Counting down five things to watch in college hockey in 2017

Five, because it's new year's weekend and who doesn’t like a good list about college hockey entering the second half of the season?
As in Jake Walman, Providence’s forgotten star defenseman who missed 11 games with an injury last season, including the final seven, and still led all NCAA defensemen in goals (13), points per game (1.04) power play goals (8), and game-winning goals (4). A 2014 draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, Walman opted to return to the Friars for his junior season. He’s played in all 16 games for the 8-6-4 Friars and has 3 goals and 10 assists, including one in Saturday's 3-1 victory against No. 2 Denver. Expect a second-half surge from the dominant defenseman.
North Dakota’s two first-round picks — Brock Boeser and Tyson Jost — have yet to score a goal in NCHC play. Boeser has missed the last five games with a wrist injury and also missed the world juniors to have surgery to repair it. Jost scored a highlight reel goal for Team Canada against Russia. Both missed Saturday’s 3-1 victory against against No. 8 Union, but Austin Poganski scored twice — including a goal on the game's first shot. If Boeser and Jost get untracked, UND could have a strong second half.
When Union plays Boston University on Thursday, the Terriers will be without the services of five players competing at the World Juniors: Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, Jake Oettinger Patrick Harper and Jordan Greenway. The quintet also will miss the UMass matchup on Jan. 7. A wins against BU could be a huge Pairwise boost for both Union and the ECHC.
And then there’s St. Cloud State, which was missing not only freshman sensation Jack Ahcan for the Desert Classic, but also its head coach. Bob Motzko is leading Team USA at the World Juniors, rightly called the 10 Best Days in College Hockey. It’s also a “how deep is your team, next man up challenge” for college teams. The Huskies passed with a 4-2 victory against Arizona State in the Desert Classic consolation game. It's a promising sign for Motzko's team when it's back to full strength.
Penn State is already this season’s surprise power and an offensive juggernaut averaging a nation’s best 4.83 goals per game while allowing the third least at 1.85. Now the 13-1-1 Nittany Lions are getting bigger. They recently announced that Buffalo Sabres draft pick Brett Murray, a 6-5 forward and fourth-round pick, will be joining the team after the break (Jan. 6-7 they resume play against rival Ohio State). He’s leaving Youngstown of the USHL where he had 7 goals and 13 assists with plus-9 rating. The Big Ten is looming large these days.

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