Kings college pipeline midseason report

By David A. Rainer

The conclusion of the holiday tournament schedule marks the unofficial midpoint of the college hockey season. While a pair of Kings prospects squared off in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships, others took part in the festivities of several local tournaments. A full slate of regular season games picks up again on January 2nd as teams begin to separate into Frozen Four contenders and postseason pretenders.

Greg Hogeboom has been the most impressive Kings prospect so far this season. Playing on one of the top two lines with fellow senior Mike Kompon, Hogeboom has continued his point per game pace while exhibiting a solid all-around game for the Miami Red Hawks. Fellow Hawk Marty Guerin has been equally impressive as a freshman. Guerin has been one of the most productive of a surprise crop of Miami freshmen. Lined up with Hobey Baker hopeful Derek Edwardson, Guerin has been on fire recently with nine points in his last six games, including three assists in the Dodge Holiday Classic.

Boston College and North Dakota have been the two top teams in the nation to this point due in no small part to the play of Brady Murray, Ryan Murphy, and Brian Boyle. Murray has been playing on UND’s explosive top line with former Shattuck teammate Zach Parise, exhibiting his explosive speed carying the puck coast to coast. With three game winning goals in 13 games, Murray is in competition for WCHA rookie of the year honors and possibly more.

Centering an all freshman line with Adam Pineault</b> and Joe Rooney, Brian Boyle is learning the college game the “hard” way – playing hard and physical. Using his size effectively to keep the opposition off of him when carrying the puck and in front of the net, Boyle has registered a hard fought five tallies, including his first two-goal game against Providence. But one should not lose sight that Boyle is still only a freshman on one of the deepest programs in the country and his freshman year will be a year of adjustments and learning.

Ryan Murphy has been his usual self, playing a strong defensive game and reliable on the penalty kill. He has been playing on a defensive stopper-type unit dedicated to hard work on every shift. Although one might have expected to see slightly more points out of Murphy (he has yet to register a two-point game), no one can question his willingness to sacrifice for the advancement of team goals.

Ohio State’s top scoring line is arguably one of the best in the nation, anchored by senior center Dave Steckel. Steckel has stepped up and played some great hockey this year with solid defense and clutch late-game goals in what appears to be the turn-around season for which Kings fans have been waiting. He has been paired up with wingers Paul Caponigri and JB Bittner, scoring 11 goals in 19 games, the most goals he’s had since his freshman year, including a goal in the Everblades College Classic.

Still one of the most deadly players in college hockey on the break, Denver’s Connor James has been skating on the top two lines but seemingly never with the same linemates. Consequently, James started the season slowly with only five points in his first eight games. But you can’t keep a good man down. After registering a goal and two assists against Alaska-Anchorage on November 14th, he has found his offense. Continuing his career point per game pace, James lead Denver to another Denver Cup championship with three assists in two games and earned WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Also appearing in the Denver Cup tournament for Nebraska-Omaha was defenseman Mike Gabinet. He registered three assists in the final game of the tournament but ultimately met defeat to Denver. Gabinet entered the season wearing the “A” for the Mavericks and has responded to the increased responsibility with improved physical play and increased offensive production. Gabinet is second on the team with 14 points in 20 games after posting only four points in each of the last two seasons.

Mike Sullivan began the year at left wing on the top line for Clarkson, but has since found his niche on the second line. Sullivan began the season with four points in five games only to come back down to Earth. However, he has been one of the most promising freshman for Clarkson and scored his first collegiate career multi point game in a loss to Mass.-Lowell.

Two goalie prospects have had tremendous seasons to date: Nathan Marsters and Matt Zaba. Marsters had a disappointing 2002-03 season that included a career worst in GAA and save percentage. However, he finished the season strong and has carried that momentum into this season. With the starting job secured for Rensselaer, he has regained his form and lowered his GAA to 2.51 and save percentage to .901 in 15 games.

After taking over the starter role when Curtis McElhinney went down with injury, Zaba has turned in a tremendous performance for sixth ranked Colorado College. As a freshman, Zaba is tied for second in the nation with a 1.65 GAA and fifth with a .931 save percentage. A possible goalie controversy brewing? Not likely.

Also skating the ice at Colorado College you might find defenseman Richard Petiot. Petiot has been paired with Weston Tardy and continues his great defensive play and solid penalty kill. He has registered only two goals and two assists, but has continued his hard hitting. The success of Colorado College and fellow Kings prospect Matt Zaba can be laid squarely at the feet of the Tigers’ defense which Petiot and Mark Stuart anchor.

Great expectations were placed on Jeff Tambellini entering this season after a landmark freshman campaign that earned him CCHA Rookie of the Year honors. With his first career collegiate hat trick against Quinnipiac on October 18, it appeared that Tambellini was well on his way to exceeding those expectations while also improving his defensive game. Although he leads the team with nine goals, he has not scored a single point in the last six games played for Michigan. Hopefully, Tambellini’s recent play at the World Junior Championships foreshadows the end of his slump once he rejoins Michigan.

Midseason Awards

Most promising Freshman: Brady Murray – this was a tight battle as there were numerous impressive freshman prospects, but Murray gets the nod because of his experience playing against top players and his explosive offense.

Most Likely to Have a Breakout Second Half: Jeff Tambellini – after a bit of a scoring drought, Tambellini hit his stride in the WJCs and will carry this into the rest of the collegiate season.

Most Improved: Dave Steckel – another tight race between Steckel, Mike Gabinet and Nathan Marsters but Steckel gets the nod for disproving perceived fan frustrations over the former first round pick.

Best Player: Greg Hogeboom – excellent all-around game and highly productive.

In Other News

  • Brady Murray and Jeff Tambellini played for Team USA and Team Canada, respectively, for the World Juniors Championship. Murray finished the tournament with two goals in six games in helping USA to the gold medal for the first time in their history. Tambellini finished with two goals and three assists in six games and a silver medal.
  • Joel Andresen has left the University of Nebraska-Omaha to join Lethbridge of the WHL.
  • A complete monthly statistical update can be seen here.