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: Carter Hart Continues Strong Season in WHL

Carter Hart was the first goaltender taken in the 2016 NHL Draft, selected by Philadelphia with 48th overall pick.

If he’s a success, Hart will be the answer to the generations-long problem that is the Flyers goaltending; a large reason the Stanley Cup hasn’t paraded down Broad Street since 1975. If he’s the latest to come up short in the Philly crease, he’ll be further proof of why goalies aren’t worth the risk atop the draft (Ilya Samsonov, taken 22nd overall in 2015 by Washington, is the only goalie to go in the first round in the last four drafts).

Of course, the jury remains out on the type of netminder Hart will be, and will remain that way for a long time. But if his first year of hockey as property of an NHL organization is any indication, the Flyers have something to look forward to in net.

In 20 games for Everett, the 18-year-old is 13-3-3, with a 1.67 GAA and .937 save percentage, both WHL highs. He has a shutout streak of two-plus games, having not allowed a goal since a 2-1 loss to Lethbridge on November 19, when Tyler Wong beat Hart with 8:25 left in regulation.

He followed up the loss with a pair of shutouts; 37 saves in a 3-0 win over Seattle on Wednesday before stopping 26 of 26 in a 3-0 win over Prince George on Friday.

In 115 games since making his WHL debut in February 2014, the 6-2, 180-pound Hart has 66 wins, a 2.12 GAA and .920 save percentage. His clean sheet on Friday was his third of the season and 13th in major junior.

Other CHL Stars

Alexandre Goulet, Victoriaville: The 20-year-old had a pair of four-point games this weekend to extend his point streak to five games. His 38 points lead the Tigres, and is fourth in the Quebec League.

Keanu Yamamoto, Spokane: Yamamoto had six assists in the Chiefs 10-1 thrashing of Vancouver on Friday. He has 14 points in his last nine games and is third on Spokane with 26 overall. Keanu’s brother, Kailer, leads the team with 31.

AHL

Teemu Pulkkinen, Iowa: The right winger had three goals and five points over the weekend for the Wild. He has points in 10 of his last 11 games.

Kyle Wood, Tucson: The rookie had two goals and six points over the weekend. His 16 points leads all AHL rookie defensemen. Only Jake Guentzel (7-10=17) has more points among all rookies in the American League.

Dan DeSalvo, Manitoba: DeSalvo had four points on the weekend, including his third multi-point night of the season on Saturday, with three points in a 4-3 overtime win against Milwaukee. He has five goals and 10 points in the eight games.

NCAA

Stefanos Lekkas, Vermont: The freshman goaltender stopped 73 of 76 shots over the weekend at the Friendship Four in Belfast, Ireland, including 40 of 41 in a 5-1 Catamounts win over Quinnipiac in the championship game. He’s ranked fourth in the nation in both save percentage (.940) and GAA (1.72). He’s allowed nine goals in his five games, stopping 165 of 174 shots that have come his way.

Dylan Sikura, Northeastern: The junior forward had three goals and an assist on Friday night as the Huskies beat 11th-ranked Minnesota, 6-4. He’s tied with teammate Zach Aston-Reese for fourth in the nation with 22 points. Northeastern has three players in the top 10 for points.

Alex Kerfoot, Harvard: The senior had four assists in the Crimson’s lone game this weekend, a 5-2 win over Bentley.

USHL

Gabriel Mollot-Hill, Bloomington: The Providence recruit stopped all 32 shots that came his way in Bloomington’s 2-0 win over Green Bay on Saturday. He has a .932 save percentage and 1.91 GAA for the Thunder this season.

Jacob Hamacher, Dubuque: The RIT recruit had three goals and five points on the weekend as the Fighting Saints picked up a pair of wins.

Reggie Lutz, Chicago: Lutz, committed to Minnesota State, had two goals and four points over the weekend. He’s 13th in the USHL with 18 points.

Women’s NCAA

Cassidy MacPherson, Providence: Had four assists for the Friars on Sunday, assisting on all three goals Blair Parent scored, as PC took the Mayor’s Cup against crosstown rival Brown.

