Sunday, May 27, 2012

Carter Cleaning up on Fourth Line For Finals-Bound Devils

You could say that Ryan Carter is pretty much one of those dependable guys. Not spectacular on the scoresheet, but reliable in many other facets.
The native of White Bear Lake, Minn. played two full seasons of junior hockey with Green Bay (USHL), tallying 41 goals and 81 points in two seasons, and then potted 34 goals and 58 points in two years at Minnesota State (WCHA) before turning pro in 2006-07 with Portland (AHL). A free agent, he made his NHL debut with Anaheim that same year, playing in four games as the Ducks won their first Stanley Cup.

He played two more non-descript years in Anaheim before going first to Carolina and then to Florida, who waived him just seven games into this season. He was then tabbed by New Jersey, which was coming off its first playoff-less campaign since 1996, and was now guided by his former Panthers coach, Pete DeBoer.

Fast forward ahead seven months, and Carter and his current company are on the cusp of the Devils’ fourth-ever Stanley Cup title, after dispatching the east’s top seed, the New York Rangers, in six games in the Eastern Conference final. Carter scored three goals in that series, including the tying tally in Game 2, the game-winner in Game 5, and the game-opening score in Game 6.

His goal in Game 5 snapped a 3-3 tie with 4:24 remaining in regulation at Madison Square Garden, and also gave New Jersey a 3-2 series lead over its cross-river rivals it would not relinquish.
“(Stephen) Gio(nta) scooped the puck up, took a look and made a fantastic pass to me," said Carter afterwards to CBS Sports. "All I had to (do) was redirect it.”
Carter tallied only four goals and four assists for eight points in 65 regular-season outings with the Devils, and also racked up 84 penalty minutes. It’s in the playoffs, though, that he has really taken off, connecting for four goals and two assists in 17 postseason contests while forming a solid two-way fourth line with Gionta and Steve Bernier.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even drafted, and now has his second opportunity in five years to add his name to hockey's holy grail.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gionta Gets Job Done for Devils in Game 5

On a night when goaltender Martin Brodeur wasn't anywhere near his best, the New Jersey Devils still managed to escape Madison Square Garden with a 5-3 victory, and a three games to two lead in the Eastern Conference final with the New York Rangers.

They can thank their smallest player for that.

That's smallest in terms of stature, not in play. Stephen Gionta made like his higher-scoring older brother, Brian, in tallying the Devils first goal early Wednesday night off a rebound. Later, after New Jersey blew a three-goal cushion, he set up Ryan Carter for the game-winner with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.

''You have to (keep it together) this time of year,'' said Gionta to the Associated Press afterwards. ''You have to have a short memory. Fortunately we did and came out with the victory.''

Did the Devils ever.

After Ilya Kovalchuk forechecked deep in the Rangers' end with the game tied, It was Gionta who swooped in, beat Dan Girardi to a loose puck in the corner to Henrik Lundqvist's left, and sent a perfect pass in front to Carter, who one-timed it home on Lundqvist's stick side to give the Devils back the lead for good.

And to think Gionta wasn't even named one of the three stars of the game.

The captain of the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany this season, Gionta and New Jersey's fourth line have been on a roll ever since he was called up for the regular-season finale against Ottawa and scored his first career NHL goal in that same game.

Gionta has appeared in all 17 playoff games for the Devils this spring, and has collected three goals and three assists. More importantly, he has combined with Carter and Steve Bernier to form a truly effective checking trio that has also been able to chip it with big goals at key times.

“You need contributions from the entire team," said Devils captain Zach Parise to The Record. We probably wouldn’t be here now without them (on the fourth line). They’ve been scoring goals, big goals. They’re reliable. They’re ready to play.”

Gionta, 28, was a decent player for his hometown Rochester Americans at the Junior A level in 1999-2000 before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Undrafted after four solid but unspectacular seasons at Boston College, he has spent his time honing his game in the minors since 2006, where he has appeared in more than 350 AHL outings.

