Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NCAA Players Abound in 2010 NHL Playoffs

They may not be burning up the statistical scrolls, but former NCAA Division I college players have so far been all over the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Look at Los Angeles, back in the post-season after an eight-year hiatus (seven, if you count the ill-fated and idiotic 2004-05 NHL lockout). Goaltender Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts) had stopped 90 of 98 shots in his Stanley Cup debut to help the Kings to a 2-1 series lead over Vancouver and former U.S. Olympic teammate Ryan Kesler (Ohio State). Quick has gotten support from teammates such as Jack Johnson (Michigan), who has posted five assists so far in his own playoff inauguration, while Kesler had put up four assists for the Canucks.

New Jersey’s fortunes will be largely attuned to how well the former North Dakota Fighting Sioux duo of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac fare up front. Zajac scored the Devils’ only goal in Game One against the rival Flyers, while Parise tallied a goal and assisted on the game-winner in Game Two. The Devils then got two power-play goals from veteran forward Brian Rolston (Lake Superior State) in a Game Three overtime loss at Philadelphia, which has gotten one assist apiece so far from Matt Carle (Denver) and rookie James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire). Andy Greene (Miami) has a goal and an assist for the Devils, while Darroll Powe (Princeton) is a +1 in three games for the Flyers and was often seen a-waltzing and a-facewashing with Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk in Game Three.

Buffalo’s fortunes may turn on when (and if) sniper supreme Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) gets back in the Sabres’ lineup to help out goaltender Ryan Miller (Michigan State), who surrendered just two goals in Game 3 in Boston but still absorbed a loss. Blake Wheeler (Minnesota) has two assists in three games so far for the opposing Bruins.

Colorado won two of its first three games against top-ranked San Jose, with Paul Stastny (Denver) chipping in with three assists after recording a team-best 59 helpers in the regular season. Rookie forward Brandon Yip (Boston University) had collected a goal and an assist in his first foray into the pro post-season, while John-Michael Liles (Michigan State) scored the Avs’ first goal of this year’s playoffs. On the other side of that series, veteran Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (Miami) suffered the ignominy of launching the shot that ultimately wound up behind his goaltender in overtime of a 1-0 loss in Game Three. Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) had gotten San Jose to overtime in Game Two, in the only contest claimed by the Sharks so far.

Jimmy Howard (Maine) has struggled in his Stanley Cup debut, surrendering four goals in a 4-2 loss in Game Three against Phoenix that put his Detroit Red Wings down by a game after three contests. Justin Abdelkader (Michigan State), who scored twice in the Finals last year, chipped in with a goal in Game Two in a 7-4 Wings’ win in Arizona. Lee Stempniak (Dartmouth) and Adrian Aucoin (Boston University) each had an assist in the first three games for the surprising Coyotes.

Montreal got off to a good start in edging No. 1 Washington in their opener, although the Capitals rebounded to win the next two meetings. Michael Cammalleri (Michigan) led the Habs with a goal and four assists through three games, while Brian Gionta (Boston College) had a goal and an assist. Mike Knuble (Michigan) has three assists so far and Tom Poti (Boston University) has two for the Caps, who would have also had a UMass alumnus in rookie surprise John Carlson had he not elected to go the major junior route with London (OHL).

Defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh rebounded for a two games-to-one lead over Ottawa thanks to three points from Bill Guerin (Boston College), two from Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), and one from Alex Goligoski (Minnesota). Brian Elliott (Wisconsin) had stopped 66 of 76 shots so far for the opposing Senators.

Have to look a lot harder to find former collegians in the Chicago-Nashville match-up. Jonathan Toews (North Dakota) has one assist so far for the higher-seeded Blackhawks, while Colin Wilson (Boston University) had been held pointless in his first two career Stanley Cup playoff outings with the Predators.

Multiple players with college ties, eight different playoff series, and as many as four games in one night - yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the hockey year. After the NCAA Tournament, that is.

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