By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Mar. 29, 2016
All the talk in hockey surrounds postseason play. The professional levels are still outside the window as well as the top two American junior leagues. However, that doesn’t mean that the intensity and pressure isn’t heating up. In the 23rd edition of the IceRays Alumni Report, Vol. II, we finally get another look at National Hockey League (NHL) action and a poke into some solid production in the United States Hockey League (USHL) as well as an update on the road to the Frozen Four in NCAA Division I action.
It’s been a struggle, but for the first time in nearly a month, Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Garbutt (’09-’10) found a point. On Thursday night against Toronto, the Canadian drew the Ducks even early in the third period by forcing a turnover on the offensive zone while on the penalty kill for his first shorthanded goal this season. Though the Ducks would eventually fall 6-5 in overtime, the goal was his first since February 11, a span of 19 games without a goal. When Garbutt came to Anaheim, he earned four points in his first eight games before hitting his long rut. Despite his struggles, Anaheim has clinched a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth-straight year.
One spot has been clinched in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, so that’s one less spot for each American Hockey League (AHL) team to possess as each team is within their final ten games of the season. With a seven-point gap between the playoffs and going home early, Chicago Wolves look to be in a tough climb in their final eight games, and mixed results last week didn’t help. Goaltender Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) saw action in two of those games while starting in only one. On Wednesday in a 7-3 thumping by the team they’re chasing, the Charlotte Checkers, the Alaskan came into the game in the second period after already trailing 4-2 and could only save six of nine shots, picking up a no-decision. Three nights later, it was a season-best performance that helped the Wolves take down the Iowa Wild 2-1 on the road, turning away 45 of 46 shots and only allowing a late third period goal. That breaks a four-game winless drought and marks his first win of the month. Copley will most likely have about four games remaining to play of the eight-game schedule.
The field for the Frozen Four has been set, and a champion in NCAA Division I hockey will be crowned this weekend. One alumni player has a chance to earn his first hockey title: forward Emil Romig (’12-’13). The University of Denver survived the first two rounds of the tournament in dominating fashion, taking down 12th-ranked Boston University 7-2 in the opening round game followed by a strong 6-3 victory over 18th-ranked Ferris State in game two to reach the Frozen Four. Two of the one-seeds in the bracket were eliminated in the opening round, but the other two remain for the semifinals. The Pioneers will take on third-ranked North Dakota on Thursday night with the winner of that game taking on the winner of top-ranked Quinnipiac and Boston College for the NCAA Championship on Saturday night in Tampa Bay, Fla.
The Cinderella story was not meant to be for Northeastern University, who lost in the Round of 16 and closed out an incredible end to the 2015-16 season. In their first tournament appearance since 2009, the Huskies were dropped 6-2 to North Dakota despite scoring the game’s first goal. The loss ends a 13-game winning streak and a record of 20-1-2 from the Northeastern Winter Showdown to the start of the NCAA Tournament. The run was historic to put it lightly, which included their first Hockey East Championship since 1988 and moved them to the third-most wins in the school’s program history (22) as well as one of their highest rankings in program history (ninth). The story would have capped off the senior season for defenseman Colton Saucerman (’10-’11) had they been able to continue through to the NCAA Championship, but the four-year career finished in thrilling fashion. While this season wasn’t a record-setting season, it was a solid close to his collegiate career, earning four goals and 11 assists for 15 points through 40 games. In his career, the Colorado Springs, Colo., native earned 20 goals and 44 assists for 64 assists with 14 power play goals and a +4 rating. Saucerman’s best season came in 2013-14, earning six goals and 17 assists for 25 points but set his career-high in goals at seven, and all seven came on the power play. It could be the end of the road for the 23-year-old if he cannot find a professional contract, but he’ll graduate in May with a major in criminal justice.
The USHL has just a few weeks remaining before the league hits the postseason, and as March closes out a few players are trying to keep their teams in the playoff race. The Sioux City Musketeers will not be in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean their production has to stop. Though they dropped nine of their last ten games and six-straight, March became the most productive month for defenseman Logan Gestro (’14-’15) just in one game. On Friday night, the 20-year-old assisted on two of the team’s three goals during their 6-3 loss to the Waterloo Black Hawks at home with one on the power play as a primary assist and the other on a shorthanded goal. During the month, the Michigan native earned three points and earned his first USHL goal, moving his season total to five points through 45 games played.
During that same game, Black Hawks forward Ronnie Hein (’13-’14) continued a strong week on the offensive front with back-to-back two goal games to help bring another strong month to a close. The first came last Tuesday in a 5-0 shutout of the Chicago Steel, tallying the first (and game-winning) goal as well as a second in the final minute of the second period. Then came the game mentioned previously with Sioux City, where the Michigan native also opened the game with a goal on the power play then added an insurance goal midway through the third period. The two games were his first two multi-goal games of the season and closed out his best month of the year: four goals and five assists for nine points. Hein owns 14 goals and 46 points on the season and sits one point shy of third place on the team in points. The Black Hawks are in a tight race in the Western Conference, sitting three points within the playoffs in third place.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.