth (CBJ) is out indefinitely after suffering a lower body injury on Oct. 10 versus Alabama-Huntsville.

Minnesota freshman defenseman Nick Leddy (MIN) will be out for six weeks after suffering a broken jaw on Oct. 30 versus Alaska-Anchorage.