Preview of the College Hockey Showcase

By DJ Powers

The 12th annual College Hockey Showcase (CHS) will be taking place over the Thanksgiving weekend on November 27th and 28th. Four of the nation’s most storied programs- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin- take part in this premiere tournament every year.

This year’s College Hockey Showcase is a must-see for anyone following NHL prospects. Between the four teams, there are 44 NHL prospects representing 22 NHL teams. While it is likely that not all 44 prospects will be playing during the weekend tournament, most will be. In addition, these four teams feature several outstanding possible future prospects such as Michigan’s T. J. Hensick, Michigan State’s Bryan Lerg, Minnesota’s Nate Hagemo and Wisconsin’s Jeff Likens.

Last year at Michigan’s Yost Arena and Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena, the home teams lost to the visitors in both games. This year, the tournament shifts west to Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena and Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, where the visiting Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans will look to defeat the home teams on their respective rinks. However, that may prove to be a daunting task for the Michigan teams as Minnesota and Wisconsin have excellent home records. The Golden Gophers are a perfect 5-0-0 at Mariucci, while the Badgers are 7-1-0 at the Kohl Center, with the only home loss of the season thus far coming back on October 30th versus Denver. Wins in this tournament are particularly important as far as points towards the Pairwise Rankings (PWR) are concerned. The PWR is used to help determine who will receive at-large bids as well as determine seedings in the Frozen Four Tournament in the spring.

Coming into this year’s CHS, Wisconsin possesses the worst head-to-head tournament record. The Badgers are 2-8-1 versus Michigan and 2-9-0 versus Michigan State. While the Spartans have an excellent tournament record versus Wisconsin, they have an almost equally bad tournament record versus Minnesota, going 2-7-2. The most evenly split tournament record is that between Michigan and Minnesota. The Wolverines hold a slight edge over the Golden Gophers with a head-to-head tournament record of 6-5-0.

Top ranked Michigan is coming off of a home-and-home weekend series that saw them sweep their archrivals from East Lansing and, in doing so, helped propel them to regaining the top spot in this week’s national polls.

The Wolverines possess one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. They have the second ranked offense in the nation that’s averaging over four goals per game. What makes the Wolverines offense even more impressive has been their ability to spread it throughout their roster. Aside from the goaltenders, the only players on the roster who have yet to register a goal this season are sophomore defensemen Tim Cook (OTT) and Jason Dest. Equally impressive has been the fact that all of the skaters (forwards and defensemen) on the Wolverines roster are all on the plus side in the plus/minus category coming into the CHS. Sophomore phenom T. J. Hensick, who led the Wolverines in scoring last season, is currently leading the team this season with 16 points (six goals, ten assists). Junior Jeff Tambellini (LA) looks to have found his scoring touch again this season. He enjoyed an excellent weekend versus conference rival Miami-Ohio back on November 6th, when he racked up six points (five goals, one assist), including his second career hat-trick. Tambellini currently ranks second on the team in scoring with 14 points (six goals, eight assists).

Scoring from the defense hasn’t been a problem either. Senior Eric Werner currently leads all Wolverines defensemen with 10 points (three goals, seven assists). The sophomore Cook is the lone Wolverines defenseman (as well as skater) still looking for his first point of the season, despite having played in every game thus far.

While scoring hasn’t been much of a concern for the Wolverines thus far this season, what has been of some concern is scoring on the power play. Michigan currently ranks 27th in the nation on the power play at 17.7 percent. Senior Milan Gajic (ATL) and freshman Chad Kolarik (PHX) lead Michigan in power play goals with three each. The two players account for six of Michigan’s 14 power play goals on the season.

Sophomore Al Montoya (NYR) continues to be superb in goal while racking up the minutes. He has started all 12 games this season, posting a record of 9-2-1 that includes a shutout of conference rival Ferris State back on October 29th. Montoya’s 725 minutes played currently ranks him third in the nation, while his .792 winning percentage ranks him fifth in the nation in that category.

The Michigan State Spartans are coming off of back-to-back losses to archrival Michigan. Turnovers and the team speed of the Wolverines contributed to the Spartans’ demise in the weekend series. One area of great concern of late to Michigan State is scoring from some of their top players, such as seniors Jim Slater (ATL) and Mike Lalonde. Slater, who finished among the top scorers in the nation last season, has just 11 points (four goals, seven assists) coming into the CHS. Scoring from the blueline has also been problem. The Spartans defense has scored a grand total of one goal, which came from sophomore Ethan Graham. Fellow sophomore A. J. Thelen (MIN) leads all defensemen in points with seven.

One line combination that has performed extremely well for the Spartans thus far this season is the "er" line, comprised of junior Colton Fretter (ATL), sophomore Drew Miller (ANA) and freshman Chris Mueller. All three players rank among the top five scorers for the Spartans. Fretter currently leads the Spartans in scoring with 12 points (six goals, six assists). The "er’" line was outstanding last weekend versus Michigan, with the sophomore Miller notching three points (two goals, one assist) in the losses.

