A bonus of Division I college hockey these days, aside from rooting for the ol’ alma mater, is the fun of watching prospects before they reach the NHL.
Take the UNH-Michigan series last weekend in Durham, for example. The tradition-proud Wolverines, who have been somewhat down the last few years, skated seven NHL draft picks, including a pair of 2019 first-round draftees, defenseman Cam York (14th overall pick, Flyers) and forward Johnny Beecher (30th overall pick, Bruins).
Seven NHL picks is a lot for any college team, but future UNH opponents Boston College (12), Boston University (12) and Northeastern (eight) can top that. UConn and Providence College, with seven each, can equal that. UNH has five picks, by the way, including goalie Mike Robinson of Bedford, a 2015 third-rounder (Sharks).
They’re like Fisher Cats games, where you can envision prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette someday playing at Rogers Centre. (Hey, that happened!). Watching Beecher invited the same kind of thoughts, of the big freshman (6-3, 210) busting down the left wing and someday scoring at TD Garden.
So how did Beecher look? I’d give him a “B” for the weekend. He poked home a power-play goal from the doorstep on Friday night when no Wildcat seemed interested in defending him. Then he added an empty-net goal for the 4-1 final. On Saturday, he had one shot and one minor penalty and watched as UNH’s Angus Crookshank (fifth round of the 2018 draft, Senators) wristed home the game winner in overtime, sending most in the crowd of 6,038 home happy.
Fellow Bruins draftee Jack Becker, a seventh-round pick in 2015, looked just as good for the Wolverines, using his size (6-4, 205) effectively in the corners. Becker, a junior, scored a fortuitous goal on Friday in the second period when he hopped right out of the penalty box to a waiting loose puck, skated in and scored.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, are off to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to play in the Friendship Four tournament on Friday and Saturday. UNH plays Northeastern on Friday — “Breakfast with the Wildcats and Huskies, 10 a.m., NESN — and face either Princeton or Colgate on Saturday.
The Friendship Four is in its fifth year in Belfast. The teams are playing for a trophy called the Belpot, which may not be quite as important to Northeastern as, say, the Beanpot.
NU (8-4-2) is ranked 12th nationally and still pretty good after capturing the Hockey East tournament last season. Brendan van Riemsdyk, who transferred from UNH after last season as a graduate student, has one goal and two assists through 13 games.
Some other thoughts while watching four football games and two hockey games in a 49-hour span at the Whittemore Center and Wildcat Stadium ...
• Not everyone in Saturday’s hockey crowd went home happy. Dozens of maize- and blue-clad folks infiltrated the arena and even started a “Let’s Go Blue” chant in the third period. The New Hampshire trip was Michigan’s only visit to the East Coast this season.
Along with the Wolverines faithful came a few cheeky folks in their Ohio State garb.
• After beating rival Maine on Saturday, the UNH football team finished 6-5 and was one of the last four teams considered for the final spot in the FCS playoffs. The playoffs didn’t happen, but call 2019 a step forward. And color me optimistic about 2020 with LOTS of talent returning, including a battle-tested quarterback, Max Brosmer, who, remember, was playing against the likes of Chattahoochee High School at this time last year.
• Aside from James Madison (11-1) and Rhode Island (2-10), the CAA was as tightly packed as it has been in recent years. Thus, the conference landed only three postseason berths, which is a low number, historically speaking. After JMU and runner-up Albany, no team posted more than five conference wins and no team except URI had fewer than two.
In other words, everybody could beat everybody — and did.
• The nasty weather on Sunday kept some fans and the marching bands away, but those who did brave the elements saw some darn good high school football championships at Wildcat Stadium.
Two storylines matched the quality of the games: Trinity winning it all after not fielding a varsity team two years ago; and Londonderry’s perfection.
This observer came away impressed with Hollis/Brookline running back Marc-Andre Thermitus, who slashed for 167 yards on 20 carries in the Division II final against Plymouth Regional. Thermitus was limited by injuries this season, but he’s a junior, so there’s likely more good stuff to come next fall.
• A reminder: The Central-Memorial game on Thursday morning isn’t the only high school football game remaining. Tonight, Nashua North plays Nashua South at Stellos Stadium (6 p.m.) and Trinity hosts St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover at 6 p.m. in the first Bishop’s Bowl.
• Finally, we know of one Pinkerton Academy Astro who was an enthusiastic Londonderry Lancers fan this football season. Fisher Cats President Mike Ramshaw, who won a state football championship with the Astros in 1992, has two sons, Gabe, a senior, and Colby, a sophomore, who helped the Lancers to their state crown this season.
Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.