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September 25, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Preview: Michigan Recruiting Class Stands Out in CCHA

by Jasper Kozak-Miller/Recruiting Writer

College Hockey News continues its look at the recruiting classes for 2012-13.

As mentioned in the Hockey East article, these ‘rankings’ factor in both skill, as well as how well a team recruited to fill any needs. That healthy mix is what makes Michigan’s recruiting class the best in the CCHA.

Top Recruiting Class

Michigan boosts its already strong stock significantly in every position, save goaltender this season.

In goal, Michigan brings in Jared Rutledge, an NTDP product who will have big shoes to fill with the graduation of walk-on-turned-breakout star, Shawn Hunwick. Rutledge will come in with much higher expectations than Hunwick did, and all eyes will be on him. Rutledge represents the first NTDP goaltender to actually make it to campus as of late, as previous Ann Arbor commits Jack Campbell and John Gibson, both the top goaltending prospect in their respective classes, departed for major juniors just before it was time to enroll at Michigan. Rutledge comes not as highly sought after as Campbell or Gibson, but nevertheless as the presumptive starter for Red Berenson’s squad.

On the defensive end, Michigan brings in their top commit and arguably the top commit out of the 2016 class, Jacob Trouba. Trouba, a smooth-skating defenseman who was snagged at No. 9 overall by the Winnipeg Jets this June, is dominant all over the ice. Trouba stands at 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, and the previous NTDP and Compuware standout should make an impact immediately. The addition of Trouba combined with the return of junior defenseman Jon Merrill will make for an extremely solid defensive corps in the maize and blue, bolstered by former Hotchkiss (New England Prep School) defenseman and Montreal Canadiens prospect Mac Bennett, former Avon Old Farms blueliner Lee Moffie, a Sharks pick, and NTDP product Kevin Clare. The loss of former commit Connor Carrick to Major Junior, a Capitals draftee and NTDP product, will be eased by the strength of the returning corps and the addition of Trouba.

On the other end, the Wolverines add 2nd-round pick (Rangers) Boo Nieves, one of New England Prep School’s top prospects. Nieves, at 6-3, 190, didn’t have a record-breaking season for Kent School this year, but showed his playmaking potential, putting up 32 assists and seven goals in 26 games for a middle-of-the-pack Kent squad. He ended his season with Indiana of the USHL and quickly notched eight helpers to go along with two goals in 13 games. Nieves' long-term potential is what puts this class over the edge of the others in the CCHA this year. Michigan loses two forwards, and Nieves' playmaking upside could help some of their budding scorers into astronomical seasons. Forwards Dan Milne, from the OJHL’s St. Mike’s Buzzers, as well as Andrew Copp, an Ann Arbor native, both add some talent to this class as well.

The Wolverines also bring in 6-2 goaltender Steve Racine, a product of the same Syracuse Jr. Stars program Boo Nieves came through, and a former Taft School netminder. He’s had mixed results at the junior level, but ended his career with an unbeaten 15 game stint with the Georgetown Raiders, where he had a 1.66 goals against a .938 save percentage.

Runner-up

The argument for Miami as the top class of the year is there. Miami’s class is strongest in the blue paint, where they bring in USA Hockey goalie of the year Ryan McKay, who also shared the USHL’s goaltender of the year award this season. McKay led the Gamblers to three straight Clark Cup finals, winning two. His arrival is bolstered by former Hotchkiss goaltender and USHL veteran Jay Williams, who was no slouch in USHL play either. These two will replace arguably the best goaltending tandem in college hockey, Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard. Hopefully, for RedHawks fans, McKay and Williams can play well enough to match them, in time.

Miami brings in quite a few players with Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) ties, including 6th-round (Washington) draftee forward and NTDP alum Riley Barber; forward and former Chicago Mission product John Doherty; 6-3 forward Kevin Morris, previously a Salisbury (Prep) Crimson Knight; and blueliner Matt Caito, who was also a former Crimson Knight before arriving in Dubuque.

The gem of this recruiting class, however, has no ties to Prep School, nor Dubuque, but is instead an in-state recruit — Sean Kuraly, who was an Ohio Blue Jackets product before his career in the USHL for Indiana. Coach Enrico Blasi will use Kuraly to hopefully help fans forget the numerous big names this class lost. Kuraly, a 6-2 forward with a great understanding of the game, plays well at both ends of the ice and projects to be a top-level playmaker at the college level. Kuraly was drafted by the Sharks in the 5th round, and Redhawks fans will hope that he bucks the trend of other Miami skaters who have oft left their squad early as of late to pursue professional ambitions.

Sitting in Third

Notre Dame brings in three of the best forward prospects in all of college Hockey, but it drops off there. The class is led by Wild (2nd round) draftee and former Wayzata (MN-HS) star Mario Lucia, son of Gophers head coach Don Lucia, who last laced them up for the record-breaking Penticton Vees (BCHL) squad, alongside fellow Irish recruit and Rangers draft pick (3rd round) Steven Fogarty. Unfortunately, Lucia broke his leg in August and is out at least three months. Fogarty is an Edina (MN-HS) product who moved on with Lucia, and the Reilly brothers (committed to the Gophers) to put up 82 points in 60 games last year for a Minnesota-heavy Penticton squad.

Fogarty and Lucia are joined by NTDP pivot Thomas DiPauli, a Capitals draftee and Chicago Mission product, who are all poised to contribute early. Chicago Mission (and CYA) product, Sam Herr, who put up 56 points in 55 games for the Green Bay Gamblers joins the squad as well.

