NCAA Prospects Notebook, December, 2015: NCAA season heads into second half after tournament, WJC action

By DJ Powers
Zach Werenski - Team USA - 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: University of Michigan defenseman and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Zach Werenski captained Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he also earned the Top Defenseman honor for that tournament (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images



The month of December featured many excellent performances, fantastic finishes and a few surprises in NCAA hockey. Hockey’s Future looks back at some of the more notable items involving NHL prospects making news around college hockey in the final month of 2015. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Jan. 10th, 2015.

NCAA well represented at World Junior Championship

This year’s World Junior Championship featured 15 current and future collegians representing three countries in the United States, Sweden and Canada. Boston University had the most players with four current players as well committed defenseman Chad Krys. Furthermore, the Terriers were the only NCAA team that had at least one player representing those three countries. In addition to Krys, current defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Fortunato were a part of Team USA while forward Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (BOS) was a part of Team Sweden and defenseman Brandon Hickey (CGY) was the lone collegian on Team Canada’s roster. Joining Forsbacka-Karlsson on Sweden’s roster was University of Massachusetts freshman defenseman William Lagesson (EDM).

Rounding out the group of collegians at the 2016 WJC were nine others – all on the American roster – including team captain and University of Michigan sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski (CBJ) and University of North Dakota linemates Nick Schmaltz (CHI) and Brock Boeser (VAN).

Among NHL teams, the Boston Bruins had the most collegiate prospects in this WJC with four. Joining Forsbacka-Karlsson among Bruins prospects were Team USA and Tri-City Americans defenseman Brandon Carlo, and forwards Anders Bjork of Notre Dame and Ryan Donato of Harvard.

Holiday tournaments roundup

Six tournaments concluded this season’s holiday tournaments.

The 16th annual Florida College Classic kicked things off on Dec. 28th-29th in Estero, FL, and it featured the biggest upsets of the NCAA season so far. Underdog Ohio State University pulled off two shocking performances en route to claiming the tournament title after knocking off top-10 ranked teams Boston College and Cornell University respectively. The Buckeyes posted a 3-2 come-from-behind win to take down the Eagles in their semi-final contest. Ohio State would then meet Cornell for the championship after the Big Red handed Providence College their first loss of the season in their semi-final match. The Buckeyes gave Cornell a reality check with an 8-0 thrashing thanks to a tremendous team effort and the superb goaltending of junior Christian Frey, who was named the tournament MVP.

In the third place game, the Friars got back in the win column after edging Boston College 2-1. Senior Brandon Tanev netted the game-winner for Providence College.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, PA at the CONSOL Energy Center, the fourth annual Three Rivers Classic also got underway on Dec. 28th-29th. Robert Morris University successfully defended their tournament crown, beating in-state rival Penn State University in their semi-final game before upsetting UMass-Lowell in the championship tilt. Senior Zac Lynch was named the tournament MVP after posting five points (three goals, two assists) in an outstanding performance to lead the Colonials. Joining Lynch on the All-Tournament Team was Clarkson University junior Troy Josephs (PIT), who netted the Golden Knights lone goal in their 5-1 loss to Penn State in the third place game.

The next tournament to get underway was the granddaddy of them all. The 51st annual Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) took place on Dec. 29th-30th at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI. The Wolverines successfully defended their GLI title by beating Michigan Tech University, 4-2. Freshman Kyle Connor (WPG) was named the tournament MVP after a sensational performance, posting three points (one goal, two assists) including the game-winner versus Northern Michigan University in the semi-final game to lead the Wolverines. Freshman Jake Jackson (SJS) posted his first collegiate goal and senior Jamie Phillips (WPG) stopped 18 of 21 shots he faced in Michigan Tech’s loss.

In the third place game, Michigan State University continued to have problems holding onto leads and again fell in overtime 2-1 to Northern Michigan. Sophomore Robbie Payne netted the game-winner at 3:38 of the extra session for the Wildcats.

