Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL), collegiate (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level.
Catching The Torch will be taking a break next week. Thank you to all readers of the series. Your continued support is appreciated. The articles will be back on March 6.
The NCAA playoffs start in just a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, getting the top spot in the conference remains the target for the best teams around the league as it gives an automatic qualification to the Frozen Four tournament, and a chance to win the ultimate prize in college hockey.
The Notre-Dame Fighting Irish and Jake Evans are a lock for the top spot in the Big Ten with their impressive 16-5-2 record. They were undefeated for a large part of the season against opponents within their conference and acquired a pretty big lead over anyone else as a result.
St. Cloud State and Ryan Poehling have just got back their title of top team in the country this week, winning a close poll over some other strong organizations like Notre Dame and Cornell. St. Cloud also accumulated a five-point lead over Denver at the top of the NCHC. But things could change fast as they face them next weekend with six points on the line.
Hayden Hawkey’s Providence and Cayden Primeau’s Northeastern have the next best chance of making it to the Frozen Four as they sit second and third, respectively, in Hockey East, just a few points back of Boston College in first. But even if getting in the top spot proves to be unattainable for the two schools, they are still part of the top 16 in the NCAA rankings, and should therefore get an invitation to the tournament.
With how things are looking, four Montreal prospects south of the border could compete late in the season for the NCAA Cup. There should be some exciting hockey to watch for Habs fan in April.
Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State
Poehling is back on track with a three-point performance this weekend, after previously recording the same number of points in his last six games. Up and downs are expected in a season for any player, especially such a young one, but it must be good for Poehling to come out of his series against Western Michigan with his most productive weekend in a while.
On Friday, as he has on a few of his goals this year, the St. Cloud State centre found the back of the net by banging in a rebound in front of the net, taking advantage of the scrum to find the puck and elevate it past the goalie. It was his eighth goal of the season, which means he has now surpassed his total from 2016-17 in 10 fewer games.
He also picked up an assist in that same game. With the Huskies down 4-3 late in the third period, Poehling placed himself low in the zone to be an option to sustain his team's cycle. After receiving a pass, he dropped the puck behind his back to Mika Ilvonen, who beat Western Michigan's goalie with a tough-angle shot, tying the game and sending the teams to overtime.
It wouldn't be a St. Cloud State game without a couple of nice passes from Poehling that unfortunately don't result in goals. The Habs prospect seems to know where to send the puck to create dangerous scoring chances as soon as he receives it, and he creates those with often very few touches, as he anticipates player movement around him.
Poehling also had a few of his own occasions to fire on net against Michigan and could have easily scored more than one goal if he had been more opportunistic. He has been using his shot more and trying to pick his spots when firing instead of just getting it on net.
In the last few months, he also seems to have greatly reduced the times he is forcing passes to teammates, while getting himself in a scoring area with a chance at beating the goalie.
The best play from Poehling this weekend was his assist in the second game. It exemplified everything he does so well.
We often talk about the centreman's ability to be a timely support to his teammates, and the fact that he is positioned appropriately the majority of the time. Those aspects of his play enable him to control the game starting from the defensive zone.
By hustling on the ice to pressure the puck-carrier along with other defenders, he is often the player to retrieve pucks as soon as they are separated from opponents. He can then orchestrate the breakout by carrying the play out of the zone or making a precise pass to a teammate. He doesn't get rid of possession, putting his team into trouble, but instead makes sure that he finds an open target for his pass, even pulling off a few moves to free up such a target if he has to.
The confidence he shows in possession in the defensive zone is another reason why he's someone who will be used repeatedly for defensive missions no matter where he plays.
On Saturday, with his team down by a goal in the third period, Poehling came down from the neutral zone sticking to an opponent presented himself as a pass option for the puck-carrier. As soon as he saw the player going up the boards for a reversal play with his defenceman, Poehling took a route to follow him, staying in between the puck and the net.
When possession was lost by the other team, Poehling was, once again, in a perfect position to retrieve the puck and exit the zone. He made his way to the other side of the ice, attracted the attention of both Western Michigan defenders by threateningly skating to the offensive blue line through the middle. As he was about to get collapsed upon, he passed to his brother, Jack, creating a lane for him to carry the puck deeper in the zone.
Jack attempted a shot that, fortunately, found the back of the net and tied the game en route to a 4-2 win for St. Cloud.
As his other brother Nick was the one who took the puck away from Western Michigan in the defensive zone before Ryan picked it up, this goal was a true family affair for the Poehlings, who represent one of the better stories of St. Cloud hockey this season.
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NCAA/USHL weekly performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||0||1||1|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||1||2||3|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||32||9||24||33|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||26||8||17||25|
Goalies weekly performance
Goalies season to date