Heather Schwarz, Syracuse: The junior had two goals and an assist on Friday as the Orange shutout seventh-ranked North Dakota.

Kelly Pannek, Minnesota: Pannek had two goals and four points on the weekend for the second-ranked Gophers. She leads the nation in points (32) and assists (24).

Three Stars from the Weekend: Cam Johnson Posts Back-to-Back Shutouts

It was a show-me weekend for North Dakota.

After roaring out to a 6-0 start in its national title defense to the season, the Fighting Hawks suddenly found themselves on a winless skid of a similar length in a tough three-weekend stretch that featured double-headers with Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota, and Denver. All of a sudden North Dakota was ranked eighth in the national poll, going into another challenging weekend with 12th-ranked St. Cloud State.

The Fighting Hawks answered with a weekend sweep, winning 4-0 and 3-0 in dispatching the Huskies.

It all began with Cam Johnson in net, who posted back-to-back shutouts on the weekend, stopping all 62 shots he faced on the weekend. He made 36 saves for NoDak on Saturday night in leading the visitors to a 3-0 win.

Johnson, who was sensational between the pipes last year in leading North Dakota to its first national title since 2000, has a 2.07 GAA and .915 GAA. The shutouts were numbers two and three of the year for the netminder.

Other NCAA stars

Adam Huska, UConn- Another big-time goaltending performance, this time from the Huskies netminder, who made 37 saves in a 4-0 shutout win over BU on Saturday. Mike Cavanaugh is the envy of many with Huska and Robbie Nichols on his roster. UConn is tied with BU for ninth in the country with a .921 team save percentage.

Mike Marnell, St. Lawrence: Marnell had four goals for the Saints on Saturday, a 7-2 win over Brown.

CHL

Alexis D’Aoust, Shawinigan: The 20-year-old forward had six goals on the weekend, five on which came on Friday night, a 6-2 win over Gatineau.

Alexander Katerinakis, Blainville-Boisbriand: Katerinakis went into the weekend with a goal and eight points in 14 games. He left with five and 15 in 16, as he put up four goals and seven points in two games over the weekend.

Reid Duke, Brandon: Duke had five goals in two games for the Wheat Kings, four coming in Friday’s 8-1 win over Saskatoon. The Minnesota prospect has 12 points in his last six games, picking up the slack in the absence of Brandon ace centerman and presumptive 2017 first overall pick Nolan Patrick, who has been limited to six games with an injury.

 

Thoughts Are My Own: Prayers For Craig Cunningham

Some thoughts as the short week begins:

*The hockey world was shaken to a halt on Saturday night with the news of Craig Cunningham collapsing during pregame warmups prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game against the Manitoba Moose. The game was postponed and reports on Cunningham’s condition have been mum beyond that he ‘suffered a medical emergency.’ Thoughts and prayers for Cunningham and his family. No worse time for something like this to happen (cliche, I know).

*The outpouring of tweets and well-wishes from players and people around the game speak to the type of guy Cunningham is, and the reputation he’s built for himself.

*Meanwhile..back to hockey. The Arizona Coyotes decided to send Dylan Strome back to juniors, where he’ll play for Erie. Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, had just an assist in seven games with the Coyotes while averaging 13:41 per night. He’ll play on an Otters team that features the OHL’s top two scorers in Taylor Raddysh (20-28–48) and Alex DeBrincat (20-21–41), in a league Strome has put up 250 points in 124 games over the last two seasons. It won’t hurt him. The consensus in many circles is that Strome has highest ceiling among the crop of young talent Arizona has.

*Big blow for the Rangers losing Mika Zibanejad f0r 6-8 weeks with a broken fibula. Zibanejad, traded to New York from Ottawa in the offseason, had five goals and 15 points in 19 games. His fifth goal came in Sunday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to Florida, in which Zibanejad was injured crashing into the end boards and hitting his leg at a weird angle, something seen far too often in hockey.

