CHN All-Decade Team
Hobey Winners, Olympians, They're All Here
CHN Staff Report
Picking an all-decade team is bound cause controversy. But so what. Take it all with a grain of salt, it's OK. But it's fun to do.
That said, we did work hard at making our picks for the best college hockey players of the 2000s. Emphasis there is on college hockey. What the players did in the pros did not factor into our decision.
The time period we used was the calendar years 2000-2009. This, in and of itself, could raise a lengthy debate. It's all arbitrary, that's a given, and that's what we chose. This means players that left college after 2001, were at a disadvantage. Most notably, this pertains specifically to Brian Gionta, who won the national championship with Boston College that year after a stellar college career. And it includes his defensive teammates, like Bobby Allen, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik. None of them played enough in the 2000s, all just a year and a half.
The list, also, is individual by nature. Just because Minnesota and Michigan State, for example, have three players there each, doesn't mean they were the best teams — although each won a national championship (or two). Wisconsin, for example, the 2006 champ with a well-rounded team, has no players on the list. That's not a knock on Wisconsin, it's just the way it shakes down.
Another note: We tried to concentrate on players who had strong college careers, not just players with one stellar season or two very good ones. That left out some players that won Hobey Baker Awards, for example, such as Ryan Duncan, Kevin Porter and Junior Lessard. Not that those players didn't have a good-to-great four years, but just that other players' entire body of four years surpassed theirs.
That said, on the second team is where we got in some forwards who simply were phenomenal in shortened college hockey stays. Those players didn't accumulate superlative careers, but their seasons were so strong, so individually dominant, that we felt they warranted inclusion on the second team. We also copped out, putting four forwards on that team. It was so difficult to differentiate from the four, we just threw our hands up. Oh well.
Certainly, there are many players who you can argue that belong. That's where the fun comes in. There's no ECAC player on the list, for example. The closest was Cornell's Doug Murray, a two-time First Team All-American.
Finally, for our Coach of the Decade selection, we went with Boston College's Jerry York getting the slight nod over George Gwozdecky. Each coach — as well as Minnesota's Don Lucia — won two national titles in the decade. But for prolonged excellence for 10 years, no program has matched Boston College in that span, a team that also lost three national finals.
With that said, here's the whole list.
F T.J. Hensick — Michigan (2003-07)
A Michigan native, he came out of the U.S. National program and made an immediate impact with the Wolverines, displaying two-way talent early on. By the time it was over, Hensick accumulated more points (75-147—222) than any player in the decade. In 2006-07, his senior season, he got our nod for national Player of the Year, beating out eventual Hobey winner Ryan Duncan, going 23-46—69. He was a Hobey Hat Trick snub, some say because he took a silly, bad misconduct penalty in the middle of that season. ... Hensick was one player who made coach Red Berenson proud by fulfilling his mantra and sticking in school during a decade that saw more and more players leave early. "He came back for the right reasons for his senior year — to become a better player and to graduate and to do it right, and that's what he's done," Berenson said near the end of 2006-07. "He's been on a mission this year, and he's become a much better two-way player and a much better leader." ... Hensick has played significant time with Colorado in the NHL in each of his three pro seasons to date, but has had trouble sticking.
F Brett Sterling — Colorado College (2002-06)
As inseparable as the names Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin were to each other in the '90s, the 2000s' most inseparable duo was Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich. Sertich won the Hobey in 2005, their junior year, and both players stuck around for the senior year, hoping to finally get Colorado College that national championship. It never materialized, but when it was over, Sterling left behind a legacy that's hard to match. While Sertich took the Hobey, Sterling led all of college hockey in goals this decade with 108, including 30 or more in his last two seasons. ... Sterling has had two cups of coffee in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers, but this season he's been in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. Sertich, by the way, is also in the AHL, and has yet to appear in an NHL game.
F Peter Sejna — Colorado College (2000-03)
One of three three-year players on the First Team, his numbers were three straight years of sick. Had the Slovakian-born Sejna stuck around another year, he definitely would've had the goal and point marks for the decade. Instead, he won the Hobey Baker Award in 2003, right after his team lost in the national semis, then split for the NHL, where he scored a goal in his first NHL game. The only European to win the Hobey Baker Award, Sejna had 36 goals and 82 points as a junior, and 91-99—190 for his career — he played over 40 games every season, and never had more than 16 penalty minutes. ... Unfortunately, Sejna's pro career stalled in his first full season, getting 20 games with St. Louis before he was sent down. After a couple of brief callups the next two seasons, Sejna decide to play in Switzerland, where he's been the last three seasons.
D Matt Carle — Denver (2003-06)
One of four Hobey Baker Award winners on the First Team, the Alaska-born Carle helped Denver win national championships in his freshman and sophomore seasons, 2004 and 2005, and he followed that up with a 53-point campaign in 2005-06. His team, however, failed to reach the NCAA tournament that season — an unfortunate distinction because every other Hobey winner in the decade made the Frozen Four in that season. That only goes to show, however, how highly regarded Carle was, to win it regardless. ... Carle's NHL career started strong in San Jose, then tapered off and he was traded. After being traded again, from Tampa Bay to Philadelphia, Carle has started to flourish again, and just missed making the U.S. Olympic roster.
