Kings college pipeline season review

By David A. Rainer

The Los Angeles Kings were well represented in this year’s NCAA Frozen Four with prospects Ryan Murphy, Brian Boyle, and Connor James amongst those taking part. With the crowning of the University of Denver as National Champions, another season comes to a close. Some surprise freshman and five graduations highlight the Kings’ college crop.

Greg Hogeboom entered the season with the high expectations that are placed on a senior leader of a team looking to reach college hockey’s highest plateau. He would not disappoint. Posting a point per game pace, including four game winning goals, the forward anchored one of the most potent scoring lines in the nation. His 42 points would place him tied for 19th in all of college hockey for scoring. Hogeboom was not alone. Fellow Kings prospect Marty Guerin turned in a stellar season en route to being named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team. Guerin produced a remarkable 14 goals and 33 points while earning himself the trust of his coach and a spot on the top line. As a result of their efforts, the Miami Red Hawks reached the NCAA tournament for only the third time in its history. Hogeboom recently signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings and has begun playing with Manchester of the AHL.

Ohio State was also one of the sixteen teams invited to participate, due in no small part to the efforts of Dave Steckel. Another graduating senior for the Kings, Steckel turned around the disappointing sophmore and junior seasons to tie a career high in goals with 17. Steckel is a player who knows his role and does it well. This defensive forward with a huge frame is at his best when he’s banging opposing players in the corners or loose pucks in the crease on the powerplay.

Connor James experienced an up and down season for the University of Denver. He would eventually finish with 38 points in 40 games, but those points came in spurts. He struggled to begin the season and was constantly being moved into new line combinations. Finally settling down, the senior forward would go on a tear producing the bulk of his 38 points. But just as easily as it came, James would find himself struggling down the stretch, culminating with a broken fibula that would sideline him for the rest of the season up to the Frozen Four. It would be his final two games of his collegiate career where his star would shine the brightest –- scoring one goal, two assists, and one National Championship trophy. The consummate leader and team player, James’ efforts were finally recognized as he was named to the All Tournament Team and took home the WCHA Student Athlete of the Year award.

In contrast, senior goaltender Nathan Marsters was a rock of consistency throughout the season for Rensselaer. Beginning with a shutout of Army on October 25, he would go on to post four more shutouts while remain near the top of the league in goals-against average (2.15) and save percentage (.922). Marsters started 35 of the team’s 39 games and would carry the team into the second round of the ECAC tournament, eventually succumbing to Dartmouth where he would face 37 shots in a 1-0 loss.

Mike Gabinet is another Kings prospect who would find solace in this season from the disappointments of the past. Scoring only eight assists in the previous 61 games spanning two seasons, the senior defenseman welcomed the clean slate of a new season. Gabinet would lead all Nebraska-Omaha defensemen with career highs in goals (4), assists (20), and points (24), proving to be one of the biggest success stories of the season for Kings prospects.

The defensive forward Ryan Murphy has been a mainstay on the “stopper” type third line for Boston College since he arrived. His 15 points in 42 games are commensurate with his career totals, yet not indicative of his importance to the team. He is not relied on for scoring, instead contributing solid defensive play and a high-energy style designed to harass the opposition while encouraging his teammates. One such teammate is 2003 first round pick Brian Boyle. Boyle spent the season on the fourth line and occasionally seeing powerplay time. Not much was expected of Boyle in his freshman campaign, but he did manage to chip in with five goals and three assists. However, he registered only one assist in his final 22 games and found himself scratched for several games down the stretch. But despite it all, Boyle only appeared inexperienced to the college game and not sure how best to use his skills, something that will fade as the years pass by.

Another of the Kings quartet of fabulous freshman is Clarkson forward Mike Sullivan. He received steady playing time at both winger positions on Clarkson’s top line. Sullivan notched 19 points in 40 games, including his first career multi-point game December 6th against UMass-Lowell. Sullivan and the rest of the Golden Knights put together a great run in the ECAC Tournament only to watch Harvard score a late third period game-winning goal during the finals.

Colorado College lost a great deal of scoring from last season’s team due to graduation and, as a result, failed to make it into the NCAA tournament. Two bright spots this season for the Tigers have been the play of Richard Petiot and Matt Zaba. Rock solid on the blueline, Petiot quietly asserted himself as one of the best defenseman in the college ranks. Quiet, that is, in everything but the monster hits he’s known for delivering. He hounds the opposition’s forwards with the veracity of an aggravated pitbull searching for his bone. He managed to add only eight points to the mix, but the success of the Tigers has never hinged on Petiot’s production. His “back-alley brawling” physical style of play will add an aspect to the Kings’ defensemen that has been lacking for years.

The second link to the Colorado College tandem is freshman goaltender Matt Zaba. Chosen in the eighth round of the 2003 draft, Zaba began this season as an over-aged freshman and impressed coaches early in training camp. He took over starting duties early in the season due to an illness to Curtis McElhinney and would remain a trusted alternate for the remainder of the season. Zaba appeared in 23 games for the Tigers while maintaining a consistently outstanding 2.27 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Acknowledging his tremendous impact, Zaba was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team in March.

Also named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, as well as being named Rookie of the Year, was forward Brady Murray. An integral member of North Dakota’s top line – the most potent scoring line in all of college hockey – Murray wowed fans with 46 points on 19 goals, including six game winning goals. His season was slightly interrupted while he helped bring home a gold medal for Team USA in the World Juniors Championships. Upon returning, he and linemates Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski went right back to work in leading the Fighting Sioux to the top seed in the NCAA Tournament before eventually falling to Denver in the Regional Finals.

Jeff Tambellini spent the 2002-03 season leading the University of Michigan in goals and points en route to being named CCHA Rookie of Year. With such a record and pedigree, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2003 draft was poised to catapult himself into the group of elite college forward prospects. Blazing to start the season only to hit a lull by mid-November, Tambellini never fully hit his stride and finished the season with a sub-par 27 points in 39 games. But through it all, he never lost his sense of perspective as he gradually developed his defensive game while accentuating the excellent skating ability that got him this far. He took home a silver medal while scoring five points in six games for Team Canada in the World Juniors Championship during the holiday break. The collective heart of Wolverine fans skipped a beat at the WHL trading deadline as Tambellini’s juniors rights were transferred to Kelowna, fuelling speculation that he was contemplating leaving college hockey. However, fears were quickly quashed when he announced his intention to continue his career at Michigan.

Award Winners

Most Promising Freshman: Brady Murray – No explanation needed.
Most Underrated: Richard Petiot – This guy is just a lights-out physical defenseman. As with what Matty Norstrom adds to a team, it is often difficult to convey this because there is no way to statistically characterize it.
Most in Need of a Summer Break: Brian Boyle – A long freshman season. It can only get better.
Best Defenseman: Richard Petiot
Best Forward: Greg Hogeboom – A complete package.
Best Defensive Forward: Ryan Murphy – Hot on the heels of the opposition every inch of the ice.
Most Likely to Have a Huge Next Season: Jeff Tambellini – No distractions and poised to assert himself.
Most Improved: Dave Steckel – Finally regained the form of his freshman season.