Penn State ranked first in nation for first time ever

Happy Valley is quickly turning into a hockey valley.

Within five years of going online as a NCAA Division 1 program, Penn State has quickly emerged as a top-flight program competitive in the Big Ten, a young-but-strong conference with five other storied programs in Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State joining the Nittany Lions.

On Monday, Penn State was officially deemed the best in the nation, the Lions being named the No. 1 team in the nation in the latest USCHO.com poll on the heels of a 16-2-1 start to the season. Its lone blemishes came via an early season loss to St. Lawrence along with a setback against Ohio State on January 6th.

The Nittany Lions have a national-high 4.58 goals per game while allowing just two goals per game, which is tied with Army for third in the nation. Penn State has plenty of balance, as leading scorer Denis Smirnov’s 29 points is tied for 12th in the country. The Nittany Lions have 10 players with double-figure goal scoring.

The Lions supplant Denver atop the poll, as Pioneers split with Western Michigan over the weekend. To add injury to insult, leading scorer and Team USA World Juniors hero Troy Terry is out indefinitely after suffering an upper-body injury on Friday.

Boston University jumped to third from fifth, the Terriers highest ranking since October 10th, the second poll of the season, when BU was ranked second to reigning national champion North Dakota.

Omaha entered the poll, checking in at No. 19.

Three Stars of the Weekend: Max Jones Continues Stand-out Season

A 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Max Jones is built like a freight train. He plays like one, too.

It’s why the Anaheim Ducks made him a first-round pick in this past June’s NHL Draft, taking him with 24th overall pick.

A power forward whose size is complemented by his strength on the puck, Jones is an impact forward with a net drive and presence in the house that is paralleled by few his age. After putting up 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games last season, helping OHL London to its first Memorial Cup title in 11 years, Jones has followed it up with a blazing start to 2016-17.

With Aaron Berisha, Christian Dvorak, Mitch Marner, and Matthew Tkachuk gone to challenge the waters of pro hockey, Jones is now one of the centerpieces of what remains a strong London team, which also includes Toronto prospect and 30-goal scorer J.J. Piccinch, and Cliff Pu (second round pick by Buffalo in 2016) up front while fifth-overall pick Olli Juolevi and Montreal prospect Victor Mete lead the charge on the back end.

Playing just six of London’s 11 games this season, Jones has five goals and 15 points, his 2.5 points per game tops in the OHL.

The 18-year-old played two of the Knights three games this weekend, putting up two goals and seven points; a three-assist performance on Thursday before posting a pair of goals and two assists on Friday.

The other two stars from CHL play this weekend:

Dylan Wells, Peterborough: The Petes netminder and Edmonton prospect had a rough go of things on Thursday, allowing four of 13 shots to go in during a 6-1 loss to Sarnia, but came back and willed Peterborough to victory on Friday, stopping 49 of 51 shots as the Petes stole a 4-2 win from Sudbury, despite being outshot 51-20. Despite his inflated GAA (3.15), Wells’ .920 save percentage is tied for fourth in the OHL.

Alexandre Alain, Blainville-Boisbriand: The 19-year-old, who leads the Armada in scoring, had four goals and six points this weekend, including a 3-2-5 performance against Sherbrooke on Friday night.

AHL

Charlie Lindgren, St. John’s: The 22-year-old stopped 73 of 76 shots this weekend, including 50 of 51 in a win over Providence on Friday.

Sven Andrighetto, St. John’s: The forward, who played 44 games with Montreal last season, scored three goals and assisted on three others in three games for the IceCaps.

Gabriel Dumont, Syracuse: The AHL veteran, in his seventh season in the American League, had three goals and an assist on Friday for the Crunch, who fell to Utica, 5-4.

NCAA

Brock Boeser, North Dakota: The Canucks prospect had five goals in two games this weekend, including a hat trick in Friday’s 3-2 win over Bemidji State.

Jake Oettinger, Boston University: The 2017 draft prospect stopped all 46 shots he faced this weekend for BU, which beat Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac to the tune of a combined 10-0 margin. His .947 save percentage is fifth in the nation, one of five freshmen ranked in the top six of that category.

Mike Vecchione, Union: The senior had four goals and an assist on Saturday against Niagara, a 5-2 win for Union. He currently leads the nation in scoring with 8-5–13 totals through six games.

