Connor Hellebuyck

Back to Class: Where March Madness is already underway

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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 this Friday night as Maine host No. 4 New Hampshire at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Hockey East and the WCHA will wrap up their final weekend of conference action this weekend while Atlantic Hockey, CCHA, and ECAC all start their conference playoffs. It’s a veritable full weekend of playoffs for everyone if you want to look at it that way as even those who aren’t yet in their postseason are still jockeying for position.

In Hockey East, the battle for the top spot is on between UMass-Lowell, Providence, New Hampshire, and Boston College. Any of those four teams could wind up in first, while Boston University and Merrimack are just outside the top four. Landing in the top four means getting home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs.

In the race for the No. 1 seed, the series to watch is between Lowell and Providence as they’ll have two games to see if they can figure things out. Lowell, thanks to freshman standout and Winnipeg Jets prospect goalie Connor Hellebuyck, lead Hockey East but Providence sits two points back. BC and New Hampshire are each one point out and they’ve got teams from the bottom end of the conference to deal with.

Boston College faces 7th place Vermont while UNH faces a Maine team trying to solidify their spot in the conference playoffs. Only the top eight move on and Maine is trying to keep UMass out. The Minutemen have a pair of games with Merrimack to contend with. Only Northeastern won’t be making the playoffs.

In the WCHA, there’s no threat of missing the playoffs as all 12 teams make it. Figuring out who wins the MacNaughton Cup (first place in the regular season) isn’t quite so easy. St. Cloud State could’ve wrapped it up last Saturday, but were humbled by Michigan Tech. Now, any one of five teams could win the regular season title.

SCSU has a two-point lead on Minnesota and North Dakota and are four up on Minnesota State and Wisconsin. The two weekend match-ups to watch here feature St. Cloud against Wisconsin and Minnesota St. facing North Dakota. Earning the top spot at the end of the season means getting to face a bad Alaska-Anchorage team in the opening round of the conference tourney.

If that’s not enough to get you juiced up, three conferences have their playoffs getting started on Friday night. Here’s how things shape up for them:

CCHA: The top-five teams here all get byes into the quarterfinals. Only difference being that No. 4 Ohio State gets No. 5 Ferris State there. Miami, Notre Dame, and Western Michigan are the top three teams here. Your first-round best of three matchups see the winners re-seeded. Alaska hosts Michigan State, Michigan hosts Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State gets Bowling Green.

ECAC: All 12 teams make the playoffs and the top four get byes in the first round. Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, Yale, and Union can rest easy this weekend and wait to see what carnage is unleashed with the other eight teams in their best of three series. Dartmouth hosts Harvard, St. Lawrence faces Colgate, Brown hosts Clarkson, and Princeton takes on Cornell in New Jersey. Winning teams are reseeded for the second round. RPI blog Without A Peer shows off how the second round could play out.

Atlantic Hockey: Top four teams have byes (Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross, UConn). Winners of the first round are re-seeded. The first-round best of three pairings are: Robert Morris-Sacred Heart, Mercyhurst-Army, Canisius-Bentley, and RIT-American International. Anyone on the NCAA tournament bubble (16th in Pairwise) is rooting for Niagara to steamroll through here without issue.

If, somehow, that’s not all enough for you the Division III NCAA tournament gets underway tonight and winds up on March 16 with the national championship game. St. Norbert will be looking for their third title in a row but this writer would like to see Oswego State take it all. That’s called an “alumni plug.”

(Photo: Lowell Sun)

Report: Maple Leafs closing in on deal with Jhonas Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs held on to Garret Sparks, signing him earlier this month to a two-way contract.

But they may not be done there, as they look to find someone to fill the role of back-up to Frederik Andersen.

On Sunday, a report from Expressen in Sweden — and put through Google Translate — began circulating that the Leafs are closing in on a deal with free agent goalie Jhonas Enroth, who turned 28 years old last month.

It’s one report and the team has not confirmed or announced anything. But it’s something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

Enroth posted a .922 save percentage last season with the L.A. Kings, appearing in only 16 games behind starter Jonathan Quick.

Signed to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million with the Kings, his playing time was a source of contention, however, because Enroth seemed to be under the impression he would play more than he did in L.A.

