Frozen Four preview

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When last we left you two weeks ago, we were wondering how East Region #4 seed RIT  managed to blow through to the semis like it was no big deal while the other three top seeds (Boston College, Wisconsin, and Miami) powered through their regions to reach the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit.

If the guys at RIT thought that they saw tough competition from Denver Unive2010frozenfour.jpgrsity and New Hampshire in the East, they’d be liars for the most part, but they haven’t seen anything yet like what they’ll see against Wisconsin (5:00 pm ET). Coach Wayne Wilson’s team is the hands-down Cinderella of this tournament and they’ll being playing the same role that Butler did in the NCAA Basketball Final Four trying to take down all the big dogs. They’ve already knocked off one #1 seed in Denver and if they’re going to do the unthinkable and win the National Championship (in just their third year of tournament eligibility) they’ll have to beat two more to do it. 

That’s a bit of a tall order but if there’s anything the RIT Tigers have proven in this tournament is that they will not be cheated in any game and they will take advantage of all opportunities presented to them. The main man for RIT has been goaltender Jared DeMichiel who stopped 39 shots against Denver and 24 against UNH to help carry the Tigers into the semis.

As for Wisconsin, they powered through the West Region beating on game Vermont and St. Cloud State teams but make no mistake about it, head coach Mike Eaves brings the most talented team into the Frozen Four.  Hobey Baker finalist Blake Geoffrion leads the headlines but stars like Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan and Michael Davies are studs and big time scorers for the Badgers. Containing the Badgers offensively may be tricky for RIT but one area the Tigers may be able to get through is against goaltender Scott Gudmandson. Gudmandson comes in with a 2.32 goals against average with a .915 save percentage while playing in the very defensive-minded Wisconsin system. If you choose to read that as “the trap” you can give yourself a pat on the back. 

If Gudmandson is a little bit shaky, the reliance of Wisconsin’s stars to come up bigger than normal may be required. RIT has shown a great resilience in this tournament and nothing short of blowing them away will keep them down.  If you wanted to call this a “David v. Goliath” match up you wouldn’t be using a strong enough metaphor to describe it.

In the other semifinal, a couple of old tournament foes get to be reacquainted, this time on a much larger stage.  Miami University and Boston College (8:30 pm ET) are more than familiar with each other when it comes to the tournament and if the past is reflective of anything, things don’t bode well for Miami.  In 2006, 2007 and 2008 BC and Miami met in the tournament with each loss more painful than the one before it for Miami. A 5-0 defeat in in the first round in 2006, and back to back Regional Final losses (4-0 in 2007, 4-3 in OT in 2008). 

Of course, all this comes on the heels of Miami’s stunning defeat in last year’s National Championship game at the hands of Boston University. Not to get overdramatic here, but the seniors on this Miami team, including top scorer Jarod Palmer, have seen enough of Boston teams ending their seasons in gut-wrenching fashion you’d have to think that maybe, just maybe, this would be the time to step up and take one back in the name of the Redhawks… Right? Exorcising the BC demons would go a long way towards helping them out psychologically and perhaps keep head coach Enrico Blasi from checking into an asylum.

Boston College head coach Jerry York will have a lot to say about that as he’s one of college hockey’s legends and true masters on the bench and his Eagles have been playing tough, inspired hockey for the better part of a month and a half now.  Cam Atkinson and John Gibbons are red hot in this tournament and junior goaltender John Muse already has a National Championship under his belt as he backstopped Boston College’s 2008 title team.  BC is a confident team and plays a fast, intense game and they’ll need all of that against Miami.

If BC is going to have issues with Miami it’s going to be along their own blueline as BC had a hard time keeping Yale off the board in the Northeast Regional Final (a 9-7 BC win).  Miami can score with the best of them though as Palmer, Pat Cannone, Tommy Wingels, Andy Miele, and Carter Camper all have 14+ goals this season. Miami also rolls into the tournament with a two-headed monster in goal with Cody Reichard and Conor Knapp splitting time all season long beautifully for the Redhawks.

