College Hockey Roundup: Penn State prevails in Philly; Former Team Comcast player shines at BC

Image courtesy of onwardstate.com

All eyes were back on the ice on Saturday in the City of Brotherly Love. After a grueling wait, NHL fans got their wish. However, Penn State against Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff stole the spotlight.

As fans donning the colors of their favorite Pennsylvania NHL team filed out of the Wells Fargo Center, others were on their way in representing the entire state with their blue and white.

After 19,994 hockey-starved fans attended the first Flyers home game of the season, a second crowd were treated to what hopes to be more than just a curiosity. An announced 19,529 gluttonous fans were in the house for the main dish, and witnessed the first NCAA hockey game hosted by the Wells Fargo Center.

The majority of the crowd was dressed in blue and white supporting the home-state team. However, the Catamounts were elected to be the home team, which may have something to do with a certain Vermont defenseman having the last name Luukko. Nick (PHI 179th overall in the 2010 draft), the son of Peter, who is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Comcast-Spectacor, added an assist on the first of only two goals Vermont would muster. Home-ice advantage didn’t benefit Vermont, who fell by a 4-2 count to the Nittany Lions.

The first period has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde case for Penn State this season. Occasionally, and recently too often, the Nittany Lions have started games lacking a high compete level. When Penn State is trailing after the first period they are 0-10-0 for the season. On the bright side, counting Saturday’s victory at the Wells Fargo Center, the Nittany Lions are 8-0-0 when leading after the first period.

Taylor Holstrom, who missed the team’s last game due to disciplinary action, came out ready to shine on the bright stage. Just over three minutes into the game, Holstrom capitalized on some sloppy Catamount defense. The Mercyhurst transfer gained control of the puck at the tops of the circles and walked down into the slot unleashing a wrist shot past Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman for his fifth of the year. Despite an evenly played first period, it wasn’t the Catamounts who would strike next. With 1:21 remaining in the opening frame Nate Jensen kept in a puck at the blue line and fed it down low to Justin Kirchhevel who made a dazzling no-look pass to David Glen. Glen was bearing down the slot when he received the pass and in one fluid motion ripped a sizzler bar-down to put Penn State up 2-0.

Freshman goalie Matthew Skoff tried to steal the show in the second period with a pair of phenomenal breakaway stops. Stonewall Skoff shows maturation beyond his years and rose to the occasion in a venue like the Wells Fargo Center. Halfway through the period, Kirchhevel tried a quick wraparound that would need to be video reviewed before being called a good goal. It was difficult to see the puck fully cross over the goal line, but Hoffman’s pad was fully inside the net when he covered the puck. I’ll leave the debate up to you whether logic should dictate a call or if firm video evidence is necessary.

Less than two minutes later, Vermont freshman Robert Polesello took a feed from Luukko in the slot and slammed it home through the five-hole of Skoff. The Ontario native came to the Catamounts as a highly touted recruit after a successful campaign with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. Polesello was originally committed to join the incoming freshman class this year at Boston University before learning that BU wanted Polesello to defer another season in order to use the scholarship for another recruit. Polesello de-committed and joined the incoming class at Vermont.

Refusing to let the old adage that a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey hold true, Penn State played lock-down defensively in the third period. Freshman defenseman Mark Yanis stood out as an on-ice general utilizing his size and stick reach to clog shooting and passing lanes. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound. Michigan product was sidelined early with a broken foot, but is emerging as one of Penn State’s top players. After emerging as a talent last season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, Yanis has developed into a legitimate NHL draft prospect in his short time at Penn State.

Casey Bailey added the insurance goal the Nittany Lions were looking for with just under five minutes to play. Bailey has been surging as of late and is tied for the team lead with 11 goals and 19 points. Vermont added one goal back with 11 seconds left as Kyle Mountain took an off-angle shot from the boards that pin-balled in past Skoff.

Penn State improves to 9-12-0 on the season and victorious in it’s only game against the powerhouse Hockey East conference. Vermont falls to 6-12-4 and has lost four games in a row.

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Image courtesy of Ken Patterson spokeo.com

Image courtesy of Ken Patterson spokeo.com

Johnny Gaudreau (fourth-round pick of Calgary in 2011) of No. 3 ranked Boston College continues to soar up the NCAA scoring list. The New Jersey native lacks prototypical NHL size, standing just 5-foot-7 and weighing 150 lbs., but he makes up for it with his natural scoring touch.

Gaudreau hasn’t missed a step since returning from the World Junior Championships. Despite missing three games for the Golden Eagles, the sophomore forward ranks fifth in the NCAA in points with 31. Due to the absence, Gaudreau has amassed his points in just 18 games, giving him the highest points per game average in the nation at 1.72. The Calgary prospect set a career high with four assists in Saturday’s 9-3 throttling against Northeastern. His four points also matched a career high, which was set Oct. 8, 2011 against North Dakota. The former Team Comcast player has averaged over a point per game at every level he has played, which should excite optimism for Calgary Flames fans.

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As the complexion of college hockey is about to change drastically, established conferences are searching for teams to fill vacant slots. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association is primarily made up of teams in the northern Midwest and the upper northwest, including their northern-most team, the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. Effective beginning in the 2013-2014 season, the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers will become the newest member of the WCHA. Wisconsin and Minnesota are leaving the conference and heading to the new Big Ten Hockey Conference, while six other WCHA members are leaving for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Five members of the dissolving CCHA will join the WCHA, allowing Alabama-Huntsville to become the 10th and final member of the conference. The Chargers have been an independent team since the College Hockey America conference folded after the 2009-2010 season.

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No team made a bigger leap in the USCHO rankings than the Yale Bulldogs. Entering this week Yale stands at No. 8 in the nation, up four spots from a week ago. The red-hot Bulldogs are unbeaten in the year, 2013. After a hard-fought tie at Boston College, Yale has rattled off four straight wins. This weekend Yale flexed its muscles against a pair of ECAC opponents, improving its overall record to 11-4-3 and 7-3-1 in ECAC play.

On Friday night, the Bulldogs dominated Harvard from start to finish sending the Crimson Tide home empty-handed, 4-0. Senior netminder Jeff Malcolm earned his first shutout of the season and fourth of his career. Andrew Miller scored 7:23 into the first period to break the silence, which proved to be the game-winner. Antoine Laganiere added his team-leading 11th goal seven minutes later. Trent Ruffolo scored once in the second and again 50 seconds into the third period for his fifth and sixth of the season. Malcolm was sharp when needed but his duty was relatively light, seeing only five shots in the third and 21 overall. The Yale offense peppered both Harvard goalies 39 times, but failed to convert on all three power play opportunities.

The power play woke up on Saturday night as the Bulldogs hosted Dartmouth. Laganiere and Jesse Root each buried power play goals en route to a 4-2 victory over the Big Green. Yale’s power play now sits at sixth in the nation at 23.08% after the 2-for-2 performance on Saturday. Laganiere plays a crucial role on the Bulldog’s power play and with his man-advantage tally he now ranks third in the NCAA with six. The Quebec native was a fifth round selection (86th overall) by Rimouski Oceanic in the 2006 QMJHL entry draft but chose the college route instead. Laganiere attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts for two years before continuing his education and athletic career at Yale.