The first games of the NHL playoffs are still a month away, but elimination hockey is already underway in leagues across the globe and inching closer in a few others.
These can be important times for prospects, as players on good teams get to partake in do-or-die elimination hockey and face the pressures of chasing championships, which can be valuable learning experiences for a player’s development.
To phrase it a different way, learning how to handle the pressure and adversity of playoff hockey in other leagues can make a player more capable of handling the pressure and adversity of the NHL later on in their career.
A prospect doesn’t need these sorts of experiences to be successful later on, of course, but they can nevertheless be a big boost to a player’s development.
The postseason is now underway in the NCAA, Finland’s Liiga, and Sweden’s top two leagues, while playoffs in the CHL leagues aren’t far behind. Let’s check it on how things are going for the Stars prospects whose seasons are still alive.
North American Juniors
Jake Oettinger stopped 36 of 37 shots on Saturday to complete a weekend sweep of the University of Connecticut, after making 36 saves on 40 shots on Friday. Boston University moves on to the Hockey East semifinals where they will face their in-city rivals, Boston College.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Oettinger, but he’s turned his game around a lot as of late, starting at the World Juniors. He’s been finding a way to keep his mind clear and focused, which is an enormously important thing for goalies to do, and it has been paying dividends for him.
“Early on, we weren’t exactly where we needed to be,” Oettinger said in a recent interview. “It was a learning experience the entire season, especially for myself. Just trying to bring the same mindset and attitude to the rink every week has been big for me, no matter what happens on the weekend. I’ve learned to just keep the same attitude and work ethic and know that it will pay off on the weekends.”
For the Stars’ other NCAA goaltender, however, a magical season has come to an untimely end, as Colton Point and the Colgate Raiders were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. Point stopped 31 of 32 shots in a win on Friday and then 31 of 34 in a 3-0 loss on Saturday. Badly outgunned and outplayed all weekend aside from Point’s heroics, things finally came tumbling down for Colgate on Sunday, as Clarkson completed the 2-1 series win with a 5-1 victory.
This likely won’t be the last that we hear about Point this season, however. He’s in the running for a number of awards, including the NCAA’s top goaltender and the prestigious Hobey Baker award.
Riley Tufte had one goal as the University of Minnesota-Duluth toppled Western Michigan, putting them into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff mini-tournament.
Rhett Gardner and the University of North Dakota are also off to the Frozen Faceoff after taking out Omaha. They will now face St. Cloud State while UMD will meet Denver, with the two winning teams playing in the championship game on Saturday. This means that there’s a chance that Tufte and Gardner could go head-to-head in a single elimination game.
Joe Cecconi and the University of Michigan lost to Ohio State in the Big 10 semifinals, but could still advance to the NCAA tournament thanks to how well they played in the regular season. How does that work? Well... it’s complicated, to say the least.
Jason Robertson had seven points over three games for the Kingston Frontenacs. One of the best teams in the OHL, Kingston has easily and safely locked up a playoff spot.
So too have the Hamilton Bulldogs, of which Nick Caamano is a member. The very best team in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, there’s a good chance that Caamano gets to experience a lot of playoff hockey this spring.
Liam Hawel and the Guelph Storm squeaked into a playoff spot recently, but it’s looking likely that they’ll have to face a powerhouse team in the opening round of the playoffs in two weeks no matter what.
Despite some occasionally incredible play as of late, center Brett Davis will miss the playoffs this season, as the Kootenay Ice have been officially eliminated.
On the flip side of that spectrum, the Everett Silvertips are the top team in the WHL’s Western Conference, meaning that Ondrej Vala could get to enjoy a nice playoff run with the club he joined mid-season.
Miro Heiskanen will get a beneficial break in what has been a hectic season for him, as his HIFK team gets to wait for a week until their opening round playoff series kicks off on March 21.
Jakob Stenqvist and Jacob Peterson are fighting as members of their Bjorkloven team to elevate from the second-tier Allsvenskan league to the upper-tier SHL, a tradition in Swedish professional hockey. Bjorkloven has won the first two games of that playoff tournament, which is also incredibly complicated, with Stenqvist picking up two assists.
John Nyberg and his Frolunda club start a best-of-seven playoff series against Malmo on Monday.
When it comes to the AHL playoffs, the Texas Stars are currently in the midst of one nasty race in the Pacific Division, with teams narrowly ahead and behind them.
Texas took some important points at a crucial time last week, with two wins and an overtime loss, thanks primarily to goaltender Landon Bow, who bailed out a team in front of him that is having trouble generating shots and goals lately.
Gavin Bayreuther had a goal and an assist in those three games, while Roope Hintz scored once as well. Dillon Heatherington had two helpers.
Texas has 14 regular season games remaining on its schedule.
2018 NHL Draft Watch
Power center Jack McBain has something of a knack for international events.
He starred for Canada at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament and then again this past December at the World Junior A Challenge. With his OJHL team now out of the playoffs, the path is clear for McBain to once again don Canada’s red and white, this time at the IIHF U18s.
McBain is a pivotal player that possesses a tantalizing blend of size and skill. He doesn’t take those things for granted, however, as he also applies quite an impressive work ethic and physical game to contribute on the ice.
Headed to Boston College in the fall, McBain could be a very powerful player to play against after he spends a few years developing in the NCAA.