Editor’s Note: As we’ve reached the mid-way point for the overall hockey season, it’s time to select the mid-season All-America teams for each of the three major levels of hockey in the United States. If you’ll recall, at the beginning of the season, preseason All-America teams were named on United States of Hockey for the National Hockey League, NCAA and also a team featuring 2012 NHL Entry Draft-eligible players. Each team is made up of American-born players, with one player listed for each position, with a few honorable mentions for each as well. We kicked off the mid-season teams with the 2012 Draft-eligibles last Wednesday and continue today with the NCAA team. The NHL squad will be unveiled Thursday.
It’s been a wild year in college hockey. Many traditional powers find themselves struggling, while several of the smaller schools are making a big push on the national stage. There’s been no shortage of excitement, especially when it comes to individual performances.
There were many tough decisions in putting this team together, but there are also some familiar faces from the preseason NCAA All-America team. The American talent pool in college hockey is incredibly deep, and the top end is still very good.
With so many early departures in the college ranks, it’s hard to believe the NCAA has been able to maintain an elite level when it comes to individual players. The number of legitimate NHL prospects in the college ranks seems to be about as high as ever, even if the overall teams aren’t as good as they have been in the past.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the United States of Hockey Mid-Season All-America Team.
Left Wing — Jason Zucker — University of Denver (MIN)
Preseason: TIE — Chris Kreider, Boston College; Jason Zucker, University of Denver
Jason Zucker has been one of Denver’s big offensive leaders all season long. Averaging nearly a point and a half per game in his sophomore season, Zucker helps the offense go. Though the Pioneers have struggled in the standings, Zucker’s been a consistent offensive presence.
The sophomore winger has posted 29 points in 20 games and almost all of those points have come against conference opponents.
Despite a lackluster World Junior Championship, in which Zucker captained the seventh-place U.S. squad, the Las Vegas native has built on his sparkling freshman season in the always-tough WCHA. In his first two games back with Denver after the WJC, Zucker posted five points in a weekend sweep of Bemidji State.
With goaltender Sam Brittain about to return from an injury that kept him out of the first half of the season, the Pios are well-equipped for the stretch run here. They’ll need guys like Jason Zucker and Drew Shore (who narrowly missed out on the center spot on this All-America Team) to carry a lot of offense in the second half.
Zucker might have a decision to make at the end of this season about turning pro. He has tremendous speed, plays physical and has shown he can finish. Another year in school wouldn’t slow Zucker at all, but it’ll be up to the Minnesota Wild to gauge his readiness after another tremendous season in college hockey.
Stat Line: 20 GP, 13-16-29, 22 PIM
Honorable Mention: Chris Kreider, Boston College; Kyle Rau, University of Minnesota; Anders Lee, University of Notre Dame; Matt Nieto, Boston University; Terry Broadhurst, University of Nebraska Omaha
Center — Jack Connolly — University of Minnesota Duluth (Undrafted)
Preseason: Jack Connolly, University of Minnesota Duluth
It’s not just that Jack Connolly is the nation’s leading scorer with 40 points in 24 games, it’s that he’s the best player on the nation’s best team. The diminutive centerman has had a brilliant college career. The only bad thing about it is that it will come to an end this year.
Connolly will likely reach 200 career points before the season is out, and is on pace to eclipse his career high of 59 points, set last season.
UMD is the nation’s No. 1 team by a mile this year, having lost only four games and just recently having a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped.
Many expected Connolly’s production to dip when Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly wrapped up solid UMD careers, benefiting a lot from Jack Connolly at the end and helping the Bulldogs win their first national title last season. That hasn’t been the case. With 15 goals, Connolly is just three shy of his career high, which he reached in each of the last two seasons. He still has his typical assist production with 25, solidifying him as one of college hockey’s best playmakers.
Because of his size, it was often thought he was only as good as the pieces around him, but perhaps he just made everybody better. That seems to be the case this year, as he’s helped UMD, a team very few thought had a chance at repeating, remain as one of the best teams in the country all season long.
Now the big question at the end of this season is if Connolly has done enough to earn a free-agent contract with an NHL club. College success doesn’t always guarantee a contract offer, but he’s been a consistent producer for four years. He’s certainly worth a long look for a lot of NHL teams.
Stat Line: 24 GP, 15-25–40, 18 PIM
Honorable Mention: Drew Shore, University of Denver; Nick Bjugstad, University of Minnesota; EDIT (1/24 – 12:05 p.m.): Mark Zengerle, University of Wisconsin (Big mistake on my part, forgetting to list Zengerle in the initial publishing. The Wisco sophomore has 38 points); T.J. Tynan, University of Notre Dame; Brock Nelson, University of North Dakota;
Right Wing — Austin Smith — Colgate University (DAL)
Preseason: Danny Kristo, University of North Dakota
With a nation-leading 24 goals, Smith has paced Colgate to a vastly improved season. Though the Red Raiders have come back to earth a bit over the last few weeks, it is clear Colgate’s come a long way from the team that went 4-15-3 in 2010-11
Though Smith’s Hobey Baker candidacy will be significantly impacted by his playing in the ECAC, he should be a shoo-in for an end-of-season All-America nod. Twenty four goals is 24 goals. That’s a hard total to get to in college hockey at this point in the season, no matter what conference you play in. Smith’s previous career high in goals came in his sophomore season when he scored 16.