The back-up position in Toronto became available when the Leafs traded Jonathan Bernier to the Anaheim Ducks.

Related: UFA of the Day: Jhonas Enroth

Providence College product Schaller saw opportunity to play with Bruins, but challenges lie ahead

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Tim Schaller #59 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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After spending the last three seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, Tim Schaller wasn’t going to resist the opportunity to sign with the Boston Bruins.

A product of Providence College, the now 25-year-old Schaller, a center who provides size up the middle at six-foot-two-inches and 219 pounds, signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level with the Bruins as a free agent at the beginning of July.

“We had probably about 10-12 teams calling on one day,” Schaller told the Boston Globe.

“About halfway through the phone calls, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins called. At that moment, I almost told my agent, ‘Why take another phone call? Why not just say yes to the Bruins right away?’ It’s a good opportunity to have to play in Boston. All the numbers worked out perfectly to where it was impossible to say no to them.”

The move helped to provide depth up the middle for the Bruins.

Schaller has put up decent numbers in the minors, with 43 points in 65 games with the Rochester Americans in the 2014-15 season. In 35 NHL games with Buffalo, he had two goals and five points.

However, earning a spot on the Bruins roster could be difficult.

They have centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who had off-season surgery, Ryan Spooner and the additions of Riley Nash and David Backes as free agents.

Backes can play wing in addition to center.

“Boston was a good fit,” said Schaller. “We think I’m better than the prospects, so we thought it was a good fit. Hopefully I can beat out a bunch of guys for a job.”

Being named Oilers captain would be ‘one of the greatest honors,’ says McDavid

Connor McDavid
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It began gaining momentum well before Connor McDavid even finished his rookie season, the prospect that the young phenom had what it takes to become captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

Wayne Gretzky had his say, in an interview with the National Post last season.

“I have a great deal of respect for him. In my point of view, I think he’s mature enough that he can handle it at any age,” said The Great One, the Oilers captain when that franchise was a dynasty in the 1980s.

McDavid’s highly anticipated rookie season was interrupted with a shoulder injury, but he returned to play in 45 games, with 48 points. He was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, and there was plenty of healthy debate for his case to be the top freshman in the league.

As his season continued and then ended, the talk of McDavid’s possible captaincy in Edmonton has persisted. The Oilers, who traded Taylor Hall last month, didn’t have a captain this past season.

From Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, in April:

Connor McDavid will be named as the Oilers’ captain at the age of 19 next fall, one of the items that was deduced at general manager Peter Chiarelli’s season-ending press briefing Sunday. Asked if his team would have a captain next season where this year it did not, the GM responded quickly: “I would think so, that we would have a captain next year.”

At 19 years and 286 days, Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest player in NHL history to be named a captain.

McDavid, the first overall pick in 2015, doesn’t turn 20 years old until Jan. 13 of next year.

He’s already the face of the Oilers and perhaps soon, the NHL, too. He certainly doesn’t seem to shy away from the potential of one day being named the Oilers captain.

“Obviously. If I was ever the captain at any point I think it would be one of the greatest honors and one of the accomplishments that I would definitely take the most seriously,” McDavid told the Toronto Sun.

“I don’t want to comment on it too much, but obviously it would be an unbelievable feeling.”

Trevor Daley surprises young hockey players, firefighters with Stanley Cup visit

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Trevor Daley had his day with the Stanley Cup on Saturday, taking it through Toronto, surprising young hockey players at a local rink and firefighters at a local station.

He also held a private viewing party for family and friends inside a local bar, as per the Toronto Sun.

Daley’s post-season came to an end in the Eastern Conference Final when he suffered a broken ankle. His absence tested the depth of the Penguins blue line as the playoffs pressed on, but Pittsburgh was ultimately able to power its way to a championship.

When Sidney Crosby handed off the Stanley Cup, the first player it went to was Daley, whose mother was battling cancer.

“He had been through some different playoffs, but getting hurt at the time he did, knowing how important it was, he had told me that he went [to see] his mom in between series and stuff, she wasn’t doing well, she wanted to see him with the Cup,” said Crosby, as per Sportsnet.

“That was important to her. I think that kind of stuck with me after he told me that. We were motivated to get it for him, even though he had to watch.”

Daley’s mother passed away just over a week later.