Friday, April 28, 2017

Ten Years Ago Today

It was 10 years ago today that I attended my final New Jersey Devils game ever at then-Continental Airlines Arena, a 3-2 double OT playoff win over Ottawa. It was also the last sell-out and the last win the Devils ever recorded in East Rutherford before moving to Newark that fall. It never hosted a college hockey game, but all this time later, I still miss the Meadowlands.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Round Two of NHL Playoffs Starts Tonight

The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs begins tonight, with eight teams remaining in the hunt.

Three of the top scorers so far in the NHL postseason were college-trained. Phil Kessel (Minnesota) is third overall with two goals and six assists for eight points for the Pittsburgh Penguins, while T. J. Oshie (North Dakota) is fifth with 3-47 points in six outings with the Washington Capitals. Jake Guentzel (Omaha) has posted 5-16 totals in six games with the Penguins as a rookie, and leads all NHl players in playoff goals so far this spring.

Among defensemen, Kevin Bieksa (Bowling Green) has four assists in four appearances with Anaheim, while in goal Cam Talbot (Alabama-Huntsville) led the Edmonton Oilers to their first playoff victory in 10 seasons with a 4-2 record (2.03, .927) and two shutouts in the first round against San Jose.

The Western Conference gets underway Wednesday, with Nashville visiting St. Louis and Edmonton dropping in on Anaheim. On Thursday, it's the Eastern Conference's turn to get going, as Ottawa will host the New York Rangers while Washington will entertain Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pearson Returns to Michigan as Head Coach

Former University of Michigan assistant Mel Pearson is the new bench boss of the Wolverines, as announced Monday. Pearson succeeds former head coach Red Berenson, who retired last month after 33 years at the helm in Ann Arbor.

Pearson, 58, spent the last six years coaching at his alma mater, Michigan Tech. The Huskies went 118-92-6 under his tutelage, won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's playoff tournament this past season, and qualified twice for the NCAA Tournament (2015, 2017). MTU also recorded three consecutive 20-plus win campaigns in the last three years, and went 15-7-6-3 in WCHA play last year, finishing second in the conference.

Pearson played for MTU from 1977 to 1981, scoring 21 goals and adding 35 assists for 56 points in 107 career outings, according to He also served three seasons as an assistant coach with the Huskies (1985-1988).

A native of Edina, Minn., Pearson served as an assistant coach at Michigan from 1988 to 1999, and then as associate coach from 1999 to 2011. In that span, the Wolverines won 10 Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles and nine CCHA playoff championships, while qualifying for the NCAA Tournament every year from 1991 to 2011. Michigan also made 11 NCAA Frozen Four appearances and won national titles in 1996 and 1998, while also finishing as NCAA runner-up in 2011. U-M also finished first in the annual Great Lakes Invitational no less than 13 times during Pearson’s tenure, including his first nine seasons.

This past season U-M went 13-19-3 overall, finished fifth in the Big Ten Conference, and did not qualify for the NCAAs for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Princeton's Bonar Named SPHL Goalie of the Year

Sean Bonar (Princeton) has been named the Southern Professional Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year.

A native of Delta, B.C., Bonar backstopped the Fayetteville FireAntz for 49 games during the 2016-17 SPHL regular season, posting a 32-15-12 record along with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .927 save percentrage. He also recorded four shutouts in his second career stint with Fayetteville, with whom he went 9-3-0 with three shutouts in 13 apperances in 2015-16.

Bonar, 26, played at Princeton from 2010 to 2014. In 63 career games with the Tigers, he went 17-33-6 (3.16, .898) with two shutouts and one assist.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Kuraly Keeps Bruins Going in OT

Boston University, Minnesota State and Miami (Ohio) teamed up to keep the Boston Bruins' season alive.

Sean Kuraly (Miami) backhanded home a rebound 10:19 into double overtime to lift the Bruins to a 3-2 win over the host Ottawa Senators on Friday night. Ottawa still leads the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, three games to two.

Kuraly scored his first career NHL goal on Friday in regulation, but then saw a potential Boston game-winning goal scuttled in the first OT after he collided with Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson prior to the puck entering the net. The goal was subsequently waved off for goaltender interference, and the contest continued

On the winner, McAvoy (BU) launched a shot from the right point that deflected off Backes (MSU) in front. The puck caromed to Kuraly, who then shoveled a backhander onto the open half of the net past Anderson.

