Back to Class: And a goalie shall lead New Hampshire

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN Friday, November 30 with a monster doubleheader featuring BU vs. BC and Denver vs. Wisconsin.

Before the season began, New Hampshire wasn’t really on the national radar. When the USA Hockey/USA Today preseason poll came out, the Wildcats didn’t crack the Top 15. They got votes, but only enough to put them 21st in the country and three other Hockey East schools were ranked above them. With just 58 college hockey programs, that’s not too impressive.

A funny thing happened with Dick Umile’s program: They started shutting down everyone thanks to sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith.

DeSmith is the only guy New Hampshire has played in goal this year and he’s all they’ve needed. He’s 8-1-1 with a microscopic 1.19 goals against average and an astounding .961 save percentage.

Over the weekend he had his third straight shutout of the season, a 3-0 win over UMass-Lowell, something that hasn’t happened since 1928-29. He also set a new school record keeping teams off the board for 203:32 straight minutes, a mark that stood for over 40 years.

They’ve already beaten Boston University and St. Cloud State twice and BU head coach Jack Parker says UNH is “the other best team in Hockey East.” For a team that had low expectations, they’re proving the experts and coaches very wrong so far this year and have climbed to sixth (and possibly higher) in the nation.

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No peace in the mountains: No. 2 Denver and No. 14 Colorado College had a typical raucous weekend of games, but it would be the Pioneers who came away with the first weekend sweep of their bitter in-state rivals since 2005. Friday’s wild 6-5 game followed by a 6-2 Saturday win helped show that Denver is for real out west.

Kudos to the little guy: Give it up to little Alabama-Huntsville for finally getting off the schneid earning their first win of the year, a 2-1 road victory over Lake Superior State. The Chargers were the last school to get a win this season. Perhaps knocking off a future WCHA team will help convince them to open their doors to the unaffiliated school rather than leave them for dead on their own.

Naughty, naughty: Alaska will be losing two scholarships thanks to a mild spanking by the NCAA. The mild violations were self-reported by the school and the hockey team wasn’t the only one to get dinged because of the faux pas. Here’s to hoping you’ve now got the Danger Danger song “Naughty Naughty” stuck in your head.

Darcy leaves Northeastern: Freshman forward Cam Darcy left the Hockey East school and is off to the USHL. That kind of move allows him to keep his NCAA eligibility. He had two assists in nine games with the Huskies.

Yerdon jinx: After talking up Dartmouth last week, the Big Green got bounced by Colgate 5-4 on Friday and needed a Mike Keenan (yes, that’s his name – no, it’s not Iron Mike’s son) goal late to tie Cornell 1-1 on Saturday. My bad, guys. Beware, New Hampshire!

(Photo: UNHWildcats.com)

Brock Boeser will make NHL debut for Canucks today after signing entry level deal

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After a deal appeared imminent on Friday night the Vancouver Canucks made it official on Saturday morning and announced the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser to an entry level contract.

Not only is he under contract with the Canucks, but he will also make his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon against his hometown team when the Canucks visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks selected Boeser with the No. 23 overall pick in 2015.

He played his collegiate hockey at North Dakota where he put up some massive numbers, recording 94 points in 74 games over two seasons. That includes 16 goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season.

His addition to the Canucks lineup over the remaining nine games of the 2016-17 season will burn one of those years of his entry level contract, but it will give Canucks fans a glimpse of their future and maybe a reason for optimism in what has become a lost season. The Canucks enter the game having lost seven of their past eight.

 

Nikita Kucherov is trying to carry the Lightning to the playoffs

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Every time you think the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff chances might be finished this season, they always find a way to keep them alive and stay in the race.

Thanks to their 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Lightning were able to keep pace with the New York Islanders and move to within a single point of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as we prepare to enter the final weeks of the regular season. It is still pretty amazing to think about them being this close to a playoff spot when you consider the injuries the team has dealt with this season. Steven Stamkos, their best player, has not played since November. Their center depth has been decimated in recent weeks with Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov all missing significant time in the month of March. They traded Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline for nothing that will help this current team.

And yet, here they are, still right in the thick of the playoff race.

If they are able to pull this off and get one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference is going to be because Nikita Kucherov has pretty much put the team on his back over the past month and single handedly carried it to one.

Kucherov scored another massive goal on Friday night when he scored the overtime winner in Detroit, and is currently in the middle of a four-game stretch where he has scored a goal in every game (for a total of seven) and recorded multiple points in each one (for a total of nine). If you go back over the past month, a stretch where the Lightning have managed to go 10-5-1 over a 16-game stretch to remain in the race, Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league by a wide margin.

Since that stretch began on Feb. 20, Kucherov has scored 17 goals (four more than any other player in the league) and recorded 29 total points (eight more than any other player) to be the single biggest driving force behind the Lightning offense. His 29 points during that stretch mean he has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 66 percent of the team’s goals (they have 44 during that stretch). He has scored close to 40 percent of them himself.

It is all part of an incredible season that has seen Kucherov climb to the top-five in the league in scoring even though he has missed seven games.

His 1.16 point per game average is third in the league among players that have played at least 60 games, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and he is only 0.02 points off of McDavid’s pace. He is doing that while owning a 56 percent Corsi percentage that is in the top-25 of the entire league.

He has been one of the most dominant players in the league this season, and has taken his game to an entirely new level in the past month just when the Lightning have needed it most. If they get in, it’s going to be because of him.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.