Though he's not the scorer his brother is/was, Gionta still shares some attributes with his older sibling, who won a Cup with New Jersey nine years ago. Besides a common tenacity and work ethic, the biggest mutual trait is speed—speed that allows them to get in the play, get on opposing players, and make something happen, as evidenced on the Carter game-winning goal on Wednesday night.

Who knows what Friday night and Game 6 will bring; but nine years after a Gionta helped the Devils to their last Stanley Cup Finals appearance, yet another Gionta has them poised to do the same.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Boston College Will Again Be Engraved on the Stanley Cup

With only four NHL teams still playing, and one of those on the brink of elimination, the odds are practically guaranteed that a former player from Boston College will get a Stanley Cup ring this spring.

Whoever wins will join a Stanley Cup-winning Boston College contingent that includes Doug Brown (Detroit, 1997, 1998), Brian Gionta (New Jersey, 2003), Bill Guerin (New Jersey 1995, Pittsburgh 2009), Brian Leetch (New York Rangers, 1994), Joe Mullen (Calgary 1989, Pittsburgh 1991, 1992), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh 2009), Ryan Shannon (Anaheim 2007) and Kevin Stevens (Pittsburgh 1991, 1992).

They include Rob Scuderi (BC' 01) of the Los Angeles Kings, who won his first Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, and was a member of BC's NCAA title team in 2001.

Stephen Gionta (BC '06) scored his first career NHL goal for the New Jersey Devils in the regular season finale against Ottawa, and has added two more tallies plus two assists in the playoffs while providing energy and physical play on New Jersey's fourth line. Former BC teammate Peter Harrold (BC '06) has provided some offense from the Devils' blue line in the NHL postseason in the form of four assists.

Brian Boyle (BC '07) scored three goals for the New York Rangers in the first round against Ottawa, but has been slowed somewhat since suffering a concussion in the same series off of a Chris Neil hit. He still added an  assist in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey. last but definitely not least, Chris Kreider (BC '12) has been the rookie find of the playoffs, and stepped right into the Rangers' postseason lineup fresh off a second NCAA title in three years with the Eagles. Despite some rough spots, he has tallied five goals and two assists in his first 15 NHL playoff games, including a pair of game-winners, and a huge insurance goal in Game 3 versus the Devils.

The Phoenix Coyotes, down three games to one to LA in the Western Conference finals, have no BC players on their roster this season.

It's been said that the road to the Stanley Cup begins in Chestnut Hill, Mass. It appears that will "ring" true once more in 2012.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Penn State Gearing Up for This Fall

Got to speak to an old friend in former Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky last month, regarding his getting the new Nittany Lions ready for the inaugural NCAA Division I campaign at Penn State University this fall. The story of the transition from club power to varsity newcomer is now up at USCHO. I imagine it it won't take him long to have things running smoothly as PSU gets ready to join the nascent Big Ten Hockey Conference in 2014.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Former NCAA Skaters Will Be Counted on in 2012 NHL Semifinals

Eight victories from now, the Stanley Cup will be awarded to one of the four teams remaining in the 2012 NHL playoff picture. Whoever raises Lord Stanley's prize this spring, one thing is sure– at least one of its players will have spent some time on a college campus.

For the New Jersey Devils, who haven't gotten this far since 2003 when they won their last Cup, look for Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, both from North Dakota, to be counted on for offense. Zajac has already collected five goals and 10 points in playoff action, including an overtime goal, while Parise has put up four goals and eight points. Former Boston College teammates Brian Gionta (2 goals, 4 points) and Peter Harrold (4 assists) will be called on to chip in on the fourth line, although usual-defenseman Harrold was a scratch late in the Flyers series. They will be joined by Minnesota State product Ryan Carter (1 goal, 3 points).

Mark Fayne (1 assist) will help the Devils' stay-at home defense, while Miami’s Andy Greene could be relied on to help kick-start the attack from the blue line; although he has just one assist so far in 12 playoff games.