Notre Dame’s weaknesses in the class of 2016 come on the blue-line and in the crease. There were no real holes to fill on the defensive corps, and they bring in very solid NTDP alum Andy Ryan on the back end, a Victory Honda product who split last year for Sioux City and Green Bay of the USHL.

While they didn’t ‘need’ a top prospect on D, they could certainly have used a commit in the net. Their trio of netminders is led by junior Steven Summerhays, who is a capable netminder and proven last season, but senior Mike Johnson posted an .883 last year playing 26 games to Summerhays’ 20. If they had pre-empted that by adding a blue chip goaltender to this year’s roster and broke him in to fight Summerhays for the net next year, this class would be very different. Had they snagged a Collin Olson, Jacob Rutledge, Anthony Stolarz, or won the Jon Gillies sweepstakes this summer, it’d be tough to deny them top class in the country, let alone the CCHA. Look for ND to fight for a top goaltender in next year’s class.

Honorable Mentions

Ohio State's class is led by defenseman Sam Jardine, a product of Red Deer AAA hockey and last season, the Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL). Jardine captained Canada West at the World Junior A challenge and took home the gold medal. He should have an impact quickly. They also bring in behemoth defenseman Craig Dalrymple, standing at 6-5, 214, who was first-team All Star and team MVP with Powell River of the BCHL. Dalrymple, a product of the Stratford Cullitons (Ontario) program, will be hard to ignore, and played with NMU recruit Cohen Adair all the way up through Powell River until this year. They bring in a top goaltending prospect, Collin Olson, a 6th-round (Carolina) pick, an alumnus of the NTDP, whose arrival creates a very respectable goaltending tandem with senior Brady Hjelle, a former UMD Bulldog, and fellow incoming netminder Peter Megariotis, an NAHL alumnus of Fresno and Port Huron. Lastly, OSU adds Anthony Greco, a Queens, NY born forward who moved to play at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN) at the age of 12. He eventually found his way to Des Moines (USHL), where he led the Buccaneers in scoring from 2010 to 2012.

Michigan State, too, brought their best effort to the CCHA this year with their recruiting class. The Spartans bring in blueliner John Draeger, another Shattuck-St. Mary’s product who won back-to-back Tier 1 national championships. The Wild draftee (3rd round) will jump directly to MSU from Shattuck. Three-year USHL vet Travis Walsh will help the Spartans move the puck up ice from the blue line, alongside Phoenix Coyotes draft pick (4th round) Rhett Holland. They also bring in Calgary drafted forward Matt DeBlouw, whose offensive instincts should add some scoring, in time. In the net, Jake Hildebrand comes in with three years of USHL experience, where he put up some nice statistics but didn’t stand out amongst a gifted class of USHL goaltenders. Regardless, it’s always interesting to see how goalies perform, and he’s certainly ready to move on from the USHL.

Casualties and Feel-Good Stories

The biggest loss for the CCHA has to be the CCHA itself, as this will be the last year of the conference's existence. That said, they also lost big-time commit Justin Bailey (previously committed to MSU, now in OHL), who would have come in a later class but is a top 2013 draft prospect. The league also lost Wolverine commit and draft pick (Washington, 5th) Connor Carrick. Luckily, they kept quite a few big-time prospects, and held onto quite a few of their pro prospects, except in the case of Miami, who lost some major pieces of the puzzle. Michigan, notably, held onto 9th overall pick Jacob Trouba, and return top defenseman Jon Merrill.

Last but not Least

Northern Michigan brings in two goaltenders, who, not unlike Hildebrand, weren’t dominant at their level but still put together respectable junior careers — Mathias Dahlstrom (Chicago Steel) and Mike Doan, a well travelled netminder who spent last year with four different junior A teams. He's 6-foot-5, and should be an interesting goalie to follow this season and the years to come.

Alaska brings in 6-4 defenseman Colton Parayko, a Blues draftee (3rd round), who played for Fort McMurray of the AJHL last season. He had a career year last year with 42 points in 53 games, which marked a 30 point jump from his previous season with Fort McMurray.

Bowling Green brings in former Catholic Memorial (MA-HS) forward Ben Murphy, who played three years for Bay State (EJHL) and eventually landed with Carleton of the CCHL, where he netted 31 goals and 32 assists last season. They also bring in Latvian-born blueliner Ralfs Freibergs, who is suspended by the NCAA for 33 games for playing 33 games in the Latvian pro league. He could redshirt this season and hold onto all four years of eligibility. Whatever he chooses, he should have an impact at BGSU after leading all D in scoring with the Lincoln Stars (USHL) this past season. From Lincoln as well, BGSU pulls in two-year captain and Little Caesars product Brent Tate, a forward who should bring a little scoring and a lot of sandpaper to the roster, pulling down 205 penalty minutes while carrying the 'C' for the Stars last season.

National Champion runner-up Ferris State brings in Matt Robertson, a forward who had a 47-goal, 54-assist run in the CCHL for the Smiths Falls Bears last season. He comes previously from Stanstead College, a school that garnered quite a bit of attention with the rise of Providence commit Mark Jankowski's stock this season.

Lake Superior State looked for size this year and got it, as 6-5 players Austin McKay and Zach Loesch lead their 2016 class. McKay, a forward, had 26 goals and 27 assists for Drayton Valley (AJHL) this year in 58 games, and Zach Loesch is a defenseman who won the RBC Cup with the Pembroke Lumber Kings in 2011. Daniel Vernace, a 6-foot forward, split time with Trenton and Mississauga (OJHL), and netted some very respectable offensive performances.

Jasper Kozak-Miller can be reached at recruiting@collegehockeynews.com, or on Twitter @OTBPuckWatch.

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