Game Six of this Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup is set for Sunday in Boston at 3 p.m. ET (NBC).

Friday, April 14, 2017

NCAA Players Prominent in Start to NHL Playoffs

Former NCAA players made their mark during the first two days of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

On Wednesday, Tanner Glass (Dartmouth) backhanded home the game-winning goal for the New York Rangers in a 2-0 victory at Montreal, while rookie Frank Vatrano (UMass Lowell) tied the game for the Boston Bruins in an eventual 2-1 overtime win at Ottawa. Bryan Rust (Notre Dame), Phil Kessel (Minnesota) and Nick Bonino (Boston University) accounted for the Pittsburgh Penguins' goals in a 3-1 win over Columbus.

In Minnesota, Zach Parise (North Dakota) tied the game late for the host Wild, but Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College) set up the game-winner in OT to lift the St. Louis Blues to a 2-1 triumph. In Edmonton, Paul Martin (Minnesota) scored the tying goal and Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) assisted on the overtime winner as the San Jose Sharks came back for a 3-2 win over the Oilers, who got 41 saves from Cam Talbot (Alabama-Huntsville).

On Thursday, James van Riemdsyk (New Hampshire) set up the first goal of the postseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the host Washington Capitals escaped with a 3-2 overtime victory, with T. J. Oshie (North Dakota) and Kevin Shattenkirk (Boston University) drawing assists on the evening. In Anaheim, Kevin Bieksa (Bowling Green) set up the tying goal and Patrick Eaves (Boston College) assisted on the winner as the Ducks edged the Calgary Flames, 3-2, despite 38 saves by Brian Elliott (Wisconsin).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It Begins Tonight

The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway tonight.

An inaugural roster of 16 teams will steadily dwindle over the next two months, one best-of-seven series at a time, until one NHL club reaches 16 wins first to raise the most cherished trophy in sports.

A ton of former NCAA players will definitely be involved in the mix until that happens sometime in June. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cole Named New Michigan State Head Coach

Spartan alumnus Danton Cole has been announced as the new head coach of the Michigan State University hockey program.

Cole played at MSU from 1985 to 1989 for the late Ron Mason, helping the Spartans to the 1986 NCAA crown along with two Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles and two CCHA playoff championships. He recorded 69 goals and 163 points in 180 career games at MSU, and was a three-time CCHA All-Academic Team member and the recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor as a senior.

Cole was chosen by the Winnipeg Jets in the sixth round of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. He played in 318 NHL regular-season contests with the Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Chicago Blackhawks, tallying 58 goals and 118 points, and was a member of New Jersey’s 1995 Stanley Cup champion club.

Cole finished his playing career in 1999 after three full seasons with the International Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring the first playoff goal and also the initial overtime goal in franchise history, and then became a Griffins’ assistant coach for one year. After winning a United Hockey League championship with the Muskegon Fury, he served two-and-a-half seasons in charge of Grand Rapids, leading the former IHL Griffins to 116 regular-season American Hockey League wins.

After two campaigns with the UHL’s Motor City Mechanics, Cole served one year as an assistant coach with Bowling Green State University before guiding the University of Alabama-Huntsville for three seasons. His tenure with the Chargers culminated in a College Hockey America championship and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2010.

Cole spent the last seven seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program, guiding the Under-18 Team to gold-medal finishes at the Under-18 World Championships in 2012 and 2014. He was also a coach with two bronze-medal winning U.S. teams, at the 2013 IIHF Men’s World Championship and the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

A native of Pontiac, Mich., who grew up in Lansing, Cole becomes the seventh head coach in MSU hockey history, which dates back intermittently to 1921. He succeeds fellow Spartan alumnus Tom Anastos, who stepped down at the end of the 2016-17 season.

Berenson Retires as Longtime Michigan Coach

Legendary University of Michigan head coach Gordon “Red” Berenson has announced his retirement after 33 years at the Wolverine helm.

Berenson, 77, fashioned an 848-426-92 overall mark at his alma mater from 1984 to 2017, including NCAA titles in 1996 and 1998, while coming within an overtime goal of a third in 2011. He also led the Wolverines to 10 Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championships and nine CCHA Tournament crowns, plus a record 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths from 1991 to 2012. Michigan also won the 2015-16 Big Ten regular-season and conference crowns under his watch, plus a total of 15 Great Lakes Invitational championships, including nine straight GLI titles between 1988 and 1996.

