December college hockey prospects notebook

By DJ Powers

Here’s a look at back at what took place in the final month of 2006 involving prospects from around the college hockey world.

Holiday tournaments roundup

Nine holiday tournaments and the annual Battle of Alaska highlighted an exciting finish to the month of December.

After watching their counterparts in Fairbanks lay claim to five straight Governor’s Cup championships, the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves finally got some redemption in convincing style when they swept the Nanooks in the four-game series. The Seawolves actually won the championship in the first of the two-game set in Anchorage on Dec. 29 after sweeping the Nanooks in Fairbanks back in October in the first series set. Seawolves freshman defenseman Nils Backstrom (DET) notched two assists to help Anchorage complete the sweep in the fourth and final game.

One of the best of the holiday tournaments this year took place down in Estero, Florida at the Florida College Classic. Host Cornell welcomed Hockey East powerhouses New Hampshire and Maine along with CCHA foe Western Michigan. In their stunning 5-2 victory on Dec. 29, the 12th ranked Cornell Big Red handed #2 New Hampshire their third loss of the season, thanks to a pair of goals by junior Raymond Sawada (DAL). Maine went on to win the tournament by defeating both Western Michigan and Cornell respectively by a combined score of 14-7. The Black Bears main weapon was their stellar power play. Of Maine’s 14 goals, eight came on the power play. Sophomore Ben Bishop (STL), who stopped 50 of 57 combined shots for the Black Bears, joined fellow prospects Billy Ryan (NYR) and Cornell’s Byron Bitz (BOS) on the All-Tournament team.

A tournament that always draws many NHL scouts is the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit. The 42nd annual GLI featured regulars Michigan, Michigan Tech and Michigan State with Harvard as this year’s invitee. The Spartans captured their 11th GLI title after defeating Harvard and archrival Michigan respectively by a combined score of 9-3. Of Michigan State’s nine goals, seven came on special teams – six on the power play and one short-handed. Sophomore Tim Crowder (PIT) notched the Spartans game-winning power-play tally versus Michigan in the GLI title game. He, along with fellow prospects defensemen Mike Ratchuk (PHI) and Michigan’s Matt Hunwick (BOS) were named to the All-Tournament team.

Up in Hanover, NH, a plethora of NHL prospects were in action in the 19th annual Ledyard Bank Holiday Tournament. Boston University, North Dakota and St. Lawrence joined Host Dartmouth College in this year’s tournament. While the Big Green were the home team, it was the players in green from Grand Forks who took home the championship. After struggling to find some offense for nearly all of the month of December, North Dakota finally found it in its wins over Dartmouth and St. Lawrence. Sophomore T.J. Oshie (STL), the lone prospect to be named to the All-Tournament team, notched three assists in the series to lead North Dakota. Meanwhile, in the consolation game, BU handed Dartmouth a disappointing 3-0 loss but the best news coming out of that match for the Terriers was the return of senior defenseman Kevin Schaeffer (NSH), who was amongst the BU’ers who were savagely beaten in an early morning assault on Dec. 3.

Over at Mariucci Arena, the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers proved that even with a depleted lineup, they could still win hockey games. The Gophers, who had five players playing at the WJC in Sweden, along with the dismissal of senior Tyler Hirsch, had little trouble dispatching Alabama-Huntsville and Ferris State respectively to win the 16th annual Dodge Holiday Classic. Junior defenseman Alex Goligoski (PIT) enjoyed an excellent outing for Minnesota notching four points (a goal and three assists) to lead the Gophers and was named the tournament MVP. Fellow defenseman Derek Peltier (COL) and sophomore Blake Wheeler (PHO) are the other two prospects joining Goligoski on the All-Tournament team. The championship was Minnesota’s ninth straight. It also extended their unbeaten to a nation-best 20 games (17-0-3), a new school record.