Another issue that Michigan State will need to address coming into the CHS is their overall defense, particularly in slowing down the speed players of both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Spartans are averaging 2.83 goals per game at the moment. The problem is they are giving up almost as many goals as they are scoring, averaging 2.58 goals against per game.

Sophomore Dominic Vicari and senior Matt Migliaccio have been sharing the goaltending duties for Michigan State. Both goaltenders have posted save percentages of better than .900 and goals against averages below 2.60. Vicari, who has started the majority of the games, has posted a 4-4-1 record that includes a stunning shutout of ECAC powerhouse Cornell back on November 14th.

Third-ranked Minnesota is coming off of a weekend split with the reigning National Champion Denver Pioneers in Denver. Like last season’s team, there’s a very good balance of offense and defense this season. Having a large freshman class hasn’t diminished Minnesota’s strength and depth either. The Golden Gophers currently rank seventh in the nation in both team offense and team defense. The Golden Gophers are averaging just over 3.80 goals per game, while allowing an average of 2.36 goals per game.

The two players leading the Golden Gophers offense this season are sophomore sensations Ryan Potulny (PHI) and Danny Irmen (MIN). Both players co-lead the team in points with 16. Potulny has been on fire since the season began. He is averaging just over a goal per game and currently leads the nation in goals with 12. An area where Potulny has really excelled is on the power play. Of his 12 goals, seven have come on the power play. While Potulny and Irmen lead Minnesota in points, the scoring has been spread out throughout all four forward lines. Junior Tyler Hirsch, who until recently saw duty primarily on the third line, is third on the team in scoring with 12 points (two goals, nine assists). Senior Garrett Smaagaard, who sees duty usually on Minnesota’s fourth line, is also among the Golden Gophers scoring leaders with seven points (three goals, four assists).

Two freshmen who have been off to excellent starts are defensemen Alex Goligoski (PIT) and Derek Peltier (COL). Goligoski currently leads all Golden Gophers defensemen and rookies in scoring with eight points (one goal, seven assists). Peltier leads all defensemen in goals with three. Goligoski, along with junior Chris Harrington have become one of the best blueline tandems in the WCHA.

Goaltending has been one of the Golden Gophers’ strengths since the start of the season. Sophomore Kellen Briggs has started in ten of Minnesota’s eleven games and has been nothing short of brilliant. He has posted an 8-2-0 record that includes two shutouts. He possesses an excellent save percentage (.925) and goals against average (2.20). He’s currently tied for third in the nation in winning percentage (.800).

One player who was noticeably absent from the Gophers lineup last weekend is senior Barry Tallackson (NJ). Tallackson missed the trip to Denver due to an ankle injury and his status is unclear for the CHS. Junior defenseman P. J. Atherton (TB), who is currently out of the Golden Gophers lineup due to being academically ineligible, will make his 2004-05 season debut in January.

Second-ranked Wisconsin, who currently sit atop the WCHA standings, are coming off a convincing sweep of Alaska-Anchorage in Anchorage. Two areas that have been key to the early success of the Badgers have been a potent offense and exceptional special teams. Wisconsin’s team offense currently is tied for third in the nation, averaging four goals per game. The Badgers are also the only team in this tournament whose power play and penalty killing both currently rank in the top ten in the nation.

Wisconsin is a relatively young team, but they certainly don’t play like one. The underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) on the team have accounted for nearly 76 percent of the team’s total points, with the sophomores accounting for nearly 48 percent of that total. Seven of the Badgers’ top nine scorers are NHL prospects. Sophomore sensation Robbie Earl (TOR) leads the Badgers in scoring with 18 points (seven goals, eleven assists). His linemate, freshman Joe Pavelski (SJ), is off to a tremendous start. Pavelski currently ranks second in goals, and leads all freshmen on the team in scoring with 16 points (six goals, ten assists). He also ranks second in the nation among all rookies in points per game (1.33). Earl and Pavelski along with senior Adam Burish (CHI) have become one of the most exciting line combinations in the nation to watch thus far this season. In addition to scoring depth up front, Wisconsin has also gotten some scoring from their blueline as well. The most notable defender on offense has been freshman Kyle Klubertanz (ANA), who leads all Wisconsin defensemen in scoring with nine points (two goals, seven assists).

Another area of strength for Wisconsin has been in goal. The tandem of senior Bernd Brückler (PHI) and sophomore Brian Elliott (OTT) have been stellar thus far this season. Both goaltenders possess save percentages better than .900 and goals against averages lower than 2.60. Brückler, who has played in the majority of the games, has posted a 9-3-0 record that includes a shutout of conference rival North Dakota back on November 12th. Elliott has started in only three games and has posted a perfect 3-0-0 record. His first two starts versus Mercyhurst and Michigan Tech were shutouts. He surrendered his first and only goal of the season in last Saturday’s 4-1 win at Alaska-Anchorage.

CSTV and Fox Sports North will be carrying the Michigan-Minnesota and Michigan State-Minnesota games respectively this weekend.