NHL Prospect Hot List: Sanheim stands tall for Canada

Ryan Kennedy
Travis-Sanheim

With his NHL debut in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau officially exhausted his eligibility on The Hot List. But it was a great run for the speedy ball of talent, starting as a member of the United States League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In fact, thanks to his three years at Boston College, Gaudreau is likely the most frequent name ever to appear on the list (John Gibson is a likely second). But back to the present: Here are some of the new players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.

Travis Sanheim, D – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Currently over in Finland with Team Canada’s under-18 team, Sanheim has made a remarkable jump up the draft rankings this season. This was his first season with the Hitmen, as he spent last year in midget, building up his game and his strength.

“I could get more ice time and play every role,” Sanheim said. “I could go to the gym more, get stronger and prepare for this year to not only make the team, but make a difference on the team. And I think I did that, I jumped into a pretty key role.”

A ninth-rounder in the bantam draft, Sanheim ended this season with a very respectable 29 points and a plus-25 rating in 67 games. But he started off slow, with just three points through 21 games. Once he adjusted to life in the ‘Dub,’ things picked up. He also got more opportunities when captain Jaynen Rissling went down with an injury in December. Another defenseman who has helped Sanheim is fellow draft prospect Ben Thomas. The two formed a pairing in Calgary and also skated together as Canada took off for the under-18s.

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Union secures National Championship with convincing victory in Frozen Four final

Alan Bass
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Finishing off their storybook season as the underdog everyone loves to love, the Union College Dutchmen finished off the Minnesota Golden Gophers with a 7-4 win to clinch their first ever college hockey National Championship. After letting up a goal just 2:37 into the game, Union turned on the jets, scoring four goals in the first period, and adding three more in the third period to seal the deal in the Frozen Four final.

After Minnesota opened the scoring in the first period, junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere tied the game for Union at 9:26. Although Minnesota responded with a go-ahead goal just 37 seconds later, Union regrouped and scored three consecutive goals within 1:54. Minnesota’s Taylor Cammarata scored early in the second period to bring the Gophers within one, but Union’s Max Novak tipped in a pinpoint pass from Kevin Sullivan to put the Union back up by two. The two teams traded goals late in the third period, and senior captain Mat Bodie potted an empty netter with 45 seconds remaining to seal the deal.

Minnesota pushed hard the entire game, but Union’s defensive play was stellar, and as the clock hit zero, the bench cleared to celebrate a momentous occasion for the college that everyone referred to as the “David” of this year’s tournament – despite their top-three national ranking.

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Five things I learned at the Frozen Four

Alan Bass
484200861

As the final buzzer sounded on the Frozen Four, Union skated off the ice as this year’s National Champions. Held for the first time in Philadelphia, one of the USA’s largest cities and most passionate sports locations, the tournament was thrilling from the start of the first semifinal game Thursday night through the last fan leaving the building on Saturday. The NCAA and Comcast-Spectacor impressed the college hockey world with this event, whose highlights were plentiful.

1. Union is a college hockey program to be respect

Regardless of the result of the championship game, Union College, a school with just over 2,200 students and no athletic scholarships, has proven that they belong with the big guns in college hockey. With their second Frozen Four appearance in three seasons, they not only defeated favorite Boston College in the semifinal in dramatic fashion, but they were able to beat top-ranked Minnesota in the final for their first ever hockey championship. With a large number of players returning next year, and another improved recruiting class on its way in, coach Rick Bennett is poised for another run to the tournament next season.

2. Philadelphia is missing the boat in college hockey

With an unbelievable sports fan base in this city, in addition to a sports complex that rivals any in the country, a company (Comcast-Spectacor) that runs hundreds of sports arenas in North America, and a hockey team that has drawn sellout crowds for years, Philadelphia is missing the boat by not having a major college hockey team. Penn State moved college hockey closer to Eastern Pennsylvania, but a quality program in the Philadelphia area could have immense positive implications for the NCAA as they attempt to increase their standing in college sports. Read more

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau Wins Hobey Baker Award

Alan Bass
481616991

The most anti-climactic award presentation in hockey this year is now complete, and as expected, Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau won the Hobey Baker Award as the best NCAA Hockey player for the 2013-14 season.

Gaudreau, a junior forward for the BC Eagles and a fourth round (104th overall) draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2011, dominated the rinks this year, potting 36 goals and 80 points in just 40 games, and helped lead the Eagles to a berth in the Frozen Four.