Taylor Hall’s remarkable run of bad luck

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Taylor Hall deserves credit for that great “lottery ball specialist” tweet when the New Jersey Devils landed the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but you could picture the star winger making such a joke while gritting his teeth.

You see, as much as Hall seems to be a luck rabbit’s foot for a team when it comes to landing the top pick of a draft – just consider his Edmonton Oilers days on top of this last bit – but that good fortune hasn’t always come from an individual standpoint.

In hopes that we may some day see Hall in, say, a playoff game, let’s recount some of his unluckiest moments. Keep in mind that he’s still just 25.

Injuries

He became the first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, which means he’ll be compared to Tyler Seguin (though that discussion mercifully doesn’t come up that often).

Hall’s rookie season was limited to 65 regular-season games thanks to the ill-advised decision to fight Derek Dorsett. His first NHL bout ended his 2010-11 campaign; Hall received criticism for the choice, which sometimes overshadowed debuting with 22 goals.

It was reckless to fight, especially with someone like Dorsett, but we’ve seen plenty of players get through skirmishes without anything major happening. Jarome Iginla endeared himself to hockey fans, in some ways, by doing just that … but Hall wasn’t so lucky.

Even if you chalk that first bit up to poor decisions, Hall’s injury luck has often been poor. He was limited to 61 games in his sophomore season, 53 in 2014-15 and missed significant pieces of 2013-14 and last season, too.

Some of the injuries were just downright-freakish.

Click here if you want to remember the time he caught a skate in the head during warm-ups, which left him with a disgusting “Frankenstein” wound and … it’s just gross. If you haven’t seen it, you’re lucky.

While his speedy, courageous style might leave him susceptible to issues, it seems like Hall catches an unusually high number of bad breaks.

Terrible team to bad team

Taylor Hall has been a productive player, keeping his head up even as he’s played for some miserably bad teams.

The Oilers have been pretty clueless for virtually the entirety of Hall’s career; this National Post article provides a handy rundown of their mishaps in rarely finding decent defensemen.

Those struggles likely inspired the team to trade Hall for Adam Larsson, a steady Swedish blueliner.

It says a lot that Oilers fans voted massively in favor of the Oilers winning that trade in at least one poll, as most hockey people agree that the Devils ended up with the upper hand.

Team success can skew the views of certain players, something Hall knows too well as a frequent scapegoat in Edmonton. If you want to roll your eyes, peruse some of the “not captain material”-type takes that Hall likely became all-too-familiar with.

He didn’t even get to truly benefit from Connor McDavid‘s presence, as Hall’s bad injury luck seemed to transition to McDavid for a brief spell; as you recall, McDavid’s season was greatly limited by an lucky fall that came from the same sort of driving style you’d expect to see from Hall.

Who could blame Hall for being jealous of the Oilers’ success now that he’s gone?

New Jersey is making some nice strides toward being a more competitive team, and Hall’s a big part of that sunnier outlook. It has to sting to take all those steps back to the painfully familiar rebuilding stages after suffering through all of those with the Oilers.

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Look, Hall is nicely compensated for his play. He also was the top pick of a draft, so it’s not like he’s totally anonymous.

Still, it’s difficult not to root for the guy to soak in the accolades that come with greater team success, as Hall has been a fantastic power forward in some not-so-fantastic situations.

In other words, here’s hoping a little more luck goes his way … on the ice rather than in the carousel.

Poll: Nico Hischier vs. Nolan Patrick

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

To some extent, the New Jersey Devils probably don’t care that much if Nolan Patrick ends up being slightly more effective, overall, than Nico Hischier.

As Taylor Hall can attest, the Devils lucked into the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, so GM Ray Shero was probably delighted that he would be able to pick between the two prospects. Rather than choosing Patrick or finding a trade, he made Hischier the first Swiss-born number one pick in NHL history.

Sports are about competition and comparisons, so it should be fun to measure the two forwards’ accomplishments and development as time goes along.

We might as well take hockey fans’ temperature now, though. Before we do, a quick “tale of the tape” – and an apology to the other prospects in the 2017 NHL Draft. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be keeping this poll to Hischier vs. Patrick. Feel free to make a case for Miro Heiskanen (pictured, chosen third by Dallas) or any number of other candidates in the comments, though.

