Jet lag? Ain’t got time for it.
Conference play started in earnest last weekend, and while most NCAA players had nearly three-week breaks over the holidays, Team USA players not only had to make it through tryouts before Christmas, they went 5-0-0-2 in seven games in Finland and flew back midweek to rejoin their teams.
How they fared:
- Colin White, Boston College: The freshman phenom registered his second hat trick this season in a 7-3 win over Providence, helping the Eagles snap a three-game losing streak. BC followed with a 4-4 tie against the Friars Saturday night, but White didn’t score. He was the 21st pick overall in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft, taken by the Ottawa Senators.
- Zach Werenski, Michigan: The sophomore defenseman, drafted eighth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets last spring, registered a goal each night in a sweep over Michigan Tech.
- Andres Bjork, Notre Dame: The sophomore forward picked up a goal in a 7-1 win over Western Michigan and another goal in the teams’ 3-3 tie. He’s a 2014 fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins.
- Ryan Donato, Harvard: The freshman forward, chosen 56th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2014, has been playing on big stages of late. He scored a goal as Harvard rallied from a four-goal deficit against No. 1 Quinnipiac at Madison Square Garden — only to fall 5-4 in overtime. Two nights earlier, Donato was a minus-2 in a 6-5 loss to Boston University.
- Ryan Hitchcock, Yale: The undrafted sophomore forward made it back two hours before the title game of the Desert Hockey Classic, where the Bulldogs battled to a 1 overtime tie and shootout loss to Michigan Tech. He didn’t score.
- Louie Belpedio, Miami (Ohio): The sophomore defenseman and third-round pick of the Minnesota Wild made it back for a 1-1 tie against Minnesota Duluth on Friday and scored a power play goal in Saturday’s 5-2 loss.
- Will Borgen, St. Cloud State: A fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Borgen didn’t play in the Huskies’ 2-1 win or 5-2 loss to visiting Colorado College.
- Brandon Fortunato, Boston University: The undrafted free agent sophomore defenseman picked up two assists in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Massachusetts but didn’t register a shot in Friday’s 6-5 win over Harvard.
- Charlle McAvoy, Boston University: The freshman defenseman is eligible for the NHL draft this year, and he returned with two assists in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Massachusetts after picking up an assist in the 6-5 win over Harvard.
- Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota: The 20th overall pick of the 2014 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks sat out Saturday’s 4-1 exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 team.
- Brock Boeser, North Dakota: The 23rd pick overall of the Vancouver Canucks in last year’s NHL draft, he sat out Saturday’s 4-1 exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 team.
Big news indeed for Denna Laing
One of the best tweets of the new year was sent out late Monday night by former Princeton women’s hockey player Denna Laing.
Accompanied by an 8-second video where a beaming smile overshadows the neck brace and tube in Laing’s esophagus, the tweet read “Some big news today! #talking #ppw” and the video shows Laing saying exactly that: “I’m back!”
Some big news today! #talking #ppw pic.twitter.com/Dqe6JhOInw
— Denna Laing (@dlaing14) January 12, 2016
It’s her first words since being injured Dec.31 at the first-ever women’s Outdoor Women’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Laing’s spinal cord injury has galvanized the hockey community with NHL teams and players expressing support. Women’s pro and college teams have taken photos at center ice in support of the Boston Pride forward.
College teams went so far as to take photos in the shape of 14, her Princeton number, while women’s professional teams are wearing her No. 24 on their helmets.
Even actor Mark Wahlberg tweeted his support:
Praying for our Boston hockey hero Denna Laing. Let's help her at https://t.co/oJL3pnXT2x #2denna4ever
— Mark Wahlberg (@mark_wahlberg) January 10, 2016
All of this support follows a devastating injury on what she still calls the best day of her life. The pioneer for women’s hockey growth has been in a Boston hospital with no feeling or movement in her legs after falling and crashing into the boards and injuring her spinal cord during the Pride’s game against the Montreal Les Canadiennes.
Since being carted off the ice on a stretcher the 24-year-old skater has remained remarkably upbeat and has told other media the injury didn’t ruin the best day of her life.
An Associated Press story said that Laing posted on Facebook: "We made history that day, and I would never take those moments back." The post was accompanied by a dozen pictures of her and her teammates trying on their Winter Classic gear and taking the ice at Gillette Stadium.
"For a long time, I have been looking for a new challenge," she wrote. "Even though I was not expecting it [to] be this, here we go."
Road tough, young'uns
Nearly 11,000 fans turned out at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., to see the National U.S. Under-18 Team play an exhibition against top-ranked North Dakota last Saturday. Not surprisingly, UND won 4-1 despite playing three goalies — including previously injured Matej Tomak, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, for five minutes — and resting Boeser and Schmaltz after their return from Finland with Team USA.
For many fans it was the chance to get a glimpse of future North Dakota opponents. Twenty of the 22 youths have verbally committed to Division I schools, none to UND.
By conference, Hockey East has nine players who’ve verbally committed, the Big Ten has seven, the NCHC has two and the WCHA and ECAC one each.
Whether they all stick to their verbal commitments or leave for major junior hockey remains to be seen, but the feeder program designed to bring gold to the United States in international competition has a history of great talent.
Colin White of Boston College, Auston Matthews who is projected to be the first pick in June's NHL Draft, Jack Roslovic of Miami of Ohio, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and more honed their skills with the elite developmental program.
