I’m the type of fan who, when it comes to what teams I like outside of the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s direct affiliates in Syracuse and Kalamazoo, will root for whatever team has Lightning prospects.
The Lightning started out the Division I NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey tournament with three prospects in the mix on three of the sixteen teams. Ryan Zulhsdorf’s University of Minnesota was felled in the first round by Notre Dame in a 3-2 decision. Jonathan MacLeod’s Boston University made it past the University of North Dakota in the first round in a 4-3 game, but then fell to University Minnesota-Duluth in a 3-2 game in the second round. Ryan Lohin of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell also made it into the second round with a 5-0 blanking of Cornell. His team would fall in the second round in overtime 3-2 to Notre Dame.
Without any prospects, I’m left without a clear choice of a team to cheer for in the Frozen Four. I’m sure some of you are in the same place, so I figured I could do a little research and help you, the Lightning faithful, decide on a team that you want to cheer for in the Frozen Four.
This one is easy... if you’re an Alex Killorn fan, then Harvard is your team. Harvard’s lead scorers are two seniors. Tyler Moy was a sixth-round selection of the Nashville Predators in 2015 after his sophomore season at Harvard. He’s put up 21 goals and 44 points in 35 games for Harvard this year. Tied with him at 44 points is fellow senior and captain, Alexander Kerfoot. Kerfoot was a fifth-round selection in 2012 by the New Jersey Devils.
On the blue line, Harvard has been led by freshman and 2016 third-round selection by the Calgary Flames, Adam Fox. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Fox has been impressive as a freshman, putting up 39 points in 34 games, including 33 assists. He’s also a disciplined player, taking only three minor penalties all year. Fox has a definite NHL upside in his game.
In goal, Harvard has leaned heavily on Merrick Madsen, who has played in all 35 of Harvard’s games. He has a 2.11 GAA and a .922 save percentage. The junior goaltender has been very good for Harvard since becoming the starter last season. He was also a sixth-round selection in 2013 by the Philadelphia Flyers.
University of Minnesota-Duluth
This one is another easy one. If you’re a J.T. Brown fan, then UMD is your team. Brown only played two seasons for UMD. He won an NCAA championship with the team in his freshman year and went back to the Regional Finals in his sophomore season. In his second trip, UMD was one win away from returning to the Frozen Four for a second year.
Alex Iafallo has been UMD’s leading scorer in his senior season with 19 goals and 49 points in 40 games. Iafallo also joined the Lightning for their post-draft development camp in 2016. With Iafallo being a senior and ready to turn pro when his season is over, he could be a target for the Lightning to sign as a free agent. He’ll be a player to keep an eye on.
The blue line for UMD has been led in scoring by sophomore Neal Pionk. Pionk has 33 points including 26 assists in 40 games for UMD. He has not been drafted by any NHL team. If he continues to improve his production, he’ll certainly get some looks when he’s ready to turn pro.
In net, UMD’s starter is undrafted freshman Hunter Miska. Miska has a 2.21 and .919 save percentage in 37 games. He took a bit of a circuitous path to NCAA hockey because he played in high school, spent two years with the USNTDP, two years in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees, and then another year in the USHL.
Notre Dame overall is a much harder team for me to endorse. They are generally a team that you either love or you hate. If you already had a reason to be a Notre Dame fan, then why are you even reading this far? If you’re looking for a reason to like them, you must not be too into college sports in general.
But anyway, I’ve still found a reason that someone out there might latch on to to cheer for Notre Dame. Erik Condra was a member of the Fighting Irish for four seasons. He was also the captain for his senior season.
Notre Dame has been lead in scoring by Condra’s cousin, Anders Bjork. He has had 52 points in 38 games in his junior season. A fifth-round pick in 2014 by the Boston Bruins, Bjork is on a trajectory towards being a fairly good NHLer. Junior Jordan Gross on the blue line is another play to keep your eye on. He has pretty consistently put up around 0.75 points per game in his NCAA career and has likely put himself on the radar for NHL teams when he turns pro.
In goal, Notre Dame has run with Cal Petersen all season. The junior has a .929 save percentage and has played in every game for Notre Dame this season. Petersen was a fifth-round pick in 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres.
Denver is a team that’s a little harder to draw a connection to the Lightning. A recent connection is Matt Carle. (I realize that may be a reason to cheer against Denver,..) On the other hand, his brother David Carle is an assistant coach there, and was a Lightning draft pick in the seventh-round of the 2008 draft. David had already retired by then because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and was a symbolic selection by the Lightning.
Denver is led in scoring by 2016 Florida Panthers first-rounder Henrik Borgstrom. Borgstrom is a big Finnish center measuring 6’3” and 185 pounds. He has 42 points in 35 games including 21 goals in his freshman season for Denver. The blue line is lead by senior and team Captain Will Butcher. Butcher was a 5th round pick in 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche. He has 36 points in 41 games. With the Avalanche’s weakness on the blue line, it won’t be surprising if he makes it to the NHL next season.
In goal, Denver has used Tanner Jaillet in 36 games and Evan Cowley in 11 games. Jaillet is a junior having a nice year with a .928 save percentage. He was not drafted by any NHL team. Cowley is in his senior season and has put up a .955 save percentage in his limited action. He was a fourth-round selection by the Florida Panthers in the 2013 draft.
I think I’ll be cheering for University of Minnesota-Duluth. For me, it comes down to Iafallo having been at development camp and wanting to see him succeed... and then sign with the Lightning.
Who are you cheering for? Vote in the poll!
Who are you cheering for in the Frozen Four?
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