A native of Regina, Sask., who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan, Berenson skated for the Wolverines from 1959 to 1962 before turning pro right after, one of the first college-trained players to do so. He played almost 20 seasons in the NHL with Montreal, St. Louis, the New York Rangers and Detroit, recording 261 goals and 397 assists for 658 points in 987 regular-season outings.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Goodbye, Joe Louis Arena

The final hockey game of any kind has been played at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

The building’s primary tenant, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, ended their run at the venerable facility on Sunday with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils that closed out both the season, and an era. 

The Red Wings moved into The Joe in Dec. 1979 and left almost 38 years later with four Stanley Cup championships to their credit (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008), two of them earned on JLA ice (1997, 2002). Though Detroit’s 25-year playoff run ended this season, Hockeytown fans celebrated on Sunday like it was 1998, with the stands awash in a sea of red jerseys, and the obligatory traditional octopus cascading from the crowd and clumping on the ice after each and every goal by the home side.

Besides the NHL, The Joe was also a long-standing venue for college hockey, ranging from the 1990 NCAA Championship, to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and later Big Ten tournaments, to the long-running Great Lakes Invitational. In my two years (1994-1996) with Michigan State Hockey, I made it to the Joe over a dozen times for CCHA and GLI games, CCHA press conferences, and the now-defunct College Hockey Showcase. I even got to take a turn or two on the ice, hockey stick included.

The most modern facility in North America? Not at all—but there was something comforting about going up those long gray exterior stairs, walking the dark concourses replete with photos and other mementoes of Red Wings history, and gazing out upon two levels of seemingly endless red-and-white seats. There was also having a team credential to see the wood-paneled splendor and the major-league workings that existed behind the scenes. There wasn’t a bad seat in the 20,000-plus house, not even from a high-above-the-ice press box that was added as an afterthought.

I saw my only Red Wings game there as a fan in early 2000, a win over Tampa Bay, and that was the last time I ever made it to the building. I’ve seen Detroit play live in New Jersey several times in the last 17 years after I stopped living in Michigan, but never again at The Joe. This year’s closing is perhaps made even more poignant by the dual passing of hockey icon Gordie Howe and longtime Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who both left us before the doors were closed for the final time, as did longtime MSU head coach Ron Mason last year.

I thought the quasi-hexagonal gray-and-red venue on the riverfront would stand the test of time and live forever, like Fenway Park and Lambeau Field—but like the Olympia and Tiger Stadium before it in the Motor City, time has unfortunately run out on The Joe. The memories, many as there are, however, will remain.

So long and farewell, Joe Louis Arena. And thanks.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Denver Wins 2017 NCAA Men's Hockey Title

For the first time since 2005 and the eighth time overall, the University of Denver Pioneers are the NCAA Division I men's ice hockey national champions. DU held on for a 3-2 win over the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday night in the national title game at the United Center in Chicago.

Following a scoreless first period, Denver junior forward Jarid Lukosevicius tallied a pair of goals 16 seconds apart to put DU ahead, 2-0. After senior forward Alex Iafallo got the Bulldogs within one score with a power-play goal, Lukosevicius connected again from short range to complete the first hat trick in a Division I men's hockey national title game since Denver head coach Jim Montgomery did the same as a player for NCAA champion Maine in 1993.

Freshman forward Riley Tufte put home a rebound late in the third period to again bring the Bulldogs back within a goal, but UMD couldn't gain the equalizer despite pulling freshman goaltender Hunter Miska (25 saves) for an extra attacker with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Junior netminder Tanner Jaillet, the 2017 winner of the Mike Richter Award as the nation's top goaltender, finished with 38 stops for the Pioneers, who were outshot, 17-3, in the third period after junior defenseman Tariq Hammond was injured, although he returned for the postgame celebration. UMD outshot DU on the night, 40-28.

Denver captain and 2017 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Will Butcher completed his career with a national championship after DU was eliminated in the NCAA semifinals last year by North Dakota. Denver's senior class finished with 102 total victories in its four campaigns and made the NCAA tournament all four years, with DU now having made the NCAAs nine straight seasons overall.