D Jordan Leopold — Minnesota (1998-2002)
Leopold, from Golden Valley, Minn., was a very strong player right off the bat for a re-emerging program under Don Lucia. And as he went along, his offensive production steadily improved, until his senior season, when he dominated from the backline like no other player this decade. He had 20 goals and 48 points his senior year, leading Minnesota to a thrilling national title win over Maine, and receiving the Hobey Baker Award in the process. Though only 2 1/2 of his seasons were in our-defined decade, they were stellar enough to warrant this selection. ... Leopold played just three games in the AHL his rookie year, and has been in the NHL ever since, already playing over 400 games, and 46 more in the playoffs, including Calgary's 2004 Stanley Cup finals run.
G Ryan Miller — Michigan State (1999-2002)
Yes Miller played in a defensive system in Ron Mason's final few years at Michigan State. Yes, scoring had tailed off across hockey during his era. But Miller was so ridiculously dominant in his time with his hometown Spartans, he left no doubt that the numbers were no mirage. His sophomore season was ridiculous, as he posted a 1.32 goals against average, .950 save percentage, broke the single-season shutout record, and led his offensively-challenged teammates to the Frozen Four. There, in Albany, the Spartans were the ones shut out, by North Dakota's Karl Goehring, 2-0. Miller returned for his junior year, but his numbers dipped slightly (1.77 and .936) and MSU didn't return to the Frozen Four. Mason retired, and Miller went to the pros, where he took some time to get some seasoning, but has now been Buffalo's No. 1 goalie the last four seasons, and this year has been his best yet. He was just named to the U.S. Olympic team.
F Ryan Potulny — Minnesota (2003-06)
The College Hockey News Player of the Year in 2005-06, his junior year, beating out Matt Carle for our honor. All Potulny did that season was score 38 goals, the most of any player in the decade, and the most in college hockey since Todd White had 38 for Clarkson in 1996-97 — though that season for Minnesota was blemished by its opening round NCAA loss to Holy Cross. Potulny, a North Dakota native, also had 24 goals as a sophomore. ... Potulny was up and down with the Flyers and their AHL affiliate, but after going to Edmonton, has stuck in the NHL this season.
F Zach Parise — North Dakota (2002-04)
One of only two two-year players in the list, Parise dominated in that time, going 49-67—116. Despite a 30-win campaign in 2003-04, North Dakota didn't make the Frozen Four, and coach Dean Blais left after that season for the NHL. So did Parise. After famously falling in the first round of the NHL Draft, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded up to grab him, and all he's done is become the best goal-scoring American of his generation. Parise, who had 45 goals in the NHL last season, was just named to the U.S. Olympic team.
F Nathan Gerbe — Boston College (2005-08)
The little guy that could do everything, he compiled 71-62—133 in just three seasons in Chestnut Hill. The Oxford, Mich., native drew comparisons to another dominant, diminutive BC forward, Brian Gionta, while also gaining the reputation as a feisty, pesty waterbug, who could be chippy at times. That may have kept him from winning the Hobey his jnuior year (he was edged by Michigan's Kevin Porter). But, also like Gionta, Gerbe dominated during his final season with BC, and led the Eagles to a national championship. Gerbe then turned in one of the best NCAA tournament performances of all time, scoring a hat trick in the semifinal and a two-goal, two-assist performance in the final. He won the tournament Most Outstanding Player Award in the process, and it was hard to keep him out of his rightful place among the elite of the decade. He then capitalized on that season, and went pro a year early, where he's played in the AHL with two brief NHL stints in Buffalo.
F Thomas Vanek — Minnesota (2002-04)
Few players dazzled like the Austrian-born Vanek this decade. After Leopold graduated, he helped Minnesota win another national title in 2003, when he scored the game-winning goal in both the semifinal (in overtime) and the national title game, and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. In all, he had 31 goals his freshman season, leading the nation, had the most points by a Minnesota freshman since Aaron Broten in 1980, and was 57-56—113 in two stellar seasons with the Gophers. ... Vanek has gone on to a stellar NHL career in Buffalo, and in 2006-07, scored 43 goals and led the NHL in plus-minus with plus-47.
D Matt Gilroy — Boston University (2005-09)
It's a familiar story now — Gilroy was a walk-on forward, converted to defense, and his career took off under Jack Parker at BU. By the time it was done, Gilroy was a three-time All-American, and capped it off with a Hobey Baker Award and national championship in his senior year — after people thought he was all but gone the preceding summer. Gilroy's legend has also grown, as tales of his incredible leadership during that senior year have come out. ... Gilroy spent a brief amount of time in the AHL this season, before getting recalled to the New York Rangers, where he's stayed.
D John-Michael Liles — Michigan State (1999-2003)
The only non-Hobey winner among the four defensemen on the list, Liles was a dominant two-way backliner in four years during which Michigan State was consistently one of the best defensive teams in the country. The team went to the Frozen Four in his sophomore year of 2000-01, and again to the NCAAs the next season, when he busted out offensively with 13-22—35. A native of Indianapolis, he went on to score 16 goals and 50 points as a senior. ... Liles briefly played in the AHL right after the end of his senior season, but he made the Colorado roster in 2003-04 and has never looked back in his NHL career, piling up 419 games played already, and back-to-back 14-goal campaigns in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
G Jeff Lerg — Michigan State
Overcoming the odds his whole life, Lerg beat out some very excellent goaltenders to make this spot, particularly Peter Mannino of Denver. Each won a national title in his career, but Lerg — whose well-known story includes overcoming asthma and his small frame — was consistently outstanding in his four years, and was a leader too. This was no better exemplified, of course, than during the Spartans' improbable run in 2007 to a national championship, his sophomore year. Lerg put up even better numbers as a junior, then suffered through a difficult senior season in 2008-09, as his team was ravaged by manpower losses. But through it all, Lerg managed to maintain his dignity and character, and still post a .917 save percentage.