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Catching The Torch: Cayden Primeau’s best game of the year earns split with NCAA’s top team

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

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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 (NCAA) level.

Coming into last week, the University of Massachusetts was ranked the number one team in NCAA hockey. They represented a necessary challenge for Northeastern University, which, until a few days ago, had faced teams in games where they were mostly the favourite to win. The Huskies were not considered an elite team in the nation, but they have some good elements that could potentially elevate them to such a rank.

But, first, they needed to prove their worth against UMass.

The first game went badly, to say the least. The Minutemen took control of the game in the first period and never let go. Five goals on 22 shots. That’s not the standard of performance Cayden Primeau has accustomed everyone to. After close to half the game had been played, the coaching staff had seen enough and took the Habs prospect out of the game, unsatisfied with the showing of one of their top players and looking to spark the rest of the team into action.

It was the first time Primeau was pulled this season for his performance. But the move wasn’t enough to engineer a comeback after accumulating such a big deficit, and Northeastern fell 6-1 to UMass.

Head coach Jim Madigan spoke openly about how disappointed ohe was with his team at the end of the game:

It must have served as a wake-up call for the formation. The next night, facing the same opponent (but at home this time), they came to play.

Primeau stood tall, putting up his best performance of the NCAA season by a mile. His best quality is his ability to read the game and anticipate opponents’ moves. Those were on full display in this bounce-back performance.

He saw the puck well even through heavy traffic and responded to the passing plays of UMass with very quick movements from side to side, placing every available part of his equipment in the way of opposing shots. He was in control; a wall behind a defence that simply decided not to leave any room for the Minutemen attackers.

Despite Northeastern’s back end’s best effort, the powerhouse that is UMass still managed an incredibly high volume of shots. Primeau stopped 45 of them; the highest total he’s faced yet in his college career (his previous record being a 38-stop performance to win the Beanpot last year).

He allowed only one goal in the third period, as UMass tied the game 1-1. With a few seconds remaining in regulation, a turnover at the blue-line gave UMass an opportunity to sweep Northeastern in their weekend matchup.

Cale Makar, the Minutemen’s best player, stole the puck and came in alone on a breakaway. Jordan Harris sprinted back, rapidly catching up to Makar, but it was clear he was not arriving in time to stop a shot.

Primeau seemed completely unfazed. He came out of his crease to challenge the star NCAA defenceman, slowly glided back while cutting the angle. His glove never changed position, and Makar shot right on it. The puck deflected to the corner and Northeastern headed to overtime. Tyler Madden gave them the win in the extra frame with a beautiful backhand move on a 2-on-1.

Highlights of Cayden Primeau’s work on Saturday.

Primeau ended the night with a .978 save percentage after recording a .773 the night before. This game against UMass was a testament to the goalie’s mental strength and desire to be a difference-maker between the posts. It was another defining moment in what is shaping up to be a great NCAA career for him, full of memorable performances.

Jordan Harris, D, Northeastern

Harris also had himself a pretty good game. He picked up an assist on the game-winning goal with his work along the boards in the defensive zone. Using a few single-leg pushes, he slid out of a tight scrum with the puck and pushed it up the ice. It bounced over an opposing stick and sprung Tyler Madden for his breakaway goal.

But what stood out in his game was the attention to his defensive play. He was limiting the space the Minutemen had around the crease effectively, and using his stick to pokecheck the puck away on a few opposing entries. He still needs to work on his ability to angle and contain opponents along the boards, but was effective enough in a shutdown role. The fact that he was used for a lot of minutes on the top pairing with Jeremy Davies by the coaching staff speaks to that.

Harris was also one of the main forces driving Northeastern’s transitions in the game. It wasn’t all clean controlled exits and crisp passes, but he showed a distinct ability to evade the forecheck of UMass to come out with the puck, head up, facing his passing options.

Jordan Harris wears #2 with the Northeastern Huskies

Skating agility is probably the best tool Harris possesses, and with space to twist and turn, he can be a hard player to take away the puck from deep in the defensive zone. Speed of execution will come and his decision-making will be influenced by the experience he will gain.

Brett Stapley, C, Denver Pioneers

Stapley continues to impress with the Pioneers. He had another multi-point game on Saturday against Colorado College — two goals and an assist — to help his team tie the game. He then won it in overtime by beating the goalie in the shootout.

He earned both his goals by driving the net. On the first one he snuck to the far post, deflected a cross-ice pass on net, and skillfully picked up his own rebound to score. He scored the second one in the same spot by finding a loose puck to push in.

Brett Stapley wears #7 with the Denver Pioneers

His ability to be in the right spot at the right time is becoming evident. Stapley also has an understanding of how to manipulate the defence to create scoring chances for his team. On his assist, he received the puck, turned his back to the defence, and held on to possession for an extra second to attract multiple defenders, freeing Liam Finlay to create a backdoor play from a net drive.

Stapley, only in his freshman season with the Pioneers, remains a player to watch.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL BLB / ROU 66 43 37 80
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 65 16 27 43
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 33 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 62 34 35 69
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 59 34 60 94
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 67 29 44 73
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 41 8 22 30
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 62 9 38 47
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 59 16 59 75

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 37 4 11 15
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 25 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 32 7 23 30
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 35 0 10 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 34 1 11 12

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 23-9-1 2.05 0.935 4