Monday, April 04, 2011

Frozen Four: Smurf-tastic?

One of the easiest shots to take at a pro prospect involves something he has no control over.

You can lift weights until you're buff, eat until you're puff, and you can learn how to play the game so you look like the stuff.

But there has yet to be a coach in any sport who could coach his player to be taller.

It's the biggest knock on UMD junior stars Jack and Mike Connolly*. It might be the only reason why Miami senior Andy Miele played his fourth year of college hockey, and has a shot at the Hobey Baker Award Friday.

(* - In case you didn't know this, they're not related!)

It's also the reason why Notre Dame freshman T.J. Tynan didn't get his name called at the NHL Draft. At five-eight and 156 pounds, Tynan is the leading scorer for the Fighting Irish, who battle the Connollys and UMD Thursday in the NCAA Frozen Four.

I haven't seen Tynan very much, but you can take the word of virtually everyone else. He's good, and the potential is there for him to be a great college hockey player.

"He is an extremely smart player," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "He knows how to find open people. He knows how to get open. Those are God-given skills that he has that allow him to be creative and make plays. Probably the thing that makes him most effective is that he competes so hard. He's not afraid to get to the dirty areas in front of the net."

The traits of a great small player are often similar. They know how to find people, they know how to get open themselves, they compete their rear ends off.

You could use any of those terms to describe a Connolly. Or a Miele. Or a Cepis. Or a Roe. They're all quite similar.

None of them may have a great amount of success in professional hockey, but that shouldn't stop anyone from talking about them in college hockey, or enjoying the kind of performances they can provide.

There's reason to believe that a "taller" player -- like Notre Dame's Anders Lee or Calle Ridderwall or Mike Johnson, or UMD's Travis Oleksuk, Justin Fontaine, J.T. Brown, Justin Faulk, or Kenny Reiter -- will decide this game with a big play.

However, fans of the college game should have no trouble enjoying Thursday's tournament opener. While both teams have guys with (at least what we think are) solid pro futures, players like Tynan and the Connollys are what make the college game unique and often exciting.

That's not to say that the three "Smurfs" -- as they're probably going to be called by someone at some point -- can't play in the NHL. But not every smallish college hockey star turns into Martin St. Louis. He's quite the exception to the rule.

UMD is the home team Thursday, meaning they have the choice of matchups. With an unfamiliar opponent, it's likely that coach Scott Sandelin will try a few matchups out before he finds any he likes. Two keys to watch here are who he puts the Connolly line out with, and which line he tries to match against Jake Hendrickson's third line, which includes Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba and has earned high marks lately for hard work and sound defensive zone play.

1 comment:

Bulldog Fan in Circle Pines said...

I hope that both the Connolly's have great pro careers. I just hope its after their senior year at UMD.