With a number of graduations and early exits over the summer of 2005, the prospect pool within the college ranks shrank considerably for the Bruins. U Mass Lowell center Ben Walter, Colorado College defenseman Mark Stuart, and Bowling Green State defenseman Jonathan Sigalet all cut their college careers short to play pro, while Boston College defenseman Andrew Alberts and Bowling Green State goaltender Jordan Sigalet signed contracts after graduation. Just four players represent the Bruins in the NCAA for the 2005-06 season.
Cornell University junior Byron Bitz may have filled out his 6’4 frame significantly to a sturdy 220 lbs, but the big thing for the 21-year-old forward is that he’s been healthy this season. Bitz has worked hard to bring some consistency to his game, and is making some progress.
“I think for him to be a complete player he needs to be more aggressive shooting — he’s always looking to pass the puck,” said Cornell assistant coach Scott Garrow. “You look at his stats, and for a kid his size he should really be scoring more goals. He’s one of those players that when he makes his way to the puck and gets his feet moving, teams just can’t stop him. It’s something we’ve seen more and more, but haven’t seen quite enough of yet.”
Bitz has 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) so far this season, playing center on Cornell’s top line instead of his normal position at left wing, and has adjusted well to the change. He is also part of the top power-play unit, where two of his goals were scored. Garrow describes the young forward as hardworking, committed, and a player who has all the tools to be dominant on the ice. He’s demonstrated that he can be that player, but the key will be for Bitz to play that way consistently.
Boston College currently sits on top of Hockey East with a 12-2-1 conference and 14-4-2 overall record. Freshman forward Brock Bradford has kicked off what looks to be a promising college hockey career after being picked up by Boston late in the seventh round of the 2005 entry draft. He’s found a home on the second line with sophomore Dan Bertram (COL) and freshman Nathan Gerbe (BUF), and has also spent time playing the point on the power play.
“I think like any other first year, he needs to get stronger, but he’s got great instincts,” said Associate Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh, who has so far been pleased with what the young forward brings to the team. “He’s an extremely cerebral player with lots of hockey sense.”
At 5’9 168lbs, Bradford is on the small side, but he’s got the speed and skill that have made him a perfect fit for the program at Boston College. He’s netted two game-winning goals, and has a nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 20 games so far this season. Bradford is skilled at creating the time and space necessary to make plays and it’s something that will only improve as he gains experience. He’s a quick, fluid skater who, with continued hard work, could have a decent shot at a pro career. As much as he has the speed, skill and hockey sense to compete successfully at the college level, however, his size and strength can sometimes make it difficult to complete plays.
“We’d like to see him gain a little more leg strength,” Cavanaugh said. “He sometimes has a tough time holding off other players, where if he just had a little more leg strength he might be able to hold on a little bit longer and not get knocked off the puck easily.”
Junior defenseman Matt Hunwick is off to a strong start and on track for his highest scoring season with the 13-7-1 University of Michigan Wolverines. Hunwick has 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists) and 30 penalty minutes in 21 games. The 20-year-old has taken on a leadership role with the Wolverines this season, a role that was validated when he was appointed one of the team’s alternate captains.
“Matty’s been a consistent player for us since he started here,” said assistant coach Billy Powers. “He’s a player that teammates look up to, and he’s one of those players where his actions speak louder than words. He’s not a real rah-rah guy, but his leadership shows on the ice.”
He also makes up part of Michigan’s most dynamic and often formidable defensive pairing with freshman Jack Johnson (CAR). The two hit it off from the start and are currently tied for the top scoring defensemen on the team. They also hold two of the highest plus/minus ratings with Hunwick at +8 and Johnson at +10. The pairing has worked so well, that with the exception of time missed while Johnson participated in the World Junior tournament, they have played every game together.
Hunwick is a smooth, effortless skater with good endurance who consistently logs 20-25 minutes a game. He’s bulked up a little since he was drafted by the Bruins in 2004 and has the drive and work ethic to take his game to the next level. There is, in fact, very little that he does wrong, and the young blueliner has very high expectations for himself. If there’s any downfall to his game it’s that sometimes he takes too much to heart.
“Even though he’s a junior and he’s matured a ton, sometimes he lets mistakes get to him a little too much,” said Powers. “That competitive nature can get the best of him, and he needs to work on bouncing back mentally.”
In the Net
Kevin Regan is in his sophomore season at the University of New Hampshire where he splits net duty with senior Jeff Pietrasiak (PHO), and though success doesn’t necessarily show up in the win column, the 21-year-old has done plenty of good things. Regan was recently named Hockey East’s Pure Hockey defensive player of the week on January 9th after saving 49 of 52 shots and going 1-0-1 in a pair of starts against the University of Vermont. The South Boston native has started in 14 games for the Wildcats so far this season and currently has a 4-5-3-1 record. He is ranked ninth among Hockey East goaltenders with a 2.60 goals against average and has a .913 percentage. On November 5th he posted his only shutout of the year against Northeastern University, stopping a total of 27 shots. Regan also had another strong performance in a January 14th win over Dartmouth, where he made 43 saves out of a total of 47 shots.
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