“I’d like to thank all my coaches over the years,” Gaudreau said in his acceptance speech, “Especially those who believed that someone of my size could have success at this level.”

Gaudreau emphasized the role his teammates played in the award, calling them “more than just teammates,” and expressing his respect for the guys who played next to him all season.

The Carney’s Point, NJ native is one of the most talented young players in the country, with quick hands, explosive speed, and enough determination to overcome his 5-foot-7 frame. He won a national championship in 2012 at Boston College after finishing second in team scoring with 44 points.

In 2012-13 he scored 51 points and was named as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He was also a member of Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships, where he contributed seven goals and nine points en route to a gold medal.

Gaudreau’s list of honors over the past two season is lengthy and includes: 2014 Hockey East Player of the Year, 2014 All-Hockey East First Team, 2013 NCAA First Team All-American, and more.

“I’m proud to be an Eagle,” he concluded, “And I’m honored to accept this award in the name of all those who helped me get here.”

Five NHL Prospects to Watch in the Frozen Four Final

Alan Bass
483927699

With the Frozen Four Final on tap for Saturday night between the Union Dutchmen and the Minnesota Golden Gophers, there is more at stake than just a National Championship. Dozens of scouts from teams across the NHL are in attendance, and everyone is trying to get a good look at some of the top up-and-coming talent in the NCAA. These five players may be showing up on an NHL roster near you as soon as next season.

1. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Union

Philadelphia Flyers (Round 3, 78th overall in 2012)

Gostisbehere is one of the top defensemen in college hockey, and has been a stalwart on the Union blueline. His poise and presence in the defensive end has led Union to the Frozen Four final. As the only NHL prospect on his team, he has the distinct responsibility of being the go-to guy when Union needs to shut down opposing forwards. His ability to neutralize Minnesota’s top line could be the difference on Saturday night.

2. Kyle Rau, C, Minnesota

Florida Panthers (Round 3, 91st overall in 2011)

Rau has consistently been a top offensive player for the University of Minnesota, and has centered their first line all season in 2013-14. His 37 points in 39 games leads a team that has nine 20-point scorers this season. His 5-foot-8 frame may look like an issue to the untrained eye, but Rau could be a regular NHLer come the end of his college career.

3. Hudson Fasching, RW, Minnesota

Los Angeles Kings (Round 4, 118th overall in 2013, traded to Buffalo in 2014)

Another graduate of the US National Team Developmental Program, the freshman winger posted 29 points in 38 games for the Golden Gophers and has been a solid right wing for Rau. Going into the Frozen Four final, his chemistry with Rau could prove to be the offensive spark that leads Minnesota to another National Championship.

4. Taylor Cammarata, RW, Minnesota

New York Islanders (Round 3, 76th overall in 2013)

The freshman winger from Minneapolis, MN has been a solid second-line right wing for the U this season, posting 25 points in 37 games and giving the Gophers much-needed depth to complement their star power. If Union’s Gostisbehere can neutralize the Gophers’ top line, it may be up to Cammarata and the second line to spark Minnesota’s offense.

5. Brady Skjei, D, Minnesota

New York Rangers (Round 1, 28th overall in 2012)

One of the top defensemen in the country and another graduate of the USNTDP, Skjei can both shut players down defensively and contribute offensively to Minnesota’s firepower. His 13 points in 38 games is respectable in a difficult Big-10 conference, but it’s his defensive play that could give Minnesota a win on Saturday night.

Minnesota scores shorthanded goal with 0.6 seconds left to advance to NCAA final

Rory Boylen
Minnesota Golden Gophers

The NCAA tournament you would most associate with thrilling buzzer-beater shots is basketball’s March Madness. But on Thursday night, a desperate winning shot at the Frozen Four rang across the hockey world as the Minnesota Golden Gophers advanced to the final in a most unplanned way.

The game couldn’t have been any tighter. Minnesota’s Sam Warning opened the scoring with just over nine minutes left in the third period and North Dakota’s Connor Gaarder tied it back up just 32 seconds later.

The Golden Gophers had to kill off a penalty in the dying minutes of regulation and just when it looked like overtime was on the way, Justin Holl provided the miracle Minnesota needed for the 2-1 win. A defenseman who was picked in the second round of the NHL draft by Chicago in 2010, Holl’s shorthanded winner with less than one second left was his first goal of the season.

