Kalle Kossila

Back to Class: St. Cloud’s freshman class is making waves

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 night January 4 as Colorado College takes on Nebraska-Omaha. 

If you had to guess who was leading the WCHA right now without looking, who would you say off the top of your head? Minnesota, Denver and North Dakota always come to mind first, but it’s  the St. Cloud State Huskies in front and they’re doing it thanks to a host of outstanding freshmen talent.

It starts with superb Finnish import Kalle Kossila (pictured) who leads the team with 10 goals. Kossila has been working with fellow freshman star Jonny Brodzinski on the team’s top line centered by the team’s top scorer, senior Drew LeBlanc. Brodzinski and Kossila combined for 17 goals which helps make a lot of sense out of LeBlanc’s 19 assists this season.

Those two aren’t alone in doing their freshman damage as David Morley has provided balance with six goals and six assists. His linemates are a pair of draftees in Nic Dowd (Kings), the team’s second-leading point man, and Ben Hanowski (Penguins).

Western College Hockey’s Chris Dilks pointed out the most fun fact about SCSU’s freshman class right now. Their 24 goals has them outscoring both Alaska-Anchorage (23) and Wisconsin (21) as a team. What’s crazier still about the freshman production is that perhaps the Huskies’ most highly-touted new guy, Joey Benik, has yet to play this year.

Eyes might always stray to following the likes of Minnesota and North Dakota but if the rest of the WCHA isn’t careful, St. Cloud will continue their rise up the rankings.


Buckeye Hjelle: Give it up to Ohio State’s Brady Hjelle who is continuing to shine in goal. The former UMD Bulldog has found a home in Columbus and he’s taken advantage of the new opportunity putting up monster numbers. He hung in well with No. 5 Miami this weekend earning a 1-1 draw on Friday before losing a tough 3-1 game Saturday. You might say he’s on a… Hjelle roll.

From roller hockey to college success: Here’s a story worth reading. USCHO’s Brian Farrell shares the story about Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois who went from playing roller hockey in Tempe, Arizona to being the Bobcats’ leading scorer. Hockey is everywhere in every form. Good on him for not wanting to go party at Arizona State instead.

Michigan State’s Carney retires: Sad story from East Lansing where Spartans defenseman Branden Carney retired from hockey due to fracturing two vertebrae during a team practice in early November.

Colleges repping America: Team USA’s World Junior Championships selection camp will feature 15 NCAA players. Chief amongst them will be Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (Flyers), Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau (Flames), North Dakota forward Rocco Grimaldi (Panthers), BU defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Bruins), and Michigan blue liner Jacob Trouba (Jets).

With how hot Gaudreau’s been this year, teaming him up with red hot Habs top prospect Alex Galchenyuk sounds like a good way to create instant offense for America.

(Photo: Bruce Hemmelgarn via CHN)

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”