While the GLI was taking place in Detroit, the 20th annual Catamount Cup also got underway on Dec. 28th-29th in Burlington, VT. The host University of Vermont won the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Colgate University in the championship game. Catamounts freshman goaltender Packy Munson was named the tournament MVP after a terrific outing, stopping a combined 43 of 44 shots in the two games, including a 23-save shutout of Lake Superior State University in the semi-final match. Joining Munson on the All-Tournament Team was Brown senior Nick Lappin, who posted a hat trick and added two assists in the Bears’ 7-5 win over Colgate on Dec. 28th.

The next tournament to get underway was the 25th annual Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis, MN on Jan. 1st and 2nd. Harvard went on to claim the tournament title after crushing Ferris State University 7-3 in their semi-final match before rallying to a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over host Minnesota. Senior Kyle Criscuolo netted both the game-tying and game-winning goals en route to being named the tournament’s MVP. Sophomore netminder Merrick Madsen (PHI) joined teammate Criscuolo on the All-Tournament Team after a brilliant outing, stopping a combined 61 of 67 shots in the tournament. Minnesota juniors Hudson Fasching (BUF) and defenseman Michael Brodzinski (SJS) and sophomore defenseman Steve Johnson (LAK) were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

After falling to Harvard in their semi-final game, Ferris State won the third place game with a 5-2 win over the University of Connecticut. Junior Kyle Schempp (NYI) netted a power play goal to help lead the Bulldogs to the victory. Freshman Max Letunov (ARI) netted a pair of assists in the Huskies loss.

The final holiday tournament to get underway was the 27th annual Ledyard Classic in Hanover, NH on Jan. 2nd and 3rd. Host Dartmouth College claimed the title after defeating Robert Morris, 5-1, in their semi-final match before shutting out Merrimack College 3-0 in the championship game. Senior Nick Bligh was named the tournament’s MVP after an outstanding performance, racking up five points (two goals, three assists) for the Big Green. Joining Bligh on the All-Tournament Team was Merrimack sophomore Brett Seney (NJD), who posted a power play goal in the Warriors 3-2 win over Union College in their semi-final match.

Winnipeg Jets prospect soars in December

No NHL prospect was hotter in the month of December than Michigan freshman sensation Kyle Connor. The Shelby Township, MI native amassed an astounding 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in the Wolverines six games during the month. His most memorable game during the month was against Big Ten rival Minnesota on Dec. 13th. In that contest, Connor registered his first collegiate hat trick and added an assist to lead Michigan to the 8-3 victory. Overall, he currently leads the nation in freshman scoring with 25 points (15 goals, 16 assists) playing in 19 games. Most recently, Connor was named the National Rookie of the Month for December.

Hockey East prospects shelved

Two of Hockey East’s top prospects in Providence College sophomore defenseman Jake Walman (STL) and Boston College junior goaltender Thatcher Demko (VAN) were recently out of their respective teams’ lineups due to upper body injuries.

Walman was leading the nation in scoring by a defenseman prior to suffering his injury vs. Merrimack back on Dec. 5th. He still leads all defensive prospects and currently ranks second among all defensemen with 19 points (11 goals, nine assists) despite having not played since that Dec. 5th contest. Furthermore, it dashed any hope of Walman possibly making Canada’s WJC team. Walman returned to the Friars’ lineup this weekend, however.

Demko suffered his injury vs. Ohio State in the Florida College Classic semi-final back on Dec. 28th. The San Diego, CA native did play in the tournament’s third place game vs. Providence College, however, but was out of the lineup when the Eagles took on the Friars again on Jan. 8th-9th. Demko had been playing exceedingly well prior to his injury. He currently sports a 13-4-1 record that also includes a co-nation leading six shutouts in 18 games. His 1.72 goals-against average and .936 save percentage rank in the top 10 nationally.

Demko is out indefinitely and there is no timetable for his return.

Greer latest to bolt for CHL

Boston University winger A.J. Greer (COL) became the latest player to leave the collegiate ranks for the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The Joliette, QC native left the Terriers during the holiday break on Dec. 18 to sign with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. He leaves Boston University having played in 18 games and posting five points (one goal, four assists) this season. Greer follows Jeremy Bracco (TOR) and Warren Foegele (CAR), who left back in October, to join CHL clubs.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF