College Prospects Notebook: January 2012

By DJ Powers
Photo: Having played only four games this season, Rocco Grimaldi‘s 2011-12 season was severely shortened by knee problems. The Florida prospect is expected to get surgery in the near future with hopes of returning for the 2012-13 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With the conference races heating up for the stretch run, many prospects are looking to make key contributions to their respective teams’ hopes. Hockey’s Future looks back at some noteworthy performances around college hockey that kicked off the 2012 calendar year. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of January 31st.

Merrill and Brittain make season debuts

Two top collegiate prospects made their respective season debuts in January.

After missing the first 22 games due to suspension, sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill (NJ) made his long-awaited 2011-12 Michigan debut on January 6th versus Lake Superior State. Merrill returned to the Wolverines lineup after competing with Team USA in the recent World Junior Championship. And he hasn’t lost a step. Since his return, Merrill has posted four points (all assists) and is a plus-four.

One area where Merrill will vastly help Michigan is on their struggling power play. The Wolverines currently rank 43rd in the nation on the man-advantage, clicking at 15.7 percent.

Sophomore netminder Sam Brittain (FLA) made a triumphant return to the University of Denver lineup on January 28th versus Alaska-Anchorage after missing the first 25 games of the season recovering from off-season knee surgery. The Calgary, AB native backstopped the Pioneers to 6-3 win over the Seawolves, helping to extend their winning streak to five games. Denver has been decimated by injuries this season. And nowhere has that been more evident than on their back end. But with their key injured players like Brittain gradually returning to the lineup, the Pioneers hope to make a strong push up the WCHA standings going into their final ten regular season games.

Taking it outside (and outside country)

Five outdoor games and one non-exhibition game in Canada highlighted the month’s contests.

Four of the five outdoor contests took place at Boston’s famed Fenway Park. Dubbed the "Frozen Fenway", the four games took place over the first two weekends in January.

The first weekend saw the University of Massachusetts facing off against the University of Vermont in the early game of the doubleheader, while the University of Maine took on the University of New Hampshire in the nightcap on January 7th in front of 38,456 in attendance.

In the opening match, senior Danny Hobbs (NYR) posted a goal and assisted on fellow senior Michael Marcou’s game-winning power play goal at the 4:37 mark of overtime to lead UMass in a thrilling 3-2 win over Vermont.

The nightcap between Maine and New Hampshire also went to overtime. In that match, the Black Bears’ lethal senior duo Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, and junior Joey Diamond combined for seven points to lead Maine to an exciting 5-4 win over the Wildcats. Flynn netted the game-winner at the 1:29 mark of the extra session. Senior defenseman Will O’Neill (WPG) added a pair of assists for Maine. Sophomore defenseman Eric Knodel (TOR) posted an assist for New Hampshire.

The second weekend of "The Frozen Fenway" saw ECAC foes Harvard and Union College face off on January 13th, and Hockey East foes Boston College and Northeastern facing off the following day.

In the Friday match, senior Kelly Zajac posted a goal and assisted on sophomore defenseman Mat Bodie’s game-winning power play goal at the 19:56 mark of the second period to guide Union College to a 2-0 victory over Harvard. Despite taking the loss, freshman Steve Michalek (MIN) was excellent between the pipes for Harvard, stopping 30 of Union College’s 32 shots.

The following day, senior Chris Kreider (NYR) netted game-winner at the 4:02 mark of the third period to lead Boston College to a 2-1 win over Northeastern. The goal was Kreider’s first of two shorthanded tallies during the month of January. Junior Vinny Saponari (WPG) assisted on the Huskies’ lone goal in the game.

During the same weekend that the opening games of The Frozen Fenway were happening, another contest was taking place in Canada. On January 7th, two injury-plagued teams in Clarkson and North Dakota faced off in Winnipeg’s MTS Centre in front of a crowd of 7,075. Sophomore defenseman Dillon Simpson (EDM) assisted on junior Carter Rowney’s game-winning power play goal and added another helper in propelling North Dakota to a 3-1 win. Freshman Mark MacMillan (MON) tallied the insurance goal at the 19:02 mark of the third period to seal the victory. Senior Julien Cayer (DET) netted the Golden Knights’ lone goal of the contest. Senior netminder Paul Karpowich (STL), who returned to the Clarkson lineup after missing two games due to illness, was strong once again between the pipes despite getting the loss.

Stars collegiate prospects shining bright

It was a banner month for the collegiate prospects of the Dallas Stars.

The Stars have eight prospects playing in the NCAA this season, and all but one of them posted at least one point during the month. The seven players collectively posted a whopping 47 points (26 goals, 21 assists) in January.

Leading the group is Colgate University senior and Hobey Baker candidate Austin Smith. The local product leads the nation in points (41), goals (26) and shorthanded goals (six) playing in all 26 games to date. Smith has also been the catalyst of the Raiders’ great turnaround this season as well. In January, he posted nine points (seven goals, two assists) in eight games. Smith, one of the nation’s most consistent point producers, has been held without a point in just two games this season.

Austin Smith is one of four Stars prospects that currently lead their respective NCAA teams in scoring.

Junior Reilly Smith (no relation to Austin) currently leads Miami University with 27 points (19 goals, eight assists) playing in 26 games. His seven game-winners currently co-lead the nation. During the month, he posted ten points (seven goals, three assists) in eight games. One of the more astounding aspects of Smith this season is the fact that he has already accounted for nearly one quarter of the RedHawks’ goal scoring. Furthermore, he is on pace to eclipse the 28 total goals that he posted last season.

Freshman Alex Guptill has been one of the best surprises coming out of the University of Michigan this season. And the Newmarket, ONT native has more than exceeded expectations. Guptill currently leads the Wolverines in several categories including points (26), goals (14) and power play goals (four). In January, he co-led all Stars prospects with ten points (five goals, five assists) in six games. Guptill has his most memorable performance in the January 13th and 15th weekend series versus Ohio State, notching pair of goals and assists, en route to earning his second consecutive (and third on the season) CCHA Player of the Week honor. Since early December, Guptill has played on the Wolverines’ top line alongside senior David Wohlberg (NJ) and junior Chris Brown (PHO), comprising one of the CCHA’s most potent lines.

After the losses of Charlie Coyle (MIN) and Corey Trivino (NYI), junior Alex Chiasson was one of the players that Boston University looked to for increased point production. And he seems to be getting the job done thus far. Chiasson currently leads the Terriers with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) playing in 23 games. He also leads the team with four power play tallies as well. During the month, Chiasson posted nine points (three goals, four assists) in seven games.

Junior Scott Winkler is enjoying a breakout year with Colorado College this season. The Asker, Norway native currently ranks fourth on the team with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) playing in 22 games. Winkler, who has played on the Tigers’ excellent second line alongside senior Nick Dineen and sophomore Alexander Krushelnyski since mid-November, began the season on the team’s top line with the Schwartz brothers. In January, Winkler posted four points (two goals, two assists) in six games.

After a disappointing sophomore campaign last season, Miami University junior Curtis McKenzie has got things going in the right direction this season. His 13 points (four goals, nine assists) through 27 games to date already exceeds his point total (12) from last season. In the RedHawks’ eight games during January, McKenzie has posted four points (all assists).

University of Minnesota senior Nico Sacchetti posted his first goal in over a year when he notched the game-winner versus Colorado College on January 21st. Sacchetti, who has seen spot duty with the Golden Gophers with just ten appearances this season, posted his previous goal back on January 14th, 2011 versus North Dakota. Coincidently, it was also the game-winning goal.

After an NCAA tournament appearance last season, the RPI Engineers have struggled mightily this season. One reason is their severe lack of offense, which averages just 1.69 goals per game and ranks 57th in the nation. So it should come as no surprise that veterans such as senior co-captain Mike Bergin have also struggled. After compiling 18 points from the blue line last season, Bergin has just two assists through 26 games this season. His most recent assist came back on November 4th in the 1-4 loss to Clarkson.

Who’s Hot

Miami senior goaltender Connor Knapp (BUF) is playing some of his best hockey of the season right now. The York, NY native enjoyed a stellar January that saw him go 5-1-0. During that stretch, Knapp allowed more than one goal just once – in the RedHawks’ 1-2 loss to Northern Michigan on January 27th. On the season, he has posted an 8-5-2 record that includes two shutouts. His 1.79 goals against average currently lead all collegiate prospects and ranks fourth nationally. Knapp’s best outing of the month came back on January 6th and 7th in the series versus Michigan State. In that series, he stopped 53 of 54 Spartans shots en route to capturing the first of his two CCHA Goaltender of the Week honors during the month. While Knapp continues to platoon with fellow senior Cody Reichard, he could potentially see more playing time heading down the stretch.

Another Buffalo Sabres prospect that also enjoyed a stellar January was Vermont senior defenseman Drew MacKenzie. The New Canaan, CT native posted seven points (one goal, six assists) in the Catamounts’ seven games during the month. With the sheer amount of injuries that have hit Vermont this season, MacKenzie has not only been a guiding force but one of the team’s most consistent players all year. He currently leads the Catamounts in defenseman scoring with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 23 games. What has been so remarkable about MacKenzie is the fact that he has been held pointless in consecutive games just once this season. That came in the season-opening series versus Minnesota back on October 21st and 23rd.

While much of the talk about Colgate has centered around Austin Smith this season, sophomore Chris Wagner (ANA) has been equally noteworthy. The Walpole, MA native enjoyed one of his best months of the season in January. In the Raiders’ eight games, Wagner posted 12 points (three goals, nine assists). Overall, he leads the team with 24 assists and ranks second with 34 points playing in 25 games. He also nearly doubled his point production (19) from last season. Wagner centers arguably the best line in the ECAC that includes Smith and outstanding freshman Joe Wilson.

