The real dance begins this Friday and just like basketball there are always “Bracket Busters” in the NCAA Hockey tournament. The road to the Frozen Four in Boston is always exciting and this weekend drops the puck on the four regional sites of Fargo, ND, Manchester, NH, Providence, RI, and South Bend, IN. The top 16 teams are all vying for the crown of national champion.
Sure there are many names the hockey world has or is starting to become familiar with like Jack Eichel (Boston University), Noah Hanifin (Boston College), Jimmy Vesey (Harvard), Mike Reilly (Minnesota), Joey LaLeggia (Denver), and Zane McIntyre (North Dakota). Heck even BU’s free agent, junior goalie, Matt O’Connor is getting his tires pumped by all – maybe too much. The first two names are high-end prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in June. While the other listed players have already heard their names called at the podium and are NHL drafted prospects that have been developing their name at the collegiate level.
Those players are the low hanging fruit. It is quite easy to mention those names, so how about a bunch of undrafted, free-agents that will be giving their all in the one-&-done tourney starting this weekend and ending at TD Garden on April 11th. Some names that you might not recognize today, but just might (just maybe) be skating in the NHL one day or at least in the pro ranks, taking the road less traveled for sure to the world’s top league.
Hey, look at former RIT defenseman, Chris Tanev, of the Vancouver Canucks. The 25-year Toronto, Ont., native just signed a five-year deal worth $22.25 million. When he was in the Tigers line-up as a freshman in 2010, they surprisingly made a run to the Frozen Four. There are lots of talented hockey players in the world. Certainly many compete in the NCAA ranks. You never know when the next Martin St. Louis, Torey Krug, Danny DeKeyser, or Andrew Hammond…a.k.a. “The Hamburglar” will be skating you by.
Matt Garbowsky/Brad McGowan/Josh Mitchell – Forwards (RIT Tigers) –
Sure they all will not make the show yet the certain bring great chemistry for the #16 seed RIT Tigers coming into the NCAA Tourney. The top line has combined for 148 points. There is no question Garbowsky is the nuts and bolts, yet McGowan and Mitchell have been showing good offensive punch all season. McGowan shows the strong finish with a shot that handcuffs goalies as he accurately places with good pace. Mitchell displays the hands and vision on line. The senior captain and Hobey Baker Award finalist Garbowsky is pretty special and he might just have what it takes to someday earn an NHL paycheck on a regular basis. Yes, he plays in the weaker Atlantic Hockey Conference, but there is no questioning his strong 200-foot game. In speaking with NHL scouts, NCAA coaches, and even RIT alum he plays all 3-zones and all situations. He has always shown great promise but unfortunately his junior season was cut short with season-ending knee injury. He wins face-offs, he creates plays out of nothing, he utilizes and places his stick well in the defensive zone, he competes all over the ice, he is a leader, and of course he scores goals. Overall, he’s a ball player. Which ever team signs Garbowsky after the season will have a great prospect that is already AHL-ready and could blossom even more to the next level. Sure I am rooting for a local player that I have watched through his collegiate career, although there is no denying his skill sets, hockey sense, and desire. RIT’s coach, Wayne Wilson, may not come upon a hidden gem of Garbowsky’s intensity anytime soon.
Sam Anas – Forward (Quinnipiac Bobcats) –
He is undersized and probably a game time decision for Friday night versus North Dakota but he can score goals. He is just a sophomore yet the Potomac, MD local and former USHLer puts the puck in the net. He has had back-to-back 20-goal seasons to start his NCAA career. He just has great read and intuition on plays. He has already participated in an NHL development camp with his hometown Washington Capitals.
Trevor Moore – Forward (Denver Pioneers) –
I remember watching Moore a few summers ago at USA Hockey Select 17s Camp and thought here is a pretty complete player that works hard on the forecheck with offensive potential as well. He has certainly kept developing his game in the right direction at DU under Jim Montgomery’s guidance. He possesses that ability to make plays with his vision, but also with his own creativity and scoring touch. He is better than a point a game player with 1.14ppg with a balanced 21 goals and 21 assists in just 37 games played after a solid freshman performance last season. He has been bypassed a couple of times at the NHL Draft, so one might wonder if this is his year.
Drake Caggiula – Forward (North Dakota) –
He measures up on the smaller size yet that does not keep the Pickering, Ont. Native from playing with big skates. He is a competitor that will forecheck hard and is not afraid to go into the dirty areas of the corners and along the wall. He skates well and will play physical and brings energy. He is not the natural scoring type though has produced on the upward trend in his three seasons with the Sioux.
Joey Benik – Forward (St. Cloud State) –
He put up some massive numbers in the Minnesota High School ranks and also in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). He is now starting to see the light in the NCAA ranks and is being rewarded with a point per game production. He brings a heavy shot, good offensive instincts, and play making abilities. He is a bit undersized so he has that challenge although he has led the Huskies in scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists in a very competitive NCHC Conference this season.
Evan Rodrigues – Forward (Boston University) –
People will all point to Rodrigues success all upon being Jack Eichel’s linemate. No question it helps playing along the top American prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft. Heck, ask Alex DeBrincat of the Erie Otters if playing with Connor McDavid didn’t help his cause to the 50-goal plateau in the OHL this season. Yet I have also viewed Rodrigues sans Eichel last season on lowly 10-win Terriers team. He shows good offensive instincts and craftiness with the puck. Rodrigues is more of a set-up man than pure finisher. He is average size and decent numbers coming out of the OJHL with Georgetown Raiders. So perhaps coming out of non-heavy scouted junior league in Canada along with middle of the pack production did not bode well for the Toronto native in his draft year. Although he is certainly hitting his stride at the right time finding himself second in national scoring with 18-39-57 in 37 games played for assistant, senior captain.
Kyle Criscuolo – Forward (Harvard) –
Like many forwards on the list, Criscuolo stands under the 6-foot mark. He utilizes his speed, nice hands, and offensive vision to make plays. He assembles the right wing on Harvard’s top line along side NHL-ready Jimmy Vesey (Nashville Predators) and Alexander Kerfoot. He is better than a point per game player including four game-winners as well as leading the Crimson with an impressive +25. A steady producer out of the New England prep route with Choate Rosemary Hall and the USHL ranks with Sioux City Musketeers, Criscuolo has steadily increased his production each season at Harvard.
Scott Savage – Defense (Boston College) –
He is just a steady presence on the Eagles blue line. He plays in the shadows of fellow, drafted D-man Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, Michael Matheson, and the highly anticipated NHL prospect Hanifin. His numbers are not gaudy at all; in fact, he has not even tickled the twine yet this season. But Savage will make the outlet passes, will get pucks to the net, uses position and stick effectively in the defensive zone, and starts plays in transition. He will not jump off the roster at you yet reliable and developing his consistency under Jerry York even more. He was well liked by the Anaheim Ducks last summer at their development camp. Another two seasons in Chestnut Hill will do him and BC’s future well.
Brady Norrish – Defense (RIT) –
He has an identical twin brother, Chase, on the Tigers team and they do run RIT’s first power-play unit together although my liking leans towards Brady. Again he is probably a victim of playing in a bit of unknown territory of the SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League) for Yorkton Terriers. For a freshman stepping right into the NCAA caliber play he has certainly logged lots of minutes in all situations and has looked poised in the process. He plays with little panic in his game as handles the biscuit well; he is a good puck mover and can wheel it up on the PP himself too. He is average size so that might have stirred some coaches away although he has great hockey IQ and gives RIT’s offense a nice boost from the blue line. No surprise he earned Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team honors and quite honest the Second-Team accolades were well deserved as too.
Alex Lyon – Goalie (Yale Bulldogs) –
He was probably one of those players that was discovered a bit late for the draft even though was ranked for North American goalies at the mid-term. Being born in Baudette, MN is surely one of the causes as a small town setting in northern Minnesota on the Canadian border. Eventually his game made it out of Lake of the Woods HS and onto the USHL ranks with the Omaha Lancers. You must being something right if you lead the NCAA in save percentage (.939), goal against average (1.58), and shutouts (7), especially with a team in front of you that ranks 39th in offense. He plays technically sound challenging shooters, keeping square, and limits his rebounds. As one hockey personnel said to me last weekend in watching Lyon, “He’s the whole team.”
Here are 10 drafted NCAA players to watch as well. They might not get the hype of their 1st round counterparts although they are steadily making their own name. They all will play significant roles in if their team is to be successful in the NCAA Tournament.
Jonny Brodzinski – Forward (St. Cloud State) – 2013 LA Kings, 5th Rd.
Jake Guentzel – Forward (Omaha-Nebraska) – 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins, 3rd Rd.
Danton Heinen – Forward (Denver) – 2014 Boston Bruins, 4th Rd.
Zach Sanford – Forward (Boston College) – 2013 Washington Capitals, 2nd Rd.
Anthony Florentino – Defense (Providence) – 2013 Buffalo Sabres, 5th Rd.
Brandon Hickey – Defense (Boston University) – 2014 Calgary Flames, 3rd Rd.
Paul LaDue – Defense (North Dakota) – 2012 LA Kings, 6th Rd.
Rob O’Gara – Defense (Yale) – 2011 Boston Bruins, 5th Rd.
Stephon Williams – Goalie (Minnesota State) – 2013 NY Islanders, 4th Rd.
Jamie Phillips – Goalie (Michigan Tech) – 2012 Winnipeg Jets, 7th Rd.
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