He’s also tied for second in the nation with 38 points overall, showing he can dish too. If Colgate lost Smith’s production, there’s no telling where it’d be this season. There may be no player in the country as valuable to his team as Smith.
The Dallas native has made a name for himself in his senior campaign and has helped bring his school some extra notoriety. He is a Dallas Stars draft pick and has certainly positioned himself well for a future professional career.
Stat Line: 24 GP, 24-14–38, 24 PIM
Honorable Mention: J.T. Brown, University of Minnesota Duluth; Danny Kristo, University of North Dakota; Matt White, University of Nebraska Omaha.
Defense — Nate Schmidt — University of Minnesota (Undrafted)
Preseason: Jon Merrill, University of Michigan
That said, Nate Schmidt has put together quite the impressive season with 26 points in 27 games. Averaging nearly a point-per-game as a sophomore defenseman is tough to do, but that’s what Schmidt has done so far.
He’s third in scoring for the Golden Gophers, a younger team that has made some serious waves in college hockey this year. With a bevy of forwards that can finish, Schmidt has done most of his damage by giving the puck to someone else, with 24 helpers on the year.
Schmidt is a plus-18, which is tied for the team high. The Gophers are the highest scoring team in the nation, so it’s not really surprising that Schmidt’s plus/minus is off the charts, but it’s still off the charts.
Schmidt doesn’t have great size, but he moves really well and uses the big ice to his advantage. He’s one of those guys that Don Lucia brought in to be around for four years, so to see where Schmidt is now in his second season is really something. The size should keep him in school for the full four, as there’s no reason to rush an undersized offensive defenseman.
Stat Line: 27 GP, 2-24–26, 6 PIM
Defense — Brian Dumoulin — Boston College (CAR)
Preseason: Brian Dumoulin — Boston College
Dumoulin earns a nod on this list due to his continual proving that he is one of the best NHL prospects playing in college hockey right now. Boston College has underachieved and Dumoulin is not without fault, but he’s still put together some pretty impressive numbers.
His 20 points rank third on Boston College among all players, and he’s posted a plus-9 rating against one of the tougher schedules in the nation.
Despite BC’s lack of consistency this season, Dumoulin has remained as one of the constants for the Eagles. Though a junior, this is likely Dumoulin’s last go-around in college, as Caroliona made an attempt to sign him in the offseason. Dumoulin wisely decided to give it one more year and a season with a little adversity like this might do him some good.
Dumoulin just eeked this one out over Western Michigan’s Dan DeKeyser and Boston University’s Adam Clendening. I went back and forth a lot among these three, but in the end, I just felt Dumoulin could end up being the best prospect of them all, and used that to be the deciding factor. Both DeKeyser and Clendening have been outstanding this year.
Stat Line: 24 GP, 4-16–20, 16 PIM
Honorable Mention: Dan DeKeyser, Western Michigan University; Adam Clendening, Boston University; Patrick McNally, Harvard University; Lee Moffie, University of Michigan.
Goaltender — Troy Grosenick — Union College (Undrafted)
Preseason: Mike Lee, St. Cloud State University
This was by far the toughest decision of the entire list. There are a ton of goaltenders playing some fantastic hockey throughout the country. In the end, the final decision came down to Ohio State’s Cal Heeter and Troy Grosenick.
I ended up giving the nod to the Union goaltender, due to both statistics and just how important Grosenick has become to his team.
The sophomore leads the nation with a 1.64 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, while posting a 12-4-3 record.
In all of Union’s losses, the Dutchmen failed to score more than two goals. All, but one of Grosenick’s four losses have been really close games, so he’s kept his guys in it often. He’s only a sophomore playing on a team that went through an offseason coaching change and he’s performed wonderfully, helping Union remain in both college hockey polls all season long.
Grosenick might get overlooked because of the ECAC thing, but he’s having a truly remarkable season, and I simply could not overlook it.
Stat Line: 21 GP, 12-4-3, 1.59 GAA, .937 SV%, 3 SO
Honorable Mention: Cal Heeter, The Ohio State University; Joe Cannata, Merrimack College; Kent Patterson, University of Minnesota; Andy Iles, Cornell University.
Since we’re only just past the half-way point, this list could end up changing a lot as some players emerge as we enter the post-season push. It always seems like a few players step up in this part of the year.
Our end-of-season All-America Team will be named in April, so make sure to check back to see who made the cut.
Don’t forget, the NHL All-America team will be named on Thursday. Plenty of good American players performing at a high level in the NHL this season, so check it out.