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March 28. 2013 10:09PM

Teams' pro prospects take center stage

MANCHESTER



LET'S START with a few guys who are not here for the 2013 NCAA Northeast Regional: Drew Shore, Beau Bennett and Jason Zucker.

The point is, all three could have been here. All played for the University of Denver last season and all had collegiate eligibility remaining. In fact, Zucker and Bennett were only sophomores last year.

All three elected to leave school and play professionally.

And get this: All three have played in the National Hockey League this year. The Minnesota Wild recently sent Zucker down to the Houston Aeros, but Shore is playing with the Florida Panthers and Bennett with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"That would have been a pretty good line," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky with a bit of a smile.

You think? See, that's the thing with college hockey and this regional in particular: The guys playing for Denver or New Hampshire in an arena near you today may be playing professionally in an arena near you tomorrow or next season.

This regional, as usual, is filled with professional prospects. Many have been drafted by NHL teams, many others will look to sign on as free agents when their college days are done.

See that guy sitting a couple of rows over with the notebook? He may be an NHL scout with an eye on a particular player or two, perhaps undrafted UNH sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk or junior forward Kevin Goumas.

Wisconsin leads the prospects list here.

Nine Badgers have been drafted by NHL teams. Seven of Denver's players are the draft property of NHL teams. Two of UMass Lowell's top players have been drafted.

Only one UNH player this weekend, Eric Knodel, a 6-foot-6 junior defenseman, has been drafted. He was a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009.

This is the draft year for Wildcat freshman defenseman Brett Pesce, who is 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds and turned 18 in November, and professional scouts have been watching him all season.

Some projections have Pesce being drafted as high as the second round.

They are a couple of the guys to keep an eye on tonight when No. 2 seed UNH takes on No. 3 Denver in the second of two semifinals. No. 1 seed UMass Lowell and No. 4 Wisconsin get the regional going at 4:30.

Each team has a roster full of players who hope to play for pay some day.

UMass Lowell's standout freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck was taken in the fifth round by the Winnipeg Jets last year. Sophomore forward Scott Wilson went to Pittsburgh in the seventh round in 2011.

Freshman Nic Kerdiles, who helped Wisconsin turn its season around this season, was picked by Anaheim in the second round last year.

Denver and Wisconsin each have a forward who could be playing again at the Verizon before long.

The leading scorer for each team is a junior and each was drafted in 2011 by the Los Angeles Kings - Shore in the third round and Mersch in the fourth round - and may one day end up spending time with the Manchester Monarchs.

Nick Shore has 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points for Denver and Michael Mersch has 23 goals and 13 assists for 36 for Wisconsin.

Shore's brother, Drew, finished his junior season last year and was one of the three forwards who left Denver early. Their younger brother, Quentin, is a Pioneer freshman and has nine goals and nine assist for 18 points.

Nick Shore said on Thursday before his team practiced that he likes the Verizon and all, but isn't thinking about life beyond college at the moment.

"I'm not paying too much attention to anything else right now," he said. "Everyone in that locker room is really focused on this weekend."

Gwozdecky said he and his staff expected Drew Shore might leave after last season.

"But that was a big hole," he said. "We didn't anticipate losing all three. We took a pretty big hit offensively."

He's not sure how long Nick Shore will stay around.

"Based upon our past, I do anticipate losing him," the coach said. "But I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed. We stay in close contact with Los Angeles and I know what they're looking at. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they decide to have him stay another year and keep building on his game and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they decide to take him out."

Mersch said earlier this month in a Wisconsin paper that he was in no rush to leave the Badgers.

For this weekend, maybe longer, Shore and Mersch and dozens of others are all about the old college try and will attempt and lead their teams to a regional championship and into the Frozen Four.



alessels@unionleader.com

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