By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Mar. 22, 2016
March is either the time for postseason play or the tail end of the regular season, depending on what level you’re looking towards. Junior and professional hockey still have a handful of games remaining, but collegiate teams are now all saddled in the big tournament, so the 22nd edition of the IceRays Alumni Report, Vol. II looks just to that with the announcement of the NCAA Division I Tournament field of 16 teams and the continuation of minor professional and upper tier junior seasons.
It’s back to Philadelphia for netminder Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12) following the injury to Michael Neuvirth in the National Hockey League (NHL) this week. This is the second recall for the New Jersey native to the Flyers this month, both for the team’s backup netminder, but has yet to take part in a NHL game. This comes after two losses last weekend on the road, continuing his struggle through March. Stolarz stopped 62 of 68 shots on the weekend including 34 of 37 on Friday. The winless streak now stands at five games with seven of his last eight as losses. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are ten points out with 11 games left, which place them in an almost impossible situation for their playoff hopes.
A strong effort in net wasn’t enough for goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) to pick up a win and break the recent slide as the Chicago Wolves were dropped 2-1 to the Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday afternoon. The Wolves were outshot 37-20 throughout the contest, and despite the Alaskan’s 35-save effort a two-goal effort in the third period by the Admirals took down Chicago. Copley even stopped a penalty shot just over midway through the second period. The hopes for Chicago are dwindling fast, now trailing a playoff spot by seven points with 11 games remaining. Copley’s winless drought now moves to four-straight in March and in six of his last seven games.
The field of 16 has been announced for the NCAA Division I Tournament, and two alumni teams will compete for the NCAA Championship on the road to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, Fla. Both teams entered will come from the right side of the tournament bracket, so only one has the chance to make the championship game. Northeastern University’s improbable run will continue into the national tournament after winning the Hockey East Tournament over the weekend over UMass Lowell. The Huskies started on Friday night against fifth-ranked Boston College and took them down 5-4 to head to the title game against eighth-ranked UMass Lowell. Another one-goal game, this time a 3-2 victory coming down to a power play goal in the third period. Defenseman Colton Saucerman (’10-’11) and the Huskies enter their first NCAA Tournament since 2009 and fifth in program history since their third place appearance in 1982. The program’s last win came in 1988 over Merrimack and are 3-4-1 in the Big Dance. They’ll take on third-ranked University of North Dakota on Friday, and if they win, play the winner of Michigan-Notre Dame on Saturday.
The other team will be on the bottom portion of the bracket. The University of Denver comes out of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) with a split of third place in their conference tournament. The weekend began with a 4-2 loss to St. Cloud State followed by a 1-1 draw with North Dakota the following afternoon in a consolation game that found no winner. The Pioneers have a high enough ranking to earn a bid into the show as an at-large bid and make their 27th NCAA Tournament appearance and ninth-straight dating back to 2008. The team has gone 2-8 in those eight previous seasons but have seven NCAA Championships to their name and most recently in 2004 and 2005. Forward Emil Romig (’12-’13) and the Pioneers take on Boston University on Friday night, and the Pioneers are 2-1-1 in four tournament meetings dating back to March 19, 1960 in their second title run.
Unfortunately, the other surviving team in NCAA Division I play saw their season come to an end in the Big Ten Semifinals. Ohio State University dropped one game short of the championship game after coming in from the quarterfinal round with a 4-3 overtime win against Michigan State. The University of Minnesota took down the Buckeyes 4-2 last Friday night and completed their season at 14-18-4, though the Buckeyes came back with a 11-7-4 record following a 4-9-2 record to start the year. Despite the results, forward Matt Weis (’11-’12) can hang his hat on a great season, finishing third in points with 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points while being one of four players to break the 30-point mark. He set career-highs in all categories and coming just under a point per game.
The United States Hockey League (USHL) was full of assists for alumni players as their season draws toward a conclusion in three weeks. A three-game weekend helped keep forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) producing points as the Bloomington Thunder edge closer to the Clark Cup Playoffs. The Thunder are holding on to fourth place in the Eastern Conference by a nine-point margin with five games remaining, almost solidifying themselves for the playoffs starting in mid-April. The 18-year-old helped the cause with two assists in spite of Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Dubuque Fighting Saints, factoring in on each goal in the first and second periods before the Saints blew open the game with four in the third period. Durflinger has four points through seven games in the month heading into their first of three final weekends.
The Waterloo Black Hawks also played a three-game weekend with all three games on the road though came out of it winning two of three. In both wins on Thursday and Friday, forward Ronnie Hein (’13-’14) put up assists with three helpers in the 6-5 win on Thursday including on the game-winner with one second remaining and then an additional assist during Friday’s 4-1 win to open the game. His four assists move him to 42 points on the season, and he remains atop the Black Hawks in assists with 32. Waterloo is also in fourth place in the Western Conference but clinging on by just a point with eight games remaining.
Another trio of points came in the Western Conference within a team that is looking down on the playoff picture. Forward Nico Sturm (’13-’14) may not be making the postseason this year, but his contributions continue through Tier I play from last season in Austin. In back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, the 18-year-old earned points in both games in back-to-back wins. In Friday’s 6-3 road win over Des Moines, the German aided on two goals including the empty net goal to close the game then found a teammate for another insurance goal in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Sioux City. The Storm sit atop the Western Conference by three points and look to lock themselves in with seven games remaining. Sturm currently sits sixth in points with 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 tallies.
Read the IceRays Alumni Report every Tuesday on www.GoIceRays.com and hear the audio version on the IceRays Broadcast Network.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.