Out west, one of the more entertaining holiday tournaments took place at the 15th annual Wells Fargo Denver Cup. Host Denver was joined this year by Brown, UMass-Lowell and Mercyhurst. After finishing a disappointing fourth last year, the Pioneers reclaimed the championship this year in a hard-fought 2-1 win over UMass-Lowell. Freshman Rhett Rakhshani (NYI), who continues to have a sensational season for the Pioneers, notched three assists in the two-game set to capture MVP honors. Prospects joining Rakhshani on the All-Tournament team were junior Geoff Paukovich (EDM) and sophomore defenseman Chris Butler (BUF). Senior goaltender Glenn Fisher (EDM), despite not getting on the All-Tournament team, was brilliant in goal for Denver, stopping 36 of the RiverHawks 37 shots to backstop the Pioneers to their 12th Denver Cup championship.

In Madison, WI, Clarkson came up golden after handing defending national champion and host Wisconsin a stunning 6-2 loss before defeating a relentless Lake Superior State team to capture the championship title at the 18th annual Badger Showdown. Junior Nick Dodge (CAR) turned in an impressive performance for Clarkson that included his first career hat trick to earn tournament MVP honors. Fellow prospects freshman defenseman Tyrell Mason (NYI) and Wisconsin senior Jake Dowell (CHI) joined Dodge on the All-Tournament team. The tournament win ended an 11-year drought for the Golden Knights and extended their current unbeaten streak to seven games.

Up in Burlington, VT, this year’s TD/Banknorth Catamount Cup featured host Vermont, along with invitees RPI, St. Cloud State and Union College. After the losses by Union and RPI to St. Cloud State and Vermont respectively, the showdown was set for one of the nation’s best goaltending battles of this year’s holiday tournaments. St. Cloud State senior Bobby Goepfert (PIT) went up against Vermont junior Joe Fallon (CHI). In the end, the Huskies emerged victorious, handing their host a bitter 4-2 loss to claim the championship. Despite the loss, Fallon earned a spot on the All-Tournament team, stopping a combined 38 of 41 shots in the Catamounts two-game set. Huskies senior defenseman Casey Borer (CAR) joined Fallon as the only prospects on the All –Tournament team. Despite being left off of the All-Tournament team, St. Cloud State junior Andrew Gordon (WSH) turned a memorable performance, posting four points (two goals, two assists), including the game-winning power-play tally versus Union College.

Meanwhile, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, the Buckeyes of Ohio State played host to in-state rivals Bowling Green and Miami, along with WCHA foe Minnesota-Duluth in the third annual Ohio Hockey Classic. After an inconsistent first half, the Buckeyes got a double dose of good news to end 2006 on a positive note. The first came the long-awaited season debut of junior Tom Fritsche (COL). The second was in capturing their first-ever tournament title. After having dispatched Minnesota-Duluth in the first game, the Buckeyes were set for their meeting of fourth-ranked Miami for the tournament championship. Thanks to the stellar play of their senior class, especially that of defenseman and tournament MVP Sean Collins, the Buckeyes defeated their CCHA counterparts 5-3. Fritsche, who notched two assists in the OHC, was one of four prospects named to the All-Tournament team, joining fellow Buckeye freshman goaltender Joe Palmer (CHI), along with Miami senior Marty Guerin (LA) and Minnesota-Duluth sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen (DAL).

One tournament that seems to get very little press is the Toyota UConn Holiday Classic. This year’s tournament featured host UConn along with invitees Colgate, Holy Cross and Northeastern. The tournament featured only three NHL prospects (with Northeastern being without the services of senior Mike Morris (NJ)) in Northeastern sophomore Joe Vitale (PIT) and Colgate junior goaltender Mark Dekanich (NSH) and freshman David McIntyre (DAL). Of the three, it would be Dekanich who would steal the show. The Nashville Predators prospect was outstanding in goal as he stopped a combined 62 of 65 shots in Colgate’s sweep of Northeastern and UConn to earn the tournament MVP honor and lead the Raiders to capture the tournament championship.

