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Hockey Day Preview: College hockey getting noticed in the NHL, building roots for fans

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Hockey Day In America is turning the focus on the roots of the game in America as well as the fans and support that Americans give to the game. We’ve seen pond hockey show the game at it’s most basic roots, we’ve seen community leaders bring the game to the people as a means to help the kids out, and there’s another area of the game that flies under the radar to a degree in America. College hockey in the United States has played a huge role in helping build the talent pool in the NHL as well as making the game more popular across the country.

Take a look around at the rosters of the teams playing in each of the games during Hockey Day In America and you’ll find a team that’s well represented by guys who spent some or all their time in the NCAA honing their skills before reaching the NHL.

Washington: David Steckel (Ohio St.), Mike Knuble (Michigan), Matt Hendricks (St. Cloud State), Tom Poti (Boston U.)

Buffalo: Mike Grier (Boston U.), Nathan Gerbe (Boston College), Jordan Leopold (Minnesota), Drew Stafford (North Dakota), Thomas Vanek (Minnesota), Chris Butler (U of Denver)

Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire), Andreas Nodl (St. Cloud State), Darroll Powe (Princeton), Matt Carle (U of Denver)

New York Rangers: Brian Boyle (Boston College), Derek Stepan (Wisconsin), Matt Gilroy (Boston U.), Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin)

Detroit: Justin Abdelkader (Michigan St.) Drew Miller (Michigan St.), Patrick Eaves (Boston College), Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin), Jimmy Howard (Maine)

Minnesota: Matt Cullen (St. Cloud State), Chuck Kobasew (Boston College), John Madden (Michigan), Eric Nystrom (Michigan), Greg Zanon (Nebraska-Omaha)

Chicago: Jonathan Toews (North Dakota), John Scott (Michigan Tech), Fernando Pisani (Providence College), Duncan Keith (Michigan St.), Marty Turco (Michigan), Nick Leddy (Minnesota), Jordan Hendry (U of Alaska), Patrick Sharp (Vermont), Viktor Stalberg (Vermont), Ryan Johnson (North Dakota), Jake Dowell (Wisconsin)

Pittsburgh: Craig Adams (Harvard), Chris Conner (Michigan Tech), Nick Johnson (Dartmouth), Chris Kunitz (Ferris State),  Brett Sterling (Colorado College), Joe Vitale (Northeastern), Alex Goligoski (Minnesota), Brooks Orpik (Boston College), Ben Lovejoy (Dartmouth), Paul Martin (Minnesota)

Mind you, this list is just of the guys you’re likely to see play during Hockey Day In America. You won’t get to see Boston University’s Chris Drury, University of Michigan’s Mike Comrie, or Western Michigan’s Mark Letestu thanks to injuries. Just looking at the array of guys that played college hockey on Chicago and Pittsburgh’s roster is stunning on its own.

While the NCAA and the CHL are going through their own brand of cold war regarding recruitment of players, one thing both leagues can boast is the uncanny ability to produce the next set of great players to come along in the NHL.

The work the coaches and institutions across college hockey have done in building themselves up into an even more viable entity for kids with an eye on the pros to go to has been a long time in development. With former head of the NHLPA Paul Kelly now in charge of College Hockey, Inc. the amount of attention that will be brought to the college game will only grow. The annual Frozen Four is generally when fans will hear most about the college game, but Kelly’s duties will be to help make it more of a season-round thing as well as doing their part to throw their weight around when dealing with the CHL.

While Canadian junior hockey is still the main go-to spot for teams to find NHL talent coming up through the ranks, the NCAA with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith helping draw more attention to where their roots in the game came from is getting noticed a lot more. For a lot of fans it’s just hockey all the same to them, but for Americans a lot of their roots in the game came from rooting on the local college team, something yours truly can vouch for personally.

Blues place Bortuzzo on IR, he will miss at least six weeks

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 03:  Robert Bortuzzo #41 of the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center on April 3, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues are going to be without defenseman Robert Boruzzo for more than a month due to a lower body injury that he suffered in their most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced on Tuesday that Bortuzzo has been placed on injured reserve and that he will be re-evaluated in six weeks.

Bortuzzo has only appeared in 11 games for the Blues this season but has played well when he has been on the ice, mostly in a third pairing role. He only has two points on the year, but offense has never been a big part of his game. He is mostly more of a stay-at-home defender and his defensive numbers this season have been mostly impressive. The Blues have allowed just 1.31 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play with Bortuzzo on the ice this season (the best mark on the team) and only 48 total shot attempts per 60 minutes (third best on the team).

With Bortuzzo heading to injured reserve, the team also announced that Joel Edmundson has been activated from IR after he missed the past 12 games with an upper body injury. Edmundson has one assist in 13 games this season for the Blues.