*Zibanejad was a valuable piece for the Rangers in the early goings. He was third among forwards behind Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello in ice-time among forwards at 16:40 per game. He centered the go-to powerplay unit with Chris Kreider and Zuccarello. At the faceoff dot, Zibanejad has been the Blueshirts best on the draw. Of the three players (Zibanejad, Stepan, Kevin Hayes) that have taken nearly 80 percent of the Rangers 1,075 faceoffs, according to puckbase.com, Zibanejad is the only one winning more draws than he loses, at a success rate of 52.4 percent. He’s taken a team-high 37 percent of offensive zone draws, winning 59.8 percent. The 23-year-old has taken 27 percent of defensive zone draws (third on Rangers), winning 51.9 percent.

*RANGERS DOWNFALL WATCH: The Rangers have four goals in their last two games while peppering 59 shots on net. That equates to a shooting percentage of 6.7 percent.

*Four straight wins for the Hurricanes. Has the trendy surprise team among preseason forecasters arrived?

*Great read in the Boston Globe on the post-hockey life of Marc Savard. He was rated ‘suicidal’ by a psychologist at Mass General, but says he never harbored suicidal thoughts. He’s back in the game, coaching the AAA Minor Bantam team his son plays for. It’s good to see he has his life back on track.

*Regina finally lost a game, falling to Victoria on Saturday in game No. 19 for the Pats. They rebounded Sunday with an 8-3 win over Vancouver. The Pats, first in the CHL rankings, set the standard in major junior for offense, with 115 goals. Defending WHL scoring champ Adam Brooks, a Toronto prospect, has eight goals and 32 points in 14 games, his 2.29-per-game output up from 1.67 last season, when he had 120 in 72. Sam Steel, who was selected 30th overall by Anaheim in this past draft, leads the Pats with a WHL-high 41 points in 18 games.

*How about Miami? The young RedHawks went into Denver for a weekend doubleheader with the top-ranked Pioneers, and came away with two ties. Freshman goaltender Ryan Larkin was plenty busy, stopping 84 of 87 pucks that came his way on the weekend. He made 49 saves on Saturday night.

*That likely means Minnesota-Duluth will take back to the top spot in the poll, going into Omaha and coming out with four points.

Game to Watch Monday Night

New York at Pittsburgh: Rare Monday night of NHL action, and lots of pretty good games at that. But this is likely the best one. Put aside the rivalry, the divisional matchup, and the fact these teams played each other in the playoffs last season. It’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers look like minus Zibanejad, if they continue to show signs of falling back to earth offensively, as the Rangers have suggested in the past few games. The Penguins are 7-1-1 at home this season.

Hat Trick Pick

Artemi Panarin: Just two goals in his last eight games. He’ll be playing Connor McDavid, whom many claim would have won the Calder Trophy over Panarin last season had he not broken his collarbone early in the season (full disclosure: not an unreasonable claim).

Thoughts Are My Own: Lots of Highlight-Reel Stuff

Thoughts as we sit exactly one week away from Black Friday:

*He didn’t get much help, but James Reimer turned in what will likely be one of the more putrid goaltending performances of the year. Sometimes it’s just about making that save. He made none of them.

*On the other hand, great night for Steve Mason in the Flyers 5-2 win over Winnipeg. Thirty-save effort, his stoning of Nikolaj Ehlers midway through the second period was game-changing.

*A nice goal by Sean Couturier got things going for the Flyers, as Couturier walked right in after puck-carrying Mark Scheifele lost his feet, leading to the turnover. It looked like Jakub Voracek got away with a trip on the play.

*The Flyers have won six straight against the Jets. Winnipeg hasn’t won in Philly since January 2012, a 2-1 shootout win.

*A play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Matt Read’s diving pass to set up a Michael Raffl goal. Read, in a puck battle with Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey, makes a great read (no pun intended) on the play, seeing Raffl streaking down the middle of the ice, left alone after Morrissey gave chase to the puck after Dustin Byfuglien made a bad pinch that led to the two-on-one. Read’s dive shuffled the pass over to Raffl, who went in and beat Connor Hellebuyck for the easy score.

*Nice gesture by the Senators to acknowledge Mike Fisher’s 1,000th career game (which he did this past March, to clarify). The Predators captain played 675 of those games in Ottawa, from 1999 to 2011. Fisher was a key piece in those great Senators teams of the 2000s, and was integral in Ottawa’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2007.