For the New York Rangers, who last got this far in 1997 and will now face New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Finals, their roster of NCAA alumni includes Brian Boyle (BC), Derek Stepan (Wisconsin), Carl Hagelin (Michigan), Chris Kreider (BC), Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin) and Stu Bickel (Minnesota).

Stepan leads all former collegian Rangers with a goal and seven assists so far, while Boyle had three goals in the first round against Ottawa. Bickel and McDonagh have each played in all 14 of the Rangers' postseason games, although neither has yet to record a point.

Twin speedsters Hagelin and Kreider have three points apiece so far. Hagelin missed three games against Ottawa due to suspension, while Kreider had game-winners against both the Senators and Washington Capitals after joining New York following BC's national title run last month.

The linchpin of the Los Angeles Kings’ playoff effort so far has been goaltender Jonathan Quick, a University of Massachusetts product who has gone 9-1 in 10 playoff outings so far against top-seeded Vancouver and second-seeded St. Louis. Former Maine forward Dustin Penner has tallied two goals and seven points, and previously won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.

The L.A. defense includes Matt Green (North Dakota), Willie Mitchell (Clarkson), Rob Scuderi (Boston College) and Alec Martinez (Miami); who together had combined for a plus-15 rating prior to the semifinal round. Scuderi also won a Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, after winning an NCAA title with BC eight years prior. The Kings last made it to the semifinals in 1993 on Wayne Gretzky's watch, where they fell to Montreal in five games.

As for their Western Conference finals opponent, former Boston University blueliner Adrian Aucoin has registered two assists and a plus-4 in 10 games this postseason for the Phoenix Coyotes, who ousted Chicago and Nashville to get to this point for the first time in franchise history. The lone former collegian on the Phoenix playoff roster, he was scratched from Sunday's 4-2 loss to Los Angeles.

Two rounds to go. Then its pencils down, and Cup up.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quick Backstops Kings to Conference Finals

The best player ever to come out of the University of Massachusetts hockey program so far is headed to the NHL's Western Conference Finals.  Jonathan Quick made 23 saves on Sunday afternoon in backstopping the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues to complete a four-step sweep.

The eighth-seeded Kings, who last made the NHL semifinals in 1993 when Wayne Gretzky was lining up in LA, dispatched the second-seeded Blues after ousting the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five first-round contests. The Kings are the first NHL eighth seed to ever perform the feat of dispatching the top two seeds in the same playoff season.

Quick, who went 23-22-6 for the Minutemen in 54 games at UMass from 2005 to 2007, has gone 8-1 so far in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has allowed just 14 goals in nine contests, with one shutout. He compiled a 35-21-13 record during the 2011-12 NHL regular season with a 1.95 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage, and a league-leading 10 shutouts.

The Kings will now wait to meet the winner of the other Western Conference semifinal series between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators. The Coyotes currently leads that series, three games to one, with Game 5 to be played Monday night in Arizona.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Former College Players Come through Again for Devils

Just like they did in the first round against the Florida Panthers, the former NCAA players on the New Jersey Devils played significant roles in their 4-1 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday evening.

Peter Harrold (Boston College) helped set up Adam Larsson’s game-tying goal early in the third period, before Zach Parise (North Dakota) drew the lone assist on Dave Clarkson’s eventual game-winner. Stephen Gionta (Boston College) and Travis Zajac (North Dakota) then combined on Zajac’s wrap-around goal that effectively put matters out of reach at 3-1 with just over six minutes remaining in regulation.

Contributing in intangibles if not the scoring column was Andy Greene (Miami), who blocked five Philadelphia shots and started the rush that led to Clarkson’s goal. Mark Fayne (Providence) logged nearly 21 minutes of ice time on defense, while forward Ryan Carter (Minnesota State) provided one shot, one hit, and 50 percent efficiency on face-offs in skating on the fourth line.

Game 3 will be played Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.