The Blues acquired Bortuzzo from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2014-15 season in exchange for Ian Cole.

In 64 games with the Blues since the trade he has four goals and three assists.

Goalie nods: Habs start Montoya for first time in over two weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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And for the eighth game, Carey rested.

Tonight in St. Louis, Al Montoya will be in goal when the Habs take on the Blues at Scottrade. The decision will end Carey Price‘s streak of consecutive starts at seven, and give Montoya his first nod since allowing three goals on 18 shots in a loss to Carolina on Nov. 18.

Since then, it’s been all Price, all the time.

The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner closed out November in style — finishing the month with a .944 save percentage — but could definitely use a break, especially after a wild game on Sunday in which he beat the Kings, 5-4, in a shootout.

It’ll be really interesting to see how Montoya does tonight.

He was infamously left in for every goal during a 10-0 destruction in Columbus on Nov. 4, and things haven’t been the same since. The journeyman was terrific going into that Columbus game (3-0-1, .955 save percentage, one shutout), but has found it difficult to reclaim that form, and has lost each of his last two starts.

For the Blues, Jake Allen goes tonight.

Elsewhere…

Cam Talbot, coming off a 33-save win in OT against the Ducks on Sunday, goes for the Oilers in Buffalo. The Sabres are going with Anders Nilsson after Robin Lehner started the last two.

— Vancouver’s turning to Jacob Markstrom after Ryan Miller started each of the last three games. The Canucks will face a familiar foe in ex-Vancouver netminder Cory Schneider, who starts for the Devils.

— Tonight’s Battle of New York will see Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers take on Jaroslav Halak and the Isles.

James Reimer gives Roberto Luongo the night off in Philly (or, he’s expected to, given Luongo played last night). The Flyers are going with Steve Mason, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week.

Semyon Varlamov will look to snap a three-game losing streak when the Avs visit Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going with Pekka Rinne.

Petr Mrazek, who has played well since Jimmy Howard went down to injury (posting a .935 save percentage), will start in Winnipeg. The Jets counter with Connor Hellebuyck, who beat the Red Wings earlier this season on the strength of a 30-save effort.

— It’s Mike Smith versus Scott Darling as the Coyotes take on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

— Calgary will keep rolling with Chad Johnson when it takes on the Stars in Dallas tonight. Lindy Ruff has confirmed that Kari Lehtonen, fresh off his first shutout of the year on Saturday against the Avs, will be back in goal.

McDavid, Crosby, Price and Kane lead All-Star voting through first week

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Voting for the 2017 NHL All-Star game has been underway for more than a week now, and on Tuesday afternoon the league announced the early leaders from each division.

The game, which will take place in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, will feature the same format as last year’s game with the four divisions taking part in a 3-on-3 tournament.

Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, is the top vote-getter in the Pacific Division, while Sidney Crosby, currently the NHL’s leading goal scorer, is leading the Metropolitan Division.

Montreal’s Carey Price and Chicago’s Patrick Kane, the past two MVP winners, are leading the Atlantic and Central divisions respectively.

Unlike last season when John Scott dominated the voting, there are no surprise players in the early results. The league put new voting guidelines in place this season and limited voting only to players that are on an active NHL roster.

Here are is an early look at the top-five vote getters from each division.

Montreal (Price and Shea Weber), Pittsburgh (Crosby and Phil Kessel), and San Jose (Brent Burns and Joe Thornton) are the three teams that currently have two players in the top five of their division.

Atlantic
1. Carey Price, Montreal
2. Jaromir Jagr, Florida
3. Shea Weber, Montreal
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo
5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston

Central
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago
2. P.K. Subban, Nashville
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

Metropolitan
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
3. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh
4. John Tavares, NY Islanders
5. Taylor Hall, New Jersey

Pacific
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton
2. Brent Burns, San Jose
3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
5. Joe Thornton, San Jose

James Neal could return to Predators lineup tonight

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  James Neal #18 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the third period at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators lineup could be getting a big lift on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche with the possible return of winger James Neal.

Neal, who has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday for the team’s morning skate and has been activated from injured reserve according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

The original diagnosis for Neal was to be sidelined on a week to week basis, but it appears he is on the verge of making a return to the lineup after just 10 days.

If he returns on Tuesday he is expected to skate on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, according to the team.

Prior to the injury Neal had been on quite a scoring tear for the Predators with 10 goals and four assists over a 13-game stretch. It was during that stretch that the Predators had started to turn their season around after a slow start and were quickly climbing the Western Conference standings. They were then hit by a series of injuries that took both Neal and Ryan Ellis out of the lineup. Since Nov. 25 the Predators have now lost three out of their past four and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind Winnipeg for the second playoff spot (the Predators, though, still have four games in hand).

Neal’s 10 goals are still tops on the team. Nobody else has scored more than seven.