*Nashville is 5-1-2 in its last eight. Pierre LeBrun wrote earlier this week the Preds appear to be hitting their stride. It would seem that way.

*Devan Dubnyk might be the best player in the NHL nobody talks about. Dubnyk’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Boston was his 14th since joining the Wild. He has a .952 save percentage and 1.47 GAA this season.

*Another play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Ben Bishop makes a diving save on a Kyle Okposo shot that looked like a no-doubter goal. That said, it was Bishop who threw the puck out into the big ice from behind the net, which met the tape of Okposo. It’s like he wanted the Sabre to score.

*Predators top goaltending prospect Juuse Saros made 35 saves in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win over Cleveland on Thursday night. Saros had a 1.74 GAA in eight games for the Admirals, which trails only Michael Leighton (1.62) in the AHL. His .940 save percentage is bested only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Casey DeSmith, who has a .963 save percentage but has played only four games.

*A big win for No. 6 UMass-Lowell, who went out to visit ninth-ranked Notre Dame and came out with a 4-1 win. The River Hawks are on the back end of a two-weekend stretch that includes trips to Orono and Indiana.

Mitch Marner’s Goal

As nice a goal as you’ll see. He does a good job getting a step on Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson as he gets the pass from James van Reimsdyk breaking out of the zone. From there, he’s able to create space for himself while outmuscling the big, strong Matheson as broke for the net, dancing around James Reimer and burying the puck.

Game to watch Friday night

N.Y. Rangers at Columbus: A pair of teams that account for two of the three-highest goal differentials so far this season; the Rangers leading at plus-34 while the Blue Jackets are third at plus-14. The Blueshirts do it by scoring (league-high 72 goals) while the Jackets play good defense (Eastern Conference-low 33 goals allowed).

Hat Trick Pick

Sidney Crosby: Sid has 96 points in 55 games against the Islanders, the Penguins opponent on Friday night. Crosby’s 30 goals against the Isles are second only to the Flyers (35). He has 10 goals through 10 games, the closest he’s ever come to a goal-per-game in his NHL career was in 2010-11, when he had 32 goals in 41 games.

Thoughts Are My Own: Trouba Has No Leverage

Thoughts as you realize it’s the first day of November. Woah, it’s the first day of November.

*Jacob Trouba is being Jonathan Drouin-ed. And will continue to be. The Jets want what no team will give for his services. He’s a solid, top four defenseman at 21 years old. He has the size, he has the projection of being a top defenseman. Winnipeg will let the situation ride itself out until the December 1 deadline, where which Trouba will forgo a full season should he not be signed then, which only hurts his value. Ball is in the court of Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

*Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid facing off for the first time ever is the headliner of Tuesday’s games, and rightfully so; they’re special talents, the two most recent first overall picks, and two of the best in recent memory. But here’s some other matchups that might catch your eye: Tampa Bay at Islanders, Steven Stamkos vs. John Tavares in another showdown of first overall picks; Washington at Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin vs. Patrik Laine, the greatest goal scorer of the post-lockout years against what looks like the next great goal scorer the game bears witness to; and Anaheim at Los Angeles needs no explanation.

*The matchup (not Tuesday, obviously, but down the road) I find most compelling is Toronto vs. Buffalo. Matthews vs. Jack Eichel in a showdown of the two top American youngsters, two guys who are among the faces in U.S. hockey as teenagers. This is only made better by the natural geographic rivalry that exists with the two franchises fighting for the love of southern Ontario.

*Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that there will be no changes to the All-Star Game voting format, which if true is the right decision. Last year’s game was as successful as it had been in quite some time, no need to overthink it. The league has bigger fish to fry.

*Nothing wrong with Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in this past June’s draft, being sent back to Windsor. He’d played just three games in Montreal, might as well get another year of OHL experience under his belt. He’ll be on a Spitfires team that features fellow first rounder Logan Stanley on the back line and 11th overall pick Logan Brown up front. Sean Day was a third round pick.