Hischier (draft profile): Scored 86 points in 57 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in 2016-17. Broadly speaking, Hischier seems to rate as the most creative player and has already impressed the Devils with his skating ability.

Apparently his favorite movie is “Happy Gilmore.”

Patrick (draft profile): The Winnipeg native was on the radar a bit longer than Hischier, in part because he managed 102 points in 71 games in the WHL in 2015-16. Last season hurt his stock quite a bit; while he was able to score well over a point-per-game (46 in 33), injuries limited him in 2016-17. Those issues might have limited more than people even realized, as it turns out he needed two hernia surgeries instead of one.

Generally speaking, Patrick is praised for his two-way play, which could help him be a quick fit for Philly. Both forwards are listed as centers.

Oh yeah, and Reid Duke gave him the nickname “Doctor Pat.”

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OK, so with all of that information, let’s get after it: did the Devils make the right call or should they have selected Patrick at No. 1 instead?

Hampus Lindholm’s skate-sized puppy will make your day

Via Lindholm's Instagram
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Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm gets a lot of love from the analytics community, and it’s easy to see why. His all-around game is strong, even if he doesn’t blow you away on offense.

If you’re not the chart or decimal-counting type, and for whatever odd reason Lindholm doesn’t pass your “eye test,” then maybe all of that praise is lost on you.

Well, consider this: Lindholm can now place “ridiculously cute doggo” on his resume. Because, goodness, look at this little thing:

The newest Anaheim Ducks fan🐶🦆 #quackquack

A post shared by Hampus Lindholm (@hampuslindholm47) on

Cruelly, Lindholm didn’t provide a name for the furball. Perhaps its name is Puppus?

Anyway, Lindholm’s dog is the highlight of a charmingly goofy Instagram feed, it seems. Apparently there’s another dog too, and it seems cool:

Hopefully his antics brightened your weekend, as the world still seems to rattle off some pretty grim headlines.

The Philadelphia Flyers also seem fascinated with puppies in their own way, by the way:

Zacha should be ready for big step forward for Devils

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Ever since Ray Shero took over as the team’s general manager the New Jersey Devils have tried to add a lot of offensive punch to their lineup. They have traded for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. They signed Brian Boyle this summer. They drafted Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick this summer and are hoping that 2015 third-round pick Blake Speers can make the leap to the NHL on a full-time basis this season.

But their top pick in that 2015 class might be one of the most important players on the roster this season when it comes to whether or not the Devils can show significant signs of improvement in their rebuild. That pick, of course, was No. 6 overall selection Pavel Zacha.

After spending all but one game of his draft year back in the Ontario Hockey League playing for the Sarnia Sting, Zacha got his first full-time look in the NHL during the 2016-17 season and it was a bit of a mixed bag, something that is to be expected for a 19-year-old, especially one that bounced around between two different position — seeing time at both center and wing — and started the season recovering from a hip injury.

With just seven points in his first 37 games it was looking like his rookie season was going to be a bit of a disappointment.

He was able to salvage it in the second half, however, with a strong finish that saw him record a very respectable 17 points over the final 33 games. He also seemed to fit in more comfortably on the wing and took more of a shoot-first mentality with the puck, getting more shots on net as the season progressed. All of that is a good indication that he was starting to figure it out at the NHL level and could be poised for a big step forward in year two. He spent the offseason training in New Jersey working firsthand with the team’s trainers and coaches to help get there.

The Devils are going to need him to for a couple of reasons.

Not only because he is a top draft pick from just two years ago, making him a central part of the team’s ongoing rebuild, but also because of the injury suffered by Travis Zajac that is going to sideline him for at least four-to-six months. That is a pretty massive blow to an already thin Devils lineup. It’s not yet known where the Devils see Zacha on a full-time basis, but the center position was kind of turned upside down over the past couple of months with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle along with the injury to Zajac. He played his best hockey last season on the wing, but they might have a need down the middle. No matter where he fits in the lineup if the Devils are going to become a better offensive team both now and in the future players like Zacha are going to have to play a key role in it.