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) and collegiate level(USHL, NCAA).
A single-elimination tournament is a format for great stories and upsets, and a playoff structure that doesn't leave much of a chance to teams to prove themselves. It's sudden death, there's no room for error, and a drop in performance doesn't forgive.
St. Cloud State University learned that the hard way.
One game in and they are out. All it took was a disciplined Air Force Academy playing a compact defensive game, defending at their blue line and closing the middle of the ice, and the Huskies were eliminated on the opening day.
They had 39 shots on goal, yet only one went in. Billy Christopoulos, who has had an exceptional season for Air Force, stood on his head and completely suffocated any hopes St. Cloud could have had to come back in the third period. A 16th seed beating the number-one team in a tournament is a very rare feat, and Christopoulos should be given much of the credit.
Ryan Poehling #11, C, St. Cloud State Huskies
Ryan Poehling had a good game for the Huskies. He played with a competitive fire, but it was not enough with the kind of goaltending performance Air Force had to back them up. Down 2-0, Poehling had an amazing chance to put his team on the board. But a sprawling save from Christopoulos robbed him of what should have been a sure goal.
It could have been the turning point of the game, but instead it was a reassurance for the underdogs that they could hold on and pull off the upset.
Still, Poehling didn't stop trying to create for his team until the clock ran out. All season long, he was tasked with carrying the puck into the offensive zone for his team and making plays happen once the Huskies established their presence. And that's what he kept doing.
Poehling once again showed that he's an expert at pulling off east-west passes, be it with quick execution or head and body fakes. By looking off his target and misdirecting the entire defence into thinking he was shooting, he gave one last great chance to Robby Jackson to capitalize on one of his passes. Unfortunately, Jackson couldn't make contact with the puck while off balance, missing a chance to deflect it into what would have been an empty net.
This sequence was a last look this season at what may become of Poehling's aptitude at controlling the game as he matures and becomes even more precise in his execution.
The season ended on a disappointing note for him, but in a couple of weeks he will likely be able to look back with pride at everything that he accomplished on a personal level: 31 points in his sophomore year to the 13 of his freshman season, and that while being trusted with the hardest matchups in the NCAA.
Player evaluations will be coming in the next few months, but I would guess that Poehling's stock will be rising, as his perceived potential did over the last season. He is part of the younger core of St. Cloud and he is not done improving in the great environment that it provides.
The future of the St. Cloud State Huskies remains obscure right now. Veterans like Robby Jackson, Mikey Eyssimont and Jimmy Schuldt will have choices to make and could be leaving college to pursue professional hockey. The face of the team could be a different one starting next year.
What is sure is that Ryan Poehling will be called upon to play an even bigger role in a different formation, and he might have to shoulder some of the missing offensive production.
A change of coach and system could also be beneficial for him. Each new instructor comes with a different approach to the game, and Poehling should pick up new tricks and get a new perspective on his play. Bob Motzko, leaving for the Gophers, held his young centre in high esteem, but now the first-rounder will have to prove himself again. And that may not be a bad thing.
In an interview with the St. Cloud Times, Poehling said that he wants to join the NHL only when he sees himself as ready. His objective is to grow into his body and as a player to be able to make an immediate impact in the toughest league in the world when he gets there.
In the meantime, Poehling continues to play with something to prove as he looks to become a dominant player at any level.
''People were worried last year when they didn’t see the offensive boost (..). Nowadays, they are so quick to judge, so they didn’t think I’d have it. But it’s good this year to show: that’s the player I am. (..) I'm excited to come back next year even stronger.'' - St. Cloud Times
He is still at the beginning of his path to the NHL, but there are things we can already see clearly in the distance, qualities that have shone brightly this year, lighting up what has otherwise been a sombre season for the Montreal Canadiens.
Jake Evans #18 C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame looks destined to play as long as possible in the post-season. They won both their Frozen Faceoff games and are now headed to the biggest hockey tournament in the country.
While this may not please Habs fan looking at the calendar and the possibility of enticing Evans to sign a contract by having him burn a year off an ELC with pro hockey time, for the senior, this is another chance at the Frozen Four that he greatly hoped to have.
Last year, the Irish lost to Denver, the eventual champion of the NCAA, in the first game of the contest. This time, Evans could get his revenge and give his college career a fairy-tale ending by winning it all.
It's something that could very well happen as Notre Dame is a great all-around team with arguably the best goalie in the country. But what characterizes them the most is their flair for the dramatic. The team has won close games all season long, and they proved that it's a recipe that works for them by doing it again not once, but twice this weekend.
Friday, the game was tied two successive times by Michigan Tech and required overtime.
Midway through the period, after a long shift for most players on the ice, a puck saved by Cale Morris trickled through his legs. It was barely swept away inches from the goal line. Too tired to defend, the Irish could barely reform defensively.
But this is where the magic happened.
The puck went to the blue line where a shot attempted by a Michigan Tech defenceman broke his stick, instantly creating an opportunity to rush the other way for Evans' line.
Cam Morrison was stopped by the opposing goalie on the first scoring chance. The puck then went to the corner and was given to Evans. He circled behind the net and slipped it to Jordan Gross who shot through traffic.
Gross earned Notre Dame a chance to play for a spot at the Frozen Four with his second goal of the game.
Here's the clip with sound. It's worth it.
Notre Dame's weekend run didn't stop there, as we know.
Saturday, after going up 1-0 over Providence — a goal on which Evans recorded another assist — Notre Dame gave up the lead yet again.
This time, with 27 seconds left in the game, Cal Burke carried the puck into Providence's zone and dumped it for Andrew Oglevie, who found Dylan Malmquist open in front of the net, and he beat Habs prospect Hayden Hawkey for the win.
Notre Dame's run in the Frozen Four will start April 5. We are likely in for an amazing spectacle.
Cayden Primeau and Hayden Hawkey will be covered in a separate article tomorrow.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
NCAA/USHL weekly performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||0||2||2|
|Nikolas Koberstein||RD||WCHA||Alaska-Fairbanks||Season over|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||1||0||0||0|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||38||11||29||42|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||36||14||17||31|