You can see it around the 1:18 mark of this highlight video: Read more

Golden Gopher Brady Skjei Progressing Fast for New York Rangers

Alan Bass
483941089

The United States National Developmental Team Program has been lauded in recent years for its ability to properly groom young American players for high-level international play and the NHL. On that list of graduates is Minnesota Golden Gopher defenseman Brady Skjei, who has arguably been the University of Minnesota’s best defenseman this season and through the NCAA Tournament.

Skjei had an assist and was on the ice for both Minnesota goals in the Frozen Four semifinal, including the game winner with 0.6 seconds left in the third period, as Minnesota snuck by the University of North Dakota 2-1 to advance to the Frozen Four final and face Union Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. His presence on the back end and his poise in the defensive zone is just one of the many reasons Minnesota came into the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the country.

Drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (28th overall), the Lakeville, MN native didn’t need to think twice about where he would play the following season.

“Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been watching the Gophers play since I was five years old,” said Skjei. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play here and once I had the opportunity to play here, I wasn’t going to turn it down.

“I think playing against older guys, more mature guys, guys that are 22 and 23, guys that are strong and physically developed, playing against them on defense, I think that’s going to translate well into the NHL.”

The 20-year-old sophomore was a member of the 2012 United States U-18 World Championship team, and played for the USA in the 2014 World Junior Championships. A great student, he graduated high school with honors and is now studying business at Minnesota – though at the rate he’s playing, a four-year college career may not even be in the cards.

Nonetheless, Skjei is focused on winning a national championship – his dream from the time he was a child. Ask him about their current situation, and he smiles just like he did when thinking about this scenario years ago in his Lakeville home.

“It’s awesome,” he said, “Especially after losing big guys like [Nick] Bjugstad and [Erik] Haula [to the NHL]. We were able to prove ourselves this year. It’s been unbelievable. We’re not done yet, but we’ve shown what we can do as a team.”

Adding a National Championship to his personal resume may just be the boost Skjei needs to make the jump to the professional ranks.

Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere Looking to Strengthen His Game for the NHL

Alan Bass
483897817

The Union College Dutchmen have struggled to shake the “underdog” tag, despite not having lost a game since January 31. One factor helping to remove that is junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, arguably the best all-around player for Union over the past few months and during this NCAA Hockey tournament.

Thursday night, Gostisbehere strengthened the argument by potting two assists against favorite Boston College in the National Semifinal, and helping lead his Dutchmen to an exhilarating 5-4 victory that propelled them to the National Championship game on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Drafted by Philadelphia Flyers in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (78th overall), Gostisbehere has quickly made a name for himself, garnering over 24,000 votes for the Hobey Baker award, being named a top-ten finalist for the award, and being named to the Eastern College Athletic Conference first team. His plus-28 rating this season was the best on Union, and his 151 shots this season set a school record for a defenseman.

Gostisbehere doesn’t dare look past Saturday’s national championship matchup, but if he winds up staying for his senior year, all signs point to him being named team captain. Tell him this and his face lights up with excitement at the prospect.

“That would be a tremendous honor to follow in the steps of the guys before me,” said Gostisbehere. “It would just be an honor to see that ‘C’ on my sweater. I would carry it with pride.”

Most 20-year-olds may get nervous at the prospect of leading a team in the national spotlight, playing in the city that drafted him in front of 20,000 fans, or knowing that the entire Flyers’ front office is upstairs watching his every move.

But not Gostisbehere. Try to steer the conversation toward a possible loss of focus, and he’ll take the wheel as calmly and as nonchalantly as he keeps pucks away from the Union goal.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “Any time you get a chance to play for the national title, get back to this tournament, it’s great. That’s what it’s all about.”

And at a school with just over 2,200 students – a school that doesn’t even give full athletic scholarships – you may think the support system is faulty. But Gostisbehere laughs at that idea.

“We get the same support every night from the students, faculty, community. All the support we get is incredible, you can’t describe it. You wouldn’t think we’re a small school based on the support we have.”

Gostisbehere admits that he still has a lot of work if he wants to jump to the NHL in 2014 or 2015. But one thing is for sure: if he continues to show the poise and leadership he’s shown throughout this tournament, he’ll be back at the Wells Fargo Center in no time.