If last weekend’s conference tournament games didn’t get you good and warmed up for championship weekend, I don’t know what will. Eight series needed to be decided in a Game 3. Now we move on to the conference semifinals and finals and this is the weekend where players can cement legacies. With conference hardware and automatic bids to the national tournament on the line, the intensity of championship weekend never ceases to amaze and big time players always seem to find a way to step up.
We’ll have a full preview of the weekend’s festivities Friday, but I thought we’d use our “where are they now?”-style feature to catch up with the heroes and supporting players from last year’s thrilling championship weekend. Several players have already made an impact in the NHL, some are still right where they were last year, looking to help their teams repeat 2016-17’s postseason success this weekend and beyond.
The Frozen Faceoff final has provided great theater over each of the last four seasons. Last year’s championship game between the University of Minnesota Duluth and University of North Dakota was an instant classic. North Dakota came all the way back from a 3-1 deficit with just 2:46 to go in regulation, but a pair of penalties against the Fighting Hawks late led to a two-man advantage for the Bulldogs with the game on the line.
The Hero: Joey Anderson
The freshman phenom scored with 50.3 seconds remaining when his pass deflected off a UND defenseman and into the net.
Where is he now? Right where he was last year. Now a sophomore, Anderson has 26 points in 30 games for the Bulldogs. He also served as captain for the U.S. National Junior Team earlier this season.
The Supporting Cast
Brock Boeser scored the game’s first goal for UND and also had an assist in the game. This year he’s been one of the top rookies in the NHL with 29 goals and 55 points for the Vancouver Canucks. Boeser unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury last week, but is expected to make a full recovery.
Tyson Jost was involved in all three North Dakota goals, scoring one himself in that game. This season, Jost has appeared in 52 games with the Colorado Avalanche. On Tuesday night he scored his ninth goal of the season against the Minnesota Wild in the same building his former UND teammates will be vying for the NCHC title again.
Alex Iafallo had two assists in the game to help the Bulldogs earn the title. This season, he’s had a very strong rookie year with the Los Angeles Kings. Iafallo has played many different roles, including seeing some time on the Kings’ top line, and has 24 points in 67 games.
Bulldogs goalie Hunter Miska made 32 saves in the game. After backstopping the Bulldogs to a national runner-up finish, Miska signed with the Arizona Coyotes. He’s spent most of the season in the AHL with the Tuscon Roadrunners, where he has appeared in 28 games. Miska was called up at one point by the Coyotes but hasn’t yet appeared in a NHL game.
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UMass-Lowell managed to hold off a Boston College comeback in the latter stages of the Hockey East final to earn a 4-3 win. That earned the River Hawks their third title in five years under Norm Bazin.
The Hero: C.J. Smith
Smith had three points in the game and was one of Lowell’s best players throughout the year. He earned tournament MVP honors. Smith closed out the season and signed with the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent. He’s played primarily in the AHL this season, posting 39 points in 50 games for the Rochester Americans.
The Supporting Cast
Joe Gambardella scored what would stand as the game-winning goal for the River Hawks. He finished the season as the team’s leading scorer with 52 points and earned a contract from the Edmonton Oilers. Gambardella spent the season with their AHL team, the Bakersfield Condors, and has collected 13 points in 36 games.
UMass Lowell beats Yale in OT, Joe Gambardella with the winner on a nice feed from the corner pic.twitter.com/LbYgQ1wfJJ— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 27, 2016
Ryan Fitzgerald scored a late goal to give BC life in the game, but it ultimately was not enough to get past Lowell. After completing his senior season at BC, the Bruins draft pick signed a pro deal and immediately joined the AHL’s Providence Bruins. Fitzgerald has had a solid rookie season with the P-Bruins with 27 points in 51 games so far this season.
Penn State achieved a major program milestone by winning its first Big Ten title. They beat one of college hockey’s blue bloods, Wisconsin, in a thrilling game that was decided in double OT featuring a rather unlikely hero.
