This Week in College Hockey
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The holiday tournament season has come and gone, and teams will get back to work on the league schedule. The tournaments helped set up a lot of teams for a potentially magical stretch run, and exposed others that have work to do.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The general consensus coming into this season was that Massachusetts would take a step back before going forward again. But in this year's wide-open Hockey East, and with goaltender Paul Dainton performing so admirably, the Minutemen have not lost a beat. This week, the Minutemen took home some hardware, defeating Notre Dame and Colorado College by one goal each to win the Lightning College Classic, a tournament in Tampa Bay. UMass is now 9-3-5 and up to No. 8 in the Pairwise, the objective system that picks the NCAA field.
In the wins, in which UMass scored nine goals, eight different players scored. Cory Quirk, who had one goal in each game, leads the team now with six. The player who scored the OT game winner in the championship game Sunday, Matt Burto, is a senior who didn't even play Friday, and had only 15 career goals prior. Freshman James Marcou scored his fourth of the season, and leads the team with 18 points.
Though the trend for Don Cahoon-led teams have been strong finishes, this year has actually been remarkably consistent. There haven't been bad lulls, unless you want to count a one-point, home-and-home weekend with Providence early in the season.
It's all Hockey East games from here on for the Minutemen, and they'll get another test right away when the schedule resumes next week with a home-and-home against New Hampshire.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Michigan goalie Billy Sauer went 142 minutes of shutout hockey last weekend, as the Wolverines won the Great Lakes Invitational. The junior is a seventh-round NHL Draft pick of Colorado in 2006, but was up and down his first two seasons with the Wolverines. This year, he is 16-2 with a 1.80 goals against average and .930 save percentage.
Also, with Miami's Nathan Davis still out of the lineup, this week it was Jarod Palmer who stepped up. Palmer scored twice, including the OT game winner in the opener of the Ohio Hockey Classic, and a shorthanded goal in Sunday's championship game.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Other than Massachusetts' impressive run in Tampa, the other holiday tournaments provided nice discussion fodder as well. The Great Lakes Invitational was the other majorly intriguing event, as upstart Michigan Tech battled mighty Michigan in the final. Tech was looking for its first GLI win since 1980, and, oddly enough, Michigan was looking for its first since 1996. Ultimately, it took double overtime to decide, before Travis Turnbull scored for the Wolverines — the only goal of the game. Michigan was missing four players to the World Junior tournament, but got a boost from the return of freshman Louie Caporusso, who was out six weeks with a knee injury.
Playing Sacred Heart and Dartmouth, Denver swept through to win its own tournament. But, despite playing RIT and Air Force, Minnesota could not say the same. The Gophers, who struggled early in the season, but had been playing better, then lost Kyle Okposo to the NHL in a much-talked-about turn of events. Playing also with a number of other players because of the World Juniors, they vowed to rally around the players that remained. But that was not to be, as RIT won the opener and the Gophers only mustered a tie against Air Force, the same team that nearly upset the Gophers in last year's NCAAs. Boston College wound up winning that tournament.
Massachusetts-Lowell is coming on these days, and quietly — after a tumultuous off-season that nearly saw it lose its coach and the program entirely — is just one point out of first in Hockey East. And this past weekend, it won the Florida College Classic, edging Cornell then blowing out Maine, 6-0.
Let's also mention a big thumbs up for Team USA's play so far at the World Junior championships in the Czech Republic. Led by six goals from Boston University freshman Colin Wilson, the Americans swept four games in pool play, and will face Canada in the semifinals on Friday. The U.S. lost a lot of high-end talent from the teams it put out there in recent years, some of whom are still eligible for this tournament but are playing in the NHL — such as Patrick Kane, the first overall pick in last year's draft. But this team is playing better as a TEAM. And the big question mark, the goaltending, has been answered thanks to 18-year old Jeremy Smith, who plays in the major junior Ontario Hockey League.
On the heels of the Kyle Okposo squabble between the Islanders/Garth Snow/NHL and the University of Minnesota/Don Lucia — we have plenty more to squawk about. The penalty box is pretty full right now, as if college hockey just had a bench-clearing brawl.
This weekend, after New Hampshire got done defeating North Dakota 7-4 in a non-league game, UNH forward Mike Radja, who scored a career-high five points in the game, and North Dakota junior T.J. Oshie were arrested for disorderly conduct. The incident apparently happened in the elevator of the apartment building where Oshie lives, though no further details were released. Oshie, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues and a hot prospect, was already on unsupervised probation for being a "minor in a bar" in Grand Forks last year. He was suspended one game. Radja was suspended indefinitely by UNH coach Dick Umile.
Then you've got Colorado College, which played without three key players for the Lightning College Classic opener, not to mention Billy Sweatt, who is playing for Team USA at the World Juniors. Turns out that forward Cody Lampl will miss at least the rest of the season, and forward Derek Patrosso will sit until the WCHA playoffs under school-imposed suspensions for "student conduct." Lampl's suspension goes until January 2009, pending an appeal he says he's filing. Patrosso's suspension is for the upcoming academic block, which ends March 12, 2008. Also, junior center Chad Rau, the Tigers' leading scorer with 10 goals and 19 points, was given a one-game suspension by coach Scott Owens for violating a team rule. He returned Sunday for the loss to UMass.
What is up out there? Must be global warming.
Northeastern, coming off a win in the Badger Showdown tournament, returns to Hockey East play in first place, but will have to win in Orono against Maine this weekend or else risk losing that spot. The top five teams in Hockey East are separated by one point.
Also, keep an eye on Minnesota as it hosts Wayne State. This might not seem like a big deal, but the way the Gophers seem to be free-falling, it's going to be a story no matter what they do.
This article also appeared at SI.com