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.

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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)

‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

“I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).