The Hero: Liam Folkes
Having only scored four goals coming into the Big Ten final last season, the then-freshman was more of a fourth-line role player for the Nittany Lions. Folkes however ended up scoring the first and last goals of the game, with the first coming in the opening period and the last coming 6:43 into the second overtime. Folkes is still at Penn State and actually doubled his goal total from last season. He and the Nittany Lions await their fate for the national tournament now.
The Supporting Cast
Another freshman, Peyton Jones, had an incredible game to help the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title. He made 51 saves in the final, allowing just one goal. This year, Jones appeared in 34 games for Penn State, posting a .906 save percentage and 2.98 goals-against average.
Luke Kunin registered an assist on Wisconsin’s only goal of the game. After serving as captain as a sophomore, Kunin signed a pro contract with the Minnesota Wild who had taken him 15th overall in 2016. He made an immediate impact at the AHL level following his college season and earned some NHL time this year.
He was expected to help bolster Minnesota’s depth for a playoff run, but unfortunately suffered a torn ACL and is done for the season. He appeared in 19 NHL games this year, putting up two goals and two assists.
Harvard will hope to repeat their success of last season which saw them winning the ECAC with a 4-1 victory over Cornell in the final. Leading the way were a couple of players that are still with the team.
The Hero: Ryan Donato
Ryan Donato scored two goals to help propel the Crimson to their championship win over Cornell. Now a junior, he hasn’t stopped scoring big goals. He has 26 so far this season and has shown no signs of slowing. In addition to his excellent performance all season with Harvard, Donato represented the U.S. at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
He scored five goals to lead that team as well. He’s been an offensive machine this year.
The Supporting Cast
Adam Fox had two assists in the game and remains one of the premier playmakers among defensemen in college hockey this year. The Calgary Flames draft pick has a team-best 21 assists and is third for Harvard with 27 points. He was one of the key players for the U.S. National Junior Team that won bronze in January.
Among those that moved on after that game was then-captain Alexander Kerfoot, who registered an assist in the game. This season, Kerfoot has been a key forward for the Colorado Avalanche. The 23-year-old rookie has 36 points in 66 games.
Michigan Tech earned an autobid to the national tournament with a thrilling 3-2 double-overtime victory over Bowling Green.
It was the Huskies’ second appearance in three years. They’ll look to make it three in four in an all-UP final in the WCHA this year as they take on local rival Northern Michigan.
The Hero: Shane Hanna
Senior defenseman Shane Hanna gave the Huskies the huge win 6:35 into the second overtime. He also had an assist earlier in the game and ended up finishing second on the team with 27 points and earned himself a professional contract. This season, Hanna has been playing primarily for the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads, but has earned multiple call-ups to play for the Texas Stars in the AHL.
Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson had brought the Huskies back to respectability after serving many years as an assistant at the University of Michigan. A former Husky himself, Pearson finished with a 118-92-29 record before moving on. This year, he’s helped put Michigan into position for an at-large bid to this year’s NCAA tournament.
Bowling Green’s Alec Rauhauser had an assist in that game which was merely a preview of what was to come. The sophomore blueliner was recently named the WCHA’s defenseman of the year after putting up 39 points in 41 games this season.
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Air Force had a heck of a postseason run last year, earning the Atlantic Hockey title and then winning their first round matchup with Western Michigan in the NCAA tournament. In a tight Atlantic final, Air Force earned a 2-1 win to get the autobid to the national tourney.
The Hero: Shane Starrett
Starrett’s sophomore campaign was an impressive one as he finished the year with a .925 save percentage. He made 24 saves in the Atlantic final, including 12 in the third period to keep Robert Morris at bay and allow the Falcons to skate off with a 2-1 victory.
Starrett made the decision to turn pro after last season, signing a deal with the Edmonton Oilers. He’s spent most of the year getting pro reps in the ECHL, but has earned a few AHL call-ups as he looks to work his way up in the organization.