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Thomas: NCAA contenders must prove it from Day 1

Thursday, 10.06.2011 / 8:59 AM / On Campus

By Bob Snow - NHL.com Correspondent

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Thomas: NCAA contenders must prove it from Day 1
The weekly NHL.com feature on the NCAA gets you ready for the start of the collegiate season by checking in with ex-Vermont star Tim Thomas and looking at each league's preseason polls.
Tim Thomas knows a little about new seasons for the 58 starting goaltenders and their teammates across the NCAA landscape as a new college campaign gets underway.

"I remember having all that youth and energy," Thomas said as he prepared to begin a new NHL season after leading the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

In recollecting four season-starting experiences at Vermont from 1993-97, Thomas, said, "If I gave any advice to the University of Vermont and all the other schools, I'd say don't wait to prove how good you are; start proving it from the first game of the season."

Top five NCAA-related SCF milestones

5. The Canucks’ 25-man roster included 13 former college players; a minimum of eight and up to 11 saw playing time during each of the seven games, led by Kevin Bieksa (Bowling Green) and Ryan Kesler (Ohio State).

"College hockey changed a lot through the last 10 years," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said in June. "When we came in (from Sweden in 2000), there were a lot of college players, but that has changed with even more now."

4. Vancouver's Tanner Glass (Dartmouth), Chris Higgins (Yale), and Aaron Volpatti (Brown) represented a first-ever trio of Ivy League players for one team in a Cup Final.

"You don't see too many of us (Ivy leaguers)," especially on the same team, Glass said. "The smaller (college) arenas and bigger players is a big factor for us to get here with that grinding style."

3. Five Canucks with NCAA roots were first-round NHL draft picks, three by Vancouver:  Kesler at No. 23 (Ohio State), Jeff Tambellini at No. 27 in 2003 (Michigan), and Cory Schneider at No. 26 in 2004 (Boston College). In 2002, Keith Ballard was taken at No. 11 by Buffalo out of the University of Minnesota, and Higgins from Yale at No. 14 by Montreal.

"The stigma is gone that college players don't transfigure into good NHL players," Ballard said.  

2. When Vancouver's Chris Tanev took the ice in Game 5, he became the first-ever player from the Atlantic Hockey League to play in the Final. The former Rochester Institute of Technology defenseman played a regular shift in Games 6 and 7.

"You have to work hard and listen to advice from people," Tanev said before Game 5. "Try to play a smart game. A lot of guys at this level offer a lot of advice with the number of draft picks from college."

1. Until Tim Thomas' 4-0 shutout of the Canucks in Game 7, only three NHL starting goaltenders with NCAA roots had captured the Stanley Cup: North Dakota's Ed Belfour (Dallas, 1999), Wisconsin's Mike Richter (New York Rangers, 1994), and Cornell's Ken Dryden (Montreal, 1971). Dryden stood alone with a Cup and a Conn Smythe that same season until Thomas -- of Vermont fame -- became the only NCAA goaltender to win a Cup, a Smythe and a Vezina Trophy in the same season.

"I never thought of that," Thomas said Tuesday about his lofty niche. "I won the Ken Dryden Award (ECAC's Best Goaltender) one year."
This season brings a deluge of scuttlebutt about the 2013-14 season, and the biggest transformation in NCAA history with one new league, the dissolution of another, and realignment of existing ones -- which will be examined more next week.

Regardless, some 294 former NCAA players along with Thomas played in an NHL game last season, according to College Hockey, Inc., a growing number and percentage each of the past 10 years. Thomas and Vancouver rookie defenseman Chris Tanev created lasting NCAA-related milestones based on their Cup Final performances.

This week, the annual Ice Breaker Tournament is the marquee event to kick off the 64th season of Division I play. 

College Hockey, Inc., in conjunction with the University of North Dakota and Ralph Engelstad Arena, will host the Ice Breaker at one of college hockey's best venues, and it'll feature North Dakota against Air Force and Boston College facing Michigan State on Friday. The winners play Saturday.

In the preseason USCHO.com poll, it’s also fitting that the top-10 teams include all of last April’s Frozen Four teams, led by Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish lost in the national semifinals to Minnesota-Duluth, which then topped Michigan in the championship game for the Bulldogs' first-ever title.

Here's a summary of each league's preseason poll as the road begins to the 2012 Frozen Four and the national championship game April 7 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.

Atlantic Hockey League
The Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers have come to rule the Atlantic Hockey roost since joining Division I five years ago, and they were atop the league's preseason poll. They were the first program in the league to play in the Frozen Four (2010). Always formidable No. 2 Air Force is followed by Holy Cross, Niagara, Connecticut, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, Army, Canisius, Bentley, Sacred Heart and American International.

Central Collegiate Hockey Association
The CCHA, headed for dissolution in two years, finds Notre Dame atop one preseason poll for the second time since Jackson took over in 2005. The program played in the 2008 title game and lost last April’s semifinal game to champion Duluth. Miami -- tabbed at No. 1 in another poll -- and Michigan follow closely. Miami last made the title game in 2009, while Michigan got there in 2011. Western Michigan, Alaska, Michigan State, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Ohio State, Lake Superior, and Bowling Green round out Nos. 4-12.

Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey League
Yale tops the league poll for the third straight season as Keith Allain continues to build a haven for college hockey in New Haven, Conn. The overarching question is, can any ECACHL team win a national title for the first time since Harvard in 1989? Union, Cornell, Rensselaer, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, Colgate, Clarkson, Harvard, Princeton, St. Lawrence and Brown round out the poll of hopefuls.
 
Hockey East
No team in the NCAA landscape has played as deep into recent postseasons as No. 1 Boston College, with four Frozen Four trips in the past six seasons and two national titles. Their nemesis, No. 2 Boston University, won it all in 2010. These two are followed in the media poll by New Hampshire, Maine, and the nation's most improved program last season, