College Hockey Roundup: Gaudreau Still Dazzling, RPI’s Haggerty in Spotlight, NLIs Signed

After the typically slow month of October, it really hasn’t taken long for this season to get interesting, unpredictable, and above all, entertaining. I think you could say that the whole of college hockey is better this season when compared to the beginning of last season. More teams are playing at a high level and there have been many close, entertaining games.

There have also been some absolutely ridiculous individual performances to start the year, which often makes for some more intriguing players to watch to see how long they can keep up such sensational play.

Coming up after the jump, a look at the nation’s leading goal scorer, more wizardry from BC’s Johnny Gaudreau, the (semi) weekly viewer’s guide and five stray thoughts.

College Hockey Roundup Player Spotlight 

Ryan Haggerty, Jr., RW — RPI
Stat Line: 10 GP, 13-2–15
NHL Rights: Free Agent

Ryan Haggerty is having the kind of season that basically defies logic. In just 10 games this year, the RPI junior has already surpassed his goal output from 36 games played last season. Haggerty has scored 13 times already this year, an average of 1.3 goals-per-game. He had 12 all of last season and seven has a freshman.

The Engineers are 6-2-2, with strong wins over Boston University and New Hampshire. The two games RPI did lose also happen to be the only two games this season in which Haggerty did not score. So it looks like he’s been pretty important.

Consider that last season’s leading goal scorer, Greg Carey, finished the campaign with 28 goals last year, Haggerty is nearly halfway there with less than a third of the season complete. Can he possibly keep this up?

Haggerty has taken a nation-leading 61 shots on goal and has a shooting percentage of 21.3 at this point. Odds are, he’ll cool once the Engineers get into the meat of a pretty tough ECAC this year. But we’ve seen some players go on crazy runs the last few years.

The 6-foot, 200-pound forward seems to have the touch so far this year and is off to one of the hottest goal-scoring starts in recent memory.

With No. 1 goalie Jason Kasdorf lost for the season, Haggerty’s goal output and outstanding play from Scott Diebold in net have made RPI a team to watch closely in the early goings. How long can Haggerty keep this up? Who knows, but that’s what makes it fun to watch.

Johnny Hockey Keeps Doing Johnny Hockey Things

Johnny Gaudreau is ridiculous. He proved it once again after a seven-point weekend that included multiple plays that simply make you question if he is from the same planet as the rest of us. I’m leaning no on that one.

Against rival Boston University, Gaudreau factored in on three of Boston College’s goals in a 5-1 win. Among them, the goal he showed off just how devastating his release can be (at 25-second mark of the video below. It was off his stick almost as quickly as he received it, giving Matt O’Connor no chance to get a glove anywhere near it. Also, he forced the turnover that led to that goal with a good stick in front of BU’s net.

His play of the game (and the weekend) however came on an assist on Billy Arnold’s goal to make it 3-0. Chris Dilks at SBNation’s college hockey blog has a great breakdown of the entire play from start to finish with screen grabs and everything. It is worth your time. You can watch the video here though (starting at the 50 second mark).

The thing that gets me about the goal and assist isn’t just the sheer skill Gaudreau shows to get the puck in a more threatening position, it is the quick processing of his options once he started to run out of them and making the only play available to him to achieve the best possible result. Maybe there’s an element of luck that his behind-the-back pass from behind the net found Arnold, but having watched Gaudreau enough over the last few years, he knew what he was doing.

For another example, Gaudreau’s four-point game against Army was highlighted by a spectacular defense-splitting goal. Here he is, making it look easy (it’s the first clip on the video).

There’s always going to be a question about Gaudreau’s size and whether or not he can be an effective pro. Sure, he’s light, but there are so few players in the game at any level that think the game as creatively as Gaudreau seems to.

I despise comparisons to NHL players, but you look at the guys that think the game in a creative sense, create time and space, find the passes and seams offensively that so few players in the big leagues can and you see a lot of similarities in Gaudreau. Pavel Datsyuk and Patrick Kane are probably the two prime examples in the NHL that would fit that description.

Skill-for-skill, I don’t think you could adequately compare Gaudreau to those two players, but he thinks the game very similarly, particularly when the puck is on his stick. That’s why he’s got a real shot at making it to and staying in the NHL for a long time.

Gaudreau is currently second in the country with 18 points in just nine games. His two points-per-game average is best in the country.

He has become one of the most entertaining players, not only in the college game, but in all of hockey. Gaudreau is not always going to be able to dance through defenses as he does in college, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how he fares when he finally turns pro (probably after this season).

United States of Hockey Weekend Viewer’s Guide

Wisconsin at Miami — 6:30 p.m. ET — CBS Sports Network

This one interests the heck out of me. In comes Wisconsin, having only played six games this season, some of which have been disastrous without the injured Joel Rempel tending goal. Miami meanwhile is 10 games into the season and has had no less than three gruelling series this year against Providence, North Dakota and most recently St. Cloud State last weekend.

You’ve got a ton of quality players on both sides including Riley Barber for Miami and Nic Kerdiles for Wisconsin. These two guys very well could be on the same line for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Barber is one of the nation’s top scorers with 15 points and nine goals, while Kerdiles is Wisconsin’s leader with eight points in six games. It should be a great head-to-head battle.

Both teams have highly productive veterans as well. Austin Czarnik has 15 points for Miami, while Wisconsin’s Michael Mersch is over a point-per-game with seven in six including four goals. These two guys have been integral players for their respective teams and it should be fun to see them on the national stage against each other.

Then you look at the goaltending battle. Joel Rumpel’s status for the weekend hasn’t really been defined. If it’s Landon Peterson in net for Wisconsin, they may have their work cut out as he brings an .835 save percentage into Friday’s tilt.. Meanwhile, it seems Ryan McKay is starting to take control of Miami’s net and has been excellent in six appearances with a .942 save percentage.

Even if Wisconsin isn’t yet at full strength, the Badgers have to start feeling the urgency of their situation, even though we’re still in the thick of non-conference play. After a dismal start to last year, Wisconsin will want to recover sooner than later. Having a bye week to prepare for one of the country’s most dangerous offensive teams should definitely help, too.

Other games of note (all times ET)…

Friday
Boston University at Maine — 7 p.m. — Fox College Sports
Merrimack at Notre Dame — 7:35 p.m. — NBC Sports Network
Minnesota State at Minnesota — 8 p.m. — Fox College Sports
Michigan at Nebraska-Omaha — 9 p.m. — CBS Sports Network
Western Michigan at Denver — 9:30 p.m. — Root Sports

Saturday
Providence at Vermont — 7 p.m. — NESN
Minnesota State at Minnesota — 8 p.m. — Fox College Sports

Five Thoughts

Every week, random thoughts on various college hockey topics big and small.

1. Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period for college hockey National Letters of Intent. The NLI represents an agreement between player and school that secures the player’s scholarship and prevents other schools from recruiting said player. Since college commitments are often made so far in advance, things can change, but after the NLI is signed, it gives the teams a little more pull (see Northeastern vs. Mike Szmatula this summer — something that’s working out for both parties at this point). Where it doesn’t matter is in the recruiting battle with the CHL. So, yes, Wednesday is a fun day for a lot of schools, but for many, it’s just a step in an ever-evolving recruiting process.

2. There were a couple of fairly significant departures from Eastern teams over the last week in college hockey. Peter Quenneville, a talented forward that was drafted by Columbus in the seventh round last year, left Quinnipiac for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Vermont also lost sophomore Robert Polesello to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Polesello wasn’t quite living up to expectations for the Catamounts, and ended up not getting drafted. Not knowing the circumstances surrounding either, anytime players leave school at this point in the season, it’s usually a usage issue. College coaches are always in a difficult position. There is always the expectation of winning, and having guys earn the ice they get, but as a developmental route to the NHL, players have to play to develop. Both guys are 19 years old, so their junior days could be brief, but they’ll get more games and probably better ice time. Additionally, they’ll be older players in the junior ranks and therefore could earn more responsibility. It’s unfortunate for both schools.

3. One of the most surprising teams of the young season has been Clarkson. I picked the Golden Knights to finish dead last in the ECAC. It appears I may have been dead wrong. They have been remarkable this season with a 9-2-1 record highlighted by a tough home sweep of Colorado College. I thought it would take Casey Jones a while to rebuild the program, but the former Cornell assistant coach was always a gifted recruiter and has guided the Knights to a bit of a resurgence it seems. They still have to get into the toughest parts of its ECAC schedule that is going to be tough, but Clarkson has an older, experienced team and is getting some balanced scoring. It could be a surprising season in Potsdam.

4. Nate Wells at SBNation’s college hockey blog put together a really solid piece on just how good Minnesota’s freshman class has been. I thought the Gophers’ relative lack of experience would hurt them this season, but the young guys have made a really easy transition to college hockey. Hudson Fasching and Taylor Cammarata have gotten a lot of the attention so far, but Justin Kloos has been really impressive as well. He has speed and skill that just works perfectly within Minnesota’s style. The Gophers also got back Gabe Guertler, who was suspended for the first part of the season after a rather serious run-in with the law. This group of first-year players has really been impressive and a big reason Minnesota remains No. 1.

5. Sticking with the University of Minnesota theme, the Gopher women’s hockey team hit another milestone last weekend by stretching their NCAA-record winning streak to 61. Two goals in the last 2:09 against St. Cloud State preserved the streak. The Gophers are doing it without all-world goaltender Noora Raty, who graduated last year and just helped Finland beat the U.S. for the first time since 2008 with a 58-save performance last week. They’re also without Amanda Kessel, who is on national team duty, as well. Despite losing some stars, Minnesota is 12-0-0 so far this year and have out-scored opponents 52-16. The Minnesota women remain the most dominant team in college hockey.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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