Denver's most recent NCAA titles came back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. The Pioneers' eighth national title all-time ties them for second place overall with National Collegiate Hockey Conference rival North Dakota, which won the national championship last year. Michigan leads all-time with nine NCAA crowns. UMD, the NCHC's playoff champion, was seeking its second NCAA championship in school history. Denver was the NCHC's regular-season king, and held the No. 1 overall ranking in the country entering the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The 2018 Frozen Four will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the first time it will be held in Minnesota since UMD won the 2011 title.

Denver's Butcher Wins Hobey Baker Award

University of Denver senior defenseman and team captain Will Butcher is the winner of the 2017 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey. The honor was bestowed upon Butcher on Friday in Chicago, site of this year’s NCAA Frozen Four. The award is presented by the Decathlon Club of Bloomington, Minn.
Butcher becomes the second Denver Pioneer to win the Hobey Baker Award in its 36-year history, and the first since fellow defenseman Matt Carle in 2005. That was the last year that DU, currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, won its most recent of seven NCAA hockey championships.
A native of Sun Prairie, Wis., and a 2013 draft choice of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, Butcher leads all Denver blueliners with seven goals and 30 assists for 37 points to go along with 18 penalty minutes in 42 games so far this season. In three years at DU, he has tallied 28-75—103 points and 53 PIM in 157 career outings, along with 15 power-play and four game-winning goals.
Also on Friday, Denver junior goaltender Tanner Jaillet copped the 2017 Mike Richter Award, which is annually awarded to the most outstanding netminder in NCAA men's hockey. In 37 outings so far this season, the Red Deer, Alta. native has posted a 27-5-4 record with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. Denver head coach Jim Montgomery won the Spencer T. Penrose Award earlier in the week as Division I men's hockey's top coach.

Butcher, Jaillet, Montgomery and Denver will look to cap the 2016-17 campaign with a national title on Saturday night, when the Pioneers meet Minnesota-Duluth in the national title game at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Friday, April 7, 2017

U.S. Wins Women's World Title Again

Hilary Knight (Wisconsin) snapped home a shot from the slot with 9:43 left overtime to boost the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 3-2 victory over Canada in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship in Plymouth, Mich. The win marked the seventh time in the last eight years that the U.S. earned the tournament’s gold medal.
Kacey Bellamy (New Hampshire) scored America’s first two goals on the evening at USA Hockey Arena, while Nicole Hensley (Lindenwood) made 28 saves for the U.S. Meghan Agosta (Mercyhurst) and Brianne Jenner (Cornell) tallied goals for Canada, while Shannon Szabados (MacEwan) stopped 37 shots. The U.S. outshot Canada, 40-28, before 3,917 on-lookers.

The two squads are expected to meet again at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea in February.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Denver to Meet UMD for NCAA Hockey Title

It'll be Minnesota-Duluth against Denver for all the college hockey marbles on Saturday night, in what will be an all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference affair.

Alex Iafallo deflected home a pass with 26.6 seconds remaining in regulation to lift NCHC champion UMD to a 2-1 victory over ECAC champion Harvard in the first 2017 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal on Thursday at the United Center in Chicago. Harvard's Tyler Moy (power-play goal) and UMD's Joey Anderson exchanged first-period tallies just over three minutes apart, and the score then remained unchanged until Iafallo's heroics.

Harvard's Luke Esposito hit the crossbar in the dying seconds of the third period after the Crimson (28-6-2 overall) had pulled goaltender Merrick Madsen (31 saves) for an extra attacker. Hunter Miska finished with 39 stops for UMD (28-6-7), which was outshot, 40-38. The Bulldogs advanced to their first NCAA title game since 2011, when they beat Michigan in overtime to claim the program's first-ever national championship.

In the nightcap, top-seeded Denver obliterated host Notre Dame by a 6-1 count to return to the national title contest for the first time since 2005. Emil Romig and Henrik Borgstrom staked the Pioneers to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, before Tariq Hammond, Dylan Gambrell and Evan Ritt made it 5-0 after 40 minutes. 

Cam Morrison broke the shutout for the Fighting Irish in the third period, before Gambrell closed out the scoring. Tanner Jaillet made 16 saves for Denver (32-7-4), while Cal Petersen recorded 36 stops for Notre Dame (23-12-5), which was outshot, 42-17, in its Hockey East Association swan song. The Irish will join the Big Ten Hockey Conference next season.