Women’s NCAA

Sarah Nurse, Wisconsin: The senior had four goals for the top-ranked Badgers in Sunday’s 5-2 win over North Dakota. She’s scored goals in four consecutive games.

Sarah Potomak, Minnesota: The sophomore forward had a hat trick on Friday night against Ohio State, following up the performance with another goal on Saturday.

Katie Burt, Boston College: The junior was airtight in net as the sixth-ranked Eagles secured a win and tie in the weekend doubleheader with third-ranked Quinnipiac. She stopped 39 of the 40 shots that came her way.

 

 

Beanpot Post-Mortem: Various Observations, Parting Thoughts

Monday’s Beanpot final between BU and BC was an instant classic, a 1-0 overtime decision in which the first 81 shots on goal were for naught. And anything less would’ve been a disappointment.

That’s the standard that has been set by these two teams over the years, going back to the foundations of the rivalry, which kicked off 98 years and three days ago, in which BC routed the Terriers to the tune of a 3-1 final on Feb. 6, 1918. Monday was meeting No. 270, the 22nd time with the Pot of Beans on the line.

A back-and-forth affair that saw everything a hockey fan looks for (with the exception of scoring, of course), the game’s lone goal was scored 1:57 into the overtime period, when BC sophomore Alex Tuch eluded BU netminder Sean Maguire on a snipe through traffic from high in the zone.

Never had there been a 1-0 final in 64 years of Beanpot play. And it was the best case for the 1-0 hockey game made on TD Garden ice in nearly five years, when the Boston Bruins outlasted the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference final, 1-0, a game in which no penalties were called and the game’s only goal scored by Boston’s Nathan Horton in the third period.

Here’s some other takeaways from the game:

*How crazy was it that there had never been a 1-0 final in the 255 previous Beanpot games? In a tournament where two-goal games are akin to blowouts, and 11 of the last 14 title games had been one-goal decisions, ever had there been such an outcome. Unbelievable.

*There had been 84 one-goal games in the 255 prior Beanpot matches, so about one-third of Beanpot games have been decided by a goal. The most frequent score among those one-goal games? 5-4, with 25 such instances.

*Just nine of the 256 games have been 1-0 or 2-1 finals. And these tournaments have featured the likes of Sean Fields, John Curry, Cory Schneider, Jim Craig, and Rick DiPietro, among others. Goes to show goaltending isn’t about how you make the saves as much as it is when you make them.

*If you were a Minnesota Wild fan, there’s no way you didn’t leave the Garden with a smile on your face. Jordan Greenway, a BU freshman forward with 6-foot-5, 230-pound dimensions who was drafted by the Wild in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, was making his presence known all over the ice on Monday. Don’t think he’ll be invited to any parties in Chestnut Hill anytime soon.

Tuch, who was Minnesota’s first round pick in 2014, scored the only goal of the game, an absolute beauty; a wrist shot through traffic from the top of the zone that beat Maguire blocker side. The sophomore has 11 goals and 23 points in 27 games, well on pace to eclipse his 14-14–28 totals from his freshman season at the Heights.

*BC freshman forward Miles Wood was lucky he wasn’t told to go hit the showers after he was penalized for a vicious hit on BU senior Ahti Oksanen at 15:44 of the first period. Wood was called for boarding, but replays showed Wood leading with his head and making contact with the head of Oksanen. According to Rule 45.1 of the NCAA Hockey rule book, contact to the head calls for major and a game misconduct. Should’ve been a slam dunk call for the officials. That outcome would’ve proven a tall test for BC’s fifth-ranked penalty kill, forced to stave off BU’s man-up unit that’s ranked 15th nationally for five minutes.

*Maguire, who made 41 saves on Monday before sweeping the Eberly and Beanpot MVP Awards, now has a .960 save percentage in his last seven games, allowing just nine goals. Stopping 65 of 67 shots, his .970 save percentage (the ultimate criteria of the Eberly Award) is the third-highest recorded since the award was first handed out in 1974. The two best performances? Also BU netminders, John Curry (.985, 2007) and Rick DiPietro (.981, 2000).

*Zach Sanford seemed to constantly be around the net for the Eagles, and picked up his team-leading 20th assist of the season on Tuch’s goal. Like Tuch, Sanford is a big-body, playmaking forward. The Manchester, N.H. native was a second-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 2013. He may not be at BC much longer, diddo Tuch.