*Ohio State hockey is out to a 5-0-2 start to the season, moving up to No. 11 in the USCHO.com poll. The Buckeyes should only expound on the strong record, with doubleheaders against Robert Morris, UConn, and RPI awaiting in the next three weekends. The big challenge doesn’t come until after Thanksgiving, when Ohio State travels to Minnesota to open its Big 10 schedule.

Links

Dave Tippett has a motorcycle shop in his house.

Bruce Boudreau was ‘grumpy’ at the Wild practice on Monday as Minnesota rode a short bench for multitude of reasons.

The latest in the class-action lawsuit that faces the CHL and threatens to change the landscape of major junior hockey in Canada.

Teams led by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin benefitting from questionable offseason transactions the two general managers made for the respective organizations, the Edmonton Oilers (Chiarelli) and the Montreal Canadiens (Bergevin).

Jay Bouwmeester reflects upon his career to date as he approaches his 1,000th career NHL game.

Coyotes rookie forward Christian Dvorak gets sent down to the AHL. The 20-year-old had three assists in seven games while averaging 13:45 of ice time per night.

A question nobody has asked, or even thought of – could Matthews/McDavid be the next great NHL rivalry?

In case you missed it: Episode two of the Bobcast with Bob McKenzie. He does a really good job with these, really offers a bit of everything; from inside information to the sharing of knowledge of the game to even veering outside the game. Worth the listen.

UConn Win over Notre Dame Another Sign of Program Moving in Right Direction

This year marks the third season for UConn in the Hockey East. The Huskies were 13-23-8 in league play over its first two seasons in the conference. They started 1-0 with a 4-2 win over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night.

The 14-23-8 record in UConn’s first 45 games in Hockey East suggests exactly what was expected of the program when it entered the league two years ago. The friendly rivals down Interstate 84 would be, well, doormats. Maybe they’d pick up a win over a Providence here, tie a BU there, pick up a weekend sweep with an unsuspecting team once in a blue moon. And to be fair, the record suggests just that – a team that beats up on the Maines, New Hampshires, and Vermonts but can’t compete with the BCs, BUs, and Providences.

But it’s been the exact opposite. While talk of playing at the TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals or qualifying for the NCAA tournament have been few and far between, the Huskies have been a respectable club, a formidable foe to conference opponents.

The Huskies win over the Irish on Thursday was its first. They’ve beat UMass-Lowell three times since joining the league. BC and BU have suffered defeats at the hands of the Huskies, while two of their eight ties have come against the two standard bearers of the conference. UConn is 8-12-4 against ranked opponents since entering the league.

This season, UConn is out to a 3-1-3 start through seven games – its lone loss to then-fourth ranked Quinnipiac – allowing just two goals per game, among eight teams in the nation to allow two goals or fewer. That group includes Army, BU, Bemidji State, Miami, North Dakota, Minnesota State, and Denver.

When factoring out odd-man situations (i.e. powerplays, shorthanded, extra attacker), the Huskies are outscoring opponents, 16-10, a goals-for percentage of .615. That’s good for sixth in the Hockey East. That said, Vermont is second in the conference in that category, where BC is the standard-bearer at .72. UConn is tied with UMass, and Maine is fourth. Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell and Providence lag along in the bottom five.

The centerpieces of the Huskies are a pair of Blues prospects, Maxim Letunov – a second-round pick by St. Louis in 2015 – and Tage Thompson, who was taken 26th overall by the Blues this past June. The duo combined for 30 goals and 72 points as freshmen last season, and are off to strong starts yet again in 2016-17; Thompson leads the team with eight points in seven games, Letunov has seven in six.

This year’s freshman class is headlined by Slovakian goaltender Adam Huska, a seventh-round pick by the New York Rangers. He was in net on Thursday, stopping 47 of 49 shots in the upset win. He compliments Rob Nichols, who has been among Hockey East’s most consistent goalies over the past three seasons.

Two of UConn’s three wins have come against Alabama-Huntsville while the Huskies tied American International out of Atlantic Hockey – a conference that has been pushing over the apple cart all season – but the Notre Dame win is more of a sign that this is a team going in the right direction. Expect to hear more about them as the season goes along.