Saturday's NCAA championship game, which will conclude the 2016-17 college hockey campaign at all levels, will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Denver and UMD split a pair of NCHC league games during the regular season.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Remembering the Illinois-Chicago Flames

The NCAA Men's Division I Hockey Frozen Four is being contested at the United Center in Chicago this week, with Denver, Harvard, Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame all vying for a national championship. Chicago itself, however, hasn't had a Division I team of its own on ice in over 20 years.

The University of Illinois-Chicago eliminated its men’s hockey program in 1996 after 30 years of competition, first as a club and then a varsity team. The Flames had been a member of the equally-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association for 14 years when the axe fell due to financial woes, and other constraints that kept attendance down at the UIC Pavilion. The Flames also hadn’t recorded a winning record since 1988-89 when they went 23-14-5 overall and finished third in the CCHA, and never qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

I was finishing up my own personal two-year-stint as the hockey publicity contact at CCHA rival Michigan State when the decision to discontinue hockey at UIC was announced on March 28, 1996, two years after CCHA member Kent had done the same. Players were free to transfer to other schools, as they usually are in such situations when a program is eliminated, unlike the cursory one-year sit-out period for transfers.

Many former Flames skaters did move on, most within the conference to schools such as Lake Superior State, Miami (Ohio), MSU and Western Michigan—but hockey itself never returned to UIC, except in the form of a club program in 2004. Northern Michigan replaced UIC in the CCHA, which itself breathed its last in 2013, with its teams going on to join either the new Big Ten Conference or the more-established Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

UIC wasn't the last Division I men's hockey program to be discontinued. Over the years Fairfield, Findlay, Iona, Wayne State and nearly Alabama-Huntsville were extinguished, much like the Flames had been.

The two Alaska schools, Alaska (Fairbanks) and Alaska Anchorage, appeared to be both on very thin ice last year with new financial burdens on the state, and budgets needing to be slashed. They still may be, in the future, if academic finances in the 49th State continue to fall—and just last week, North Dakota announced it was eliminating its Division I women'shockey program due to budget shortfalls.

Current Frozen Four participant and former CCHA member Notre Dame will join the Big Ten next season from Hockey East, and speculation abounds that the Big Ten could one day add Northwestern and/or Illinois from the hockey-prolific Land of Lincoln, which continues to produce a steady stream of players for the Division I and professional ranks. Unless either university receives a major cash infusion from a well-heeled donor, as Penn State and Arizona State did, those hopes appear unlikely.

Now the sport’s biggest annual gathering on the college level is being held in Chicago—but it’s being hosted by Notre Dame, which is based almost 100 miles east in Indiana. It’s not unprecedented that an “outside” school hosts the Frozen Four. Alaska Anchorage hosted in Anaheim in 1999, and Alabama-Huntsville did the same in Tampa in 2012. Wisconsin hosted last year in Tampa, as North Dakota won its first men’s hockey NCAA title since 2000.

Chicago once had its own Division I school that could have easily played innkeeper for college hockey’s marquee event—but those UIC Flames were doused a long time ago, and will likely never be rekindled.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NCAA Underclassmen Jumping to NHL

Her's a a sampling of players with college eligibility remaining who have signed with NHL organizations before the end of the 2016-17 NCAA season (as of April 4, listed alphabetically):

Brock Boeser, F, So. *     N. Dakota      Vancouver

Tyson Jost, F, Fr. *       N. Dakota      Colorado
J. F. Karlsson, F, So.     Boston Univ.   Boston
Clayton Keller, F, Fr. *   Boston Univ.   Arizona
Charlie McAvoy, D, So.     Boston Univ.   Boston

Mason Mitchell, Jr., F     AK Anchorage   Washington
Griffen Molino, F, So.     West. Michigan Vancouver
C.J. Smith, F, Jr.         UMass Lowell   Buffalo

Vince Pedrie, D, So.       Penn State     NY Rangers
Tucker Poolman, D, Jr.     N. Dakota      Winnipeg

Angus Redmond, G, Fr.      Michigan Tech  Anahiem
Jake Walman, D, Jr.        Providence     St. Louis
Colin White, F, So. *      Boston College Ottawa

* Indicates player has made NHL playing debut