Like a fine bottle of wine, Harvard senior Alex Killorn (TB) gets better with age. In his previous three seasons with the Crimson, he has steadily increased his point production and that has continued this year. The Montreal, QC native enjoyed one of his best months of the season in January, posting ten points (six goals, four assists) in nine games. Overall, Killorn leads Harvard in points (26), goals (14) and power play goals (seven). He is also on pace to break the 30-point plateau as well. Killorn garnered his second ECAC Player of the Week honor after guiding the Crimson to wins over Yale and Brown in the January 27th and 28th weekend set. In both contests, Killorn posted the game-winners.

Who’s Not

Last season, junior Greg Burke (WSH) was limited to just 18 games for the University of New Hampshire due to injuries. Despite playing in 22 games thus far this season, Burke has not been able to avoid the injury bug. He suffered a broken finger versus Boston University on December 8th and missed nearly the entire month. Since his return back on January 7th versus Maine in the Frozen Fenway, Burke has been held without a point. His most recent tally, a goal, came in the same game that he suffered his finger injury in. On the season, Burke has posted just seven points (three goals, four assists).

It’s been a tough year for Providence College junior Alex Velischek (PIT). The Kinnelon, NJ has just four points (all assists) to date and hasn’t posted a point in nearly two months. His most recent point came back on December 3rd versus Merrimack. Velischek, who has played at both defense and forward this season, has appeared in 19 of the Friars’ 24 games to date.

There’s a first time for everything

It was a January to remember for Ohio State freshman Max McCormick (OTT), after posting seven points (five goals, two assists) in eight games during the month. The highlight was his first career hat trick on January 28th versus Lake Superior State. McCormick had a good start to his rookie campaign before suffering an injury that forced him to miss eight games in late October/early November. To date, McCormick has appeared in 19 games, posting 14 points (seven goals, seven assists).

McCormick wasn’t the only collegiate prospect that netted his first career hat trick in January. Two others also did.

Northeastern sophomore Cody Ferriero (SJ) accomplished the feat on Jan. 27 versus Vermont. The Essex, MA native posted four points (three goals, one assist) to lead the Huskies to a resounding 8-3 victory en route to also earning his second Hockey East Player of the Week honor on the season. The four points were also Ferriero’s lone points during January. He last appeared on the score sheet on December 31st versus host Minnesota in the Mariucci Classic, posting an assist. Overall, Ferriero currently co-leads Northeastern with nine goals and has 15 points in 17 games. He has missed seven combined games due to two separate team suspensions, the most recent of which came on January 13th and 14th versus Boston University and Boston College respectively.

For UMass senior Danny Hobbs (NYR), it took until his 107th career game to notch his first collegiate hat trick. He accomplished the feat on January 20th in the Minutemen’s 4-3 win over Vermont. Hobbs also enjoyed a solid January, posting seven points (five goals, two assists) in UMass’ six games during the month. Overall, he has posted 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 21 games.

A pair junior defensemen finally notched their first collegiate goals in January.

North Dakota’s Andrew MacWilliam (TOR) was the first do it, when he posted his goal on Jan. 13 versus archrival Minnesota. The tally came in his 102nd career game. The imposing rearguard found the back of the net again in the January 28th contest versus Wisconsin. To date, MacWilliam has posted six points (two goals, four assists) playing in all 27 games. He also leads North Dakota with 46 penalty minutes.

The second defenseman to notch his first career goal was Maine’s Nick Pryor (ANA). The goal, which was the game-winner, came in the Black Bears’ 3-1 win over Boston University on January 28th. The Woodbury, MN native is enjoying the best season of his career after battling injuries in his two previous years. To date, he has played in 23 games, posting eight points (one goal, seven assists).

Done for the year

North Dakota lost two NHL prospects in dynamic freshman Rocco Grimaldi (FLA) and sophomore Derek Rodwell (NJ) to season-ending injuries. Grimaldi’s much-anticipated collegiate debut was limited to just four games and two points (a goal and an assist) due to a lingering knee injury that will require surgery. The Rossmoor, CA native originally suffered the injury in pre-season.

Rodwell suffered a shoulder injury back on December 30th versus Harvard that will also require season-ending surgery. The Taber, AB native played in 19 games this season, posting a goal and an assist.

Vermont, like North Dakota, has also lost an NHL prospect for the season in freshman defenseman Nicholas Luukko (PHI). The West Chester, PA native suffered an abdominal injury that will require surgery in the opening game of the Catamount Cup back on December 29th versus Lake Superior State. Luukko finishes his shortened rookie campaign with three points (all assists) in 17 games.