Saturday’s exhibition was over early, as UND scored three goals in the first 2 minutes, 50 seconds to ease to the win.
Team USA may have been running on empty after arriving early in the morning from Sioux Falls, S.D., where it beat the Sioux Falls Stampede, 3-1. Five days earlier it edged St. Cloud State, 7-6 in overtime, a night after falling to Minnesota Duluth, 4-3 in overtime.
In other words, it’s been a long road trip and one of its top players, defenseman Chad Krys, rejoined the young guns after helping Team USA earn bronze at the world juniors in Finland.
Consider the game more of a scouting trip. The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Under-18 Championship will be held at Ralph Engelstad Arena next April.
More on Under-18
In a way the roster and school choices for the players on the Under-18 team seem to indicate the direction college hockey is trending.
The players come from 11 states, with Minnesota having five representatives and only one, Ryan Lindgren of Minneapolis, has committed to the Gophers while Joey Anderson of Roseville, Minn., is headed to Minnesota Duluth.
The other three are headed out of state.
Two Minnesota players — goalie Jake Oettinger of Lakeville, Minn. and forward Kieffer Bellows of Edina, Minn. — have verbally committed to Boston University, as have Chad Krys of Ridgeville, Conn., and Clayton Keller of Swansea, Ill., while defenseman Matthew Hellickson of Rogers, Minn. is headed to Notre Dame.
Boston College, like BU, has four players who are verbally committed on the team: Goalie Joseph Woll of St. Louis, Michael Campoli of Rumsom, N.J., Graham McPhee of Bethesda, Md., and Zach Walker of Boise, Idaho.
It’s a good bet some are future NHL stars.
Shining on the big stage
Talk about saving your best for the bright lights and big city. Harvard and Quinnipiac put on an epic performance worthy of the marquee at Madison Square Garden last week.
In a showdown of two of the top teams in ECAC and the country (Quinnipiac was ranked 1 and 2 in the national polls and 1 in PairWise while Harvard was ranked fourth), the Bobcats opened at a blistering pace with three goals in a 36-second span and led 4-0 after one period.
Playing in front of 12,016 fans, the Crimson rallied with four goals of their own to force overtime before Quinnipiac defenseman Derek Smith scored the game-winner.
Those who got to see the game loved it, including the players. Following the win Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig tweeted:
One of the more memorable experiences of my hockey career playing Harvard at MSG. Thanks QU for all the support, you guys were AMAZING!!!
— Michael Garteig (@garteig1) January 11, 2016
Quinnipiac, 19-1-3 overall, appears to have a stranglehold on perhaps the toughest conference in the country with a 10-0-2 ECAC record. Harvard, 8-3-3, is 4-2-3 in ECAC play.
On the other hand, the second half has just begun.
Perhaps the most impressive wins of the past weekend were delivered by Denver. The Pioneers struggled with consistency in the first half of the season, but opened 2016 with back-to-back ties against Notre Dame and last weekend handed Omaha its first two losses at its new Baxter Arena, snapping the Mavs' eight-game home winning streak.
It marked Denver’s first road sweep in nearly three years and Saturday’s victory came in coach Jim Montgomery’s 100th game behind the Pioneers bench.
Their 3-0 win on Friday, buoyed by Tanner Jaillet’s 35 saves, was the first time the Mavs have been shutout this season.
UNO will look to rebound at NCHA rival North Dakota this weekend, while Denver hosts Western Michigan Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ASN.
The Mavs are 10-0 against non conference foes this season, but 4-5-1 in the NCHC.
Penn State, Ohio State rising
Remember when the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes were simply football factories?
Both are ascending the national ladder in college hockey fairly quick and each will get a chance to showcase how far they’ve come when each plays Michigan over the next two weeks.
Penn State, 13-4-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play, split with Minnesota last weekend and hosts Wisconsin this week.
The Nittany Lions are ranked 15th in both national polls as well as in the PairWise rankings.
Ohio State is just 6-11-1 on the season, but the Buckeyes spanked Cornell, 8-0, to win the Florida College Hockey Classic and are 3-0-1 in their last four games, including a 2-0 shutout against Wisconsin and a 4-4 tie.
Around the country
- Boston University’s Danny O’Reagan’s 131 career points are the second most in the country of any active player, just three points behind Zac Lynch (134 points) of Robert Morris. You have to wonder where Kalle Kossila of St. Cloud State would be on the list if he weren’t injured much of last year. The senior has 125 points, ranking 12th in Huskies all-time scoring.
- St. Cloud State is leading all teams with 92 goals.
- Tweeted out from @SabreStats: “Just talked to Chris Chelios. Asked his impression of Will Borgen (SCSU) at Juniors. He said he was "near perfect" for them and a nice surprise.”
- Three of the top five teams in the PairWise rankings belong to the ECAC: No. 1 Quinnipiac, No. 4 Harvard, No. 5 Cornell.
- Dartmouth’s 5-2 win over Holy Cross (12-7-1) ended the Crusaders’ nine-game unbeaten streak and gave the Big Green (6-8-1) three wins in their last four games.
- Bemidji State freshman Nate Arentz scored not one, but two shorthanded goals in the Lumberjacks’ road sweep over Alaska Anchorage. He also added two assists. One shorthanded was the game-winning goal on Saturday.