*Final thought: Not much love lost between these two teams. But you already knew that.

*Second final thought: Northeastern will win the Beanpot in 2017.

Beanpot Final Preview: It Could Be Another Game of Goalie

The 64th installment of the Beanpot concludes Monday night, and the vaunted silver chalice is guaranteed to be relegated to Commonwealth Avenue for a 23rd consecutive year. The only decision left to be settled is which end of Comm. Ave will it rest for the next 52 weeks.

Boston College and Boston University, who combine for 84 top-two finishes in the four-team tournament (Harvard and Northeastern – the other two participants – combine for just 42), take the Garden ice on Monday night. BU will look to win its 31st Beanpot and repeat for the first time since winning three straight from 2005-07. BC will look to take the title for the sixth time in seven years.

Both teams enter the game having played good hockey of late, with the Eagles 6-0-3 since dropping their first two games coming out of the holiday break. The Terriers are 8-1-1 in their last 10. The only games BU failed to win came against BC, a 5-3 loss followed by a 1-1 tie in a January 15-16 home-and-home.

Monday marks the 22nd time the two teams face each other with the Beanpot on the line, with BU holding a slight 12-9 edge.

Three Storylines

A Game of Goalie: Legendary BU coach Jack Parker once quipped that hockey should be called ‘goalie’, because of the profound impact the goaltender position has on the outcome of a hockey game. One of the constants of both BC and BU programs is they build their teams from the net-out, the strength of the team coming between the pipes.

This year is no different. BC netminder Thatcher Demko is the consensus best goalie in college hockey. Both his 1.71 GAA and .937 save percentage rank fourth in the country, and leads the nation with eight shutouts. Meanwhile, BU’s Sean Maguire is finding his groove after missing the entire 2014-15 season with a concussion, allowing just eight goals in his last six games, sporting a .956 save percentage over that stretch.

Freshman Show: While there’s no potential top-five picks in the NHL Draft, like when Jack Eichel (BU) and Noah Hanifin (BC) starred in 2014-15, both teams sport deep, talented freshman classes. Colin White, who was taken 21st overall by Ottawa is June’s draft, leads the Eagles in scoring with 16 goals and 35 points. Miles Wood, who was drafted in the fourth round by New Jersey, is fourth on the team with 26. However, both players are game-time decisions with wrist and lower-body injuries, respectively, though both are expected to play according to a report from the blog BC Interruption.

BU’s freshman class is led by defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who was given an A-rating from the NHL Central Scouting Agency (an A-rating means a potential first round pick). He has 14 points in 25 games as a freshman, and has improved as the season has gone on, helped especially by the return of ace blueliner Matt Grzelcyk, who battled injuries for much of the season’s first half. Forward and Bruins prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is a 200-foot specimen, whom Grzelcyk deemed ‘Patrice Bergeron 2.0’ on NESN’s Bruins broadcast on Saturday night. Jordan Greenway, a second round pick in 2015 and a big, strong power forward, has seven points in his last five games. He scored two goals in BU’s 6-3 win over UMass on Friday night. Bobo Carpenter has five goals in his last 11 games.

Like Father, Like Son: There’s an old saying about an apple and a tree. It might apply to BU senior Danny O’Regan, the Terriers’ leading scorer with 32 points, whose father, Tom, starred at the school from 1979-83. The two became the first father-son duo to score 50 goals with the same school when Danny netted his 50th career tally in a 5-2 loss at UConn on October 27.

If O’Regan won the Beanpot MVP award, it will mark another shared father-son acolade, as Tom O’Regan won it in 1982.

Other Tidbits

*Each of the last six BC-BU Beanpot finals have been one-goal decisions. Three have been decided in overtime, including the most recent installment, a 3-2 BC win in 2012. The last multi-goal defeat came in 2001, 5-3 BC victory.

*A goaltender hasn’t been named the Beanpot MVP since 2010, when John Muse won it for BC.

*Sean Maguire, who entered the final round of the Beanpot leading the stakes for the Eberly Award (for the goaltender with the highest save percentage), would become the first BU goalie to win the award since 2012, when Kieran Millan did so, and just the third Terrier since Sean Fields went back-to-back in 2003-04.

*Prediction: BC, 2-1.