Thirteen NHL prospects named as Frozen Four Skills Challenge Finalists

Back in early December, the NCAA announced its 89 finalists for the 2007 Frozen Four Skills Challenge that includes 13 NHL prospects. The Skills Challenge, which debuted at the 2006 Frozen Four in Milwaukee, WI, is similar to the NHL’s Skills Competition during the All-Star Weekend. The selection of the players was pared down from an original field of 181 players from both the men and women’s teams. All players who will exhaust their collegiate eligibility this season are eligible for nomination. The final list of 32 players will be announced prior to the 2007 Frozen Four, which takes place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO in April.

Men’s East Squad finalists: Brian Boyle (LA) – Boston College, Tanner Glass (FLA) – Dartmouth College, Mark McCutcheon (COL) – Cornell University, Mike Morris (SJ) – Northeastern University, Mike Sullivan (LA) – Clarkson University and Jason Smith (NJ) – Sacred Heart University.

Men’s West Squad finalists: Marty Guerin (LA) – Miami University, T.J. Hensick (COL) – University of Michigan, Andrew Joudrey (WSH) – University of Wisconsin, Travis Morin (WSH) – Minnesota State Mankato, Scott Parse (LA) – University of Nebraska-Omaha, David Brown (PIT) – University of Notre Dame, Brian Elliott (OTT) – University of Wisconsin.

Going, going, gone

December saw three more collegiate prospects leave their respective programs. Two went to the Canadian Hockey League, while the other opted to turn pro.

Ohio State freshman defenseman Kevin Montgomery (COL) opted to leave the Scarlet and Gray to sign with the OHL’s London Knights, a team that had been heavily pursuing him since the start of the season. Reports out of Columbus suggest that one reason Montgomery may have left Ohio State was academic issues.

Up in Ann Arbor, Michigan sophomore winger and Anaheim Ducks prospect Jason Bailey has left the Wolverines to sign with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, due primarily to his limited role on the team. Despite appearing in all 19 Michigan games at the time of his departure, Bailey struggled to find consistency in his game and failed to register a single point.

Quinnipiac junior defenseman John Doherty became the latest collegian to depart. He has opted to leave the Bobcats to sign with the Columbia Inferno. The Inferno is the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who drafted Doherty in 2003.

Where have you been?

Two prospects who seemed to have fallen off of the radar last season are enjoying more productive years this season and in the process are helping their respective teams enjoy successful turnarounds as well.

Brown senior Brian Ihnacak (PIT) saw action in only 15 games last season, posting nine points (three goals, six assists). This year, he has already equaled that total through 13 games (two goals, seven assists) and will be looking to match or better his career best of 30 points, set in his rookie season in 2003-04. What has been perhaps the most noticeable aspect about the Toronto native this season is his maturity and recommitment to his game and his team. Ihnacak is a player who can score often and when it matters most. If he can create the offensive magic that he did in his freshman season, he’ll give the Bears another weapon that their opponents will have to contend with.

Despite playing in 31 games last season, Michigan Tech junior left wing Jordan Foote (NYR) only posted a mere two points (both goals). This season, he is contributing more and helping the Huskies get off to a much better start. The Edmonton, AB native, who is known more for his aggressive style than his scoring ability, is seeing his name on the score sheet more often this year. His seven points (two goals, five assists) are already a career-best. One notable area where Foote’s developmental progress shows is in his calculated puck distribution. If the Huskies could get him to shoot the puck more, it could go a long way to help improve the team’s overall offensive output.

Out of action

Northeastern senior center Mike Morris (SJ) is out indefinitely after undergoing appendectomy surgery. The Braintree, MA native has been out of the Huskies lineup since early December and could potentially return to action as early as this weekend.

Minnesota-Duluth sophomore defenseman Josh Meyers (LA) missed last weekend’s Ohio Hockey Classic due to a shoulder injury and is listed week to week.

Cornell senior center Mark McCutcheon (COL) was injured in the Big Red’s opening game versus New Hampshire in the Florida College Classic and missed the championship game versus Maine. It is unclear when he will return to the Cornell lineup.

Northern Michigan sophomore defenseman Spencer Dillon (FLA) has been suspended from the team according to The Mining Journal. The reason and the length of the suspension are unknown.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.