College hockey: Western Mass. teams on the rise | Boston Herald

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Boston Herald Massachusetts James Alexander Michie

Massachusetts' John Leonard, right, scores against New Hampshire goalie Mike Robinson as the official calls the goal during the second period of a college hockey game Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Amherst, Mass. (J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)

There is a sesimic shift in the power structure going on in the Division 1 college hockey world where western Mass. has been buzzing over the exploits of Hockey East front-runner UMass, which is riding its highest-ever national ranking (№4) and burgeoning American International, which stunned many with a two-game sweep at traditional Atlantic Hockey juggernaught Air Force on the weekend.

In the case of UMass, anyone who has had the opportunity to watch them can readily tell that the Minutemen can really skate. And if you can skate, you usually have success.

A star-laden sophomore class has been key, led by blueliner Cale Makar, the №4 overall pick (Colorado) in the 2017 NHL draft, forwards Mitchell Chaffee and John Leonard, and goalie Matt Murray, who ranked among the nation’s leaders in goals-against-average at 1.66 (№7) and save percentage at .943 (№4) going into yesterday’s 4–2 home win over UNH. Important additions including siblings Anthony Del Gaizo and Marc Del Gaizo have bolstered the effort.

UMass (10–1–0, 6–0–0 HE), which last had a winning season in 2006–07 when it went 21–13–5 under former coach Don “Toot” Cahoon, was picked by league coaches to finish sixth. Third-year UMass coach Greg Carvel proved an adept prognosticator when he said at media day in October, “We’ve been picked to finish mid-pack, but I think we can still be a little higher.”

Likewise, AIC coach Eric Lang, who is in his third season at his alma mater where he was a two-year captain and 4-year player (1994–98) under the legendary Gary Wright, literally bleeds Yellow Jackets hockey. The availability of playing home games in the MassMutual Center has helped, and Lang has expanded recruiting to seven foreign countries: Canada, Czech Republic, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Slovakia and Ukraine.

The weekend sweep was no fluke. After blanking Air Force, 5–0, behind Norwegian sophomore Tobias Fladeby’s game-winner, AIC rubbed salt in the wound by shutting out the Falcons, 4–0, in Game 2, as junior defenseman Patrik Demel of the Czech Republic notched the decider. Swedish netminder Zach Skog, a junior, had 20 saves each night.

All this is pretty heady stuff for a program with a rich history of producing stars such as ex-Bruins forward Dave Forbes. AIC’s last winning season was 25 years ago (14–12–0) in 1993–94.

Question of Week

This former college star is the highest-scoring German-born player in NHL history. Who is he? Answer below.

Tip o’ the hat

Suffolk senior forward Tess Adams had eight points, including a six-point (five assists) game against Anna Maria as the Rams went 2–0–1 for the week. Plymouth Statesenior forward Matt Volonnio had five goals in two games, including a hat trick and assist against Salem State. Salve Regina senior Blake Wojtala had 59- and 33-save efforts in a sweep of Endicott. SNHU freshman Jake Cox had five points in three games with a hat trick in a 4–1 win vs. Stonehill. BU sophomore Corinne Schroeder blanked Vermont, 3–0, for her first career shutout.

Slapshots

Quinnipiac freshman center Williams Falstrom, who has three goals and six assists, is the younger brother of ex-Harvard skater Alex Falstrom. Speaking of the Bobcats, fun to watch clever 5-foot-8 center Odeen Tufto (6–6–12). As one scout said, “If he was two inches taller everyone would be after him. And, they still might!.”…

No surprise, but two freshmen standouts are Northeastern center Tyler Madden, son of ex-Devils skater John Madden, and Harvard defenseman Jack Rathbone, whose dad, Jason, played at BC. Madden has nine points while West Roxbury’s Rathbone has seven. Both have been drafted by Vancouver.

Quiz answer

Dany Heatley, who played two seasons at Wisconsin, was born in Freiburg, Germany. Heatley had 372 goals and 791 NHL points. Drop the puck!

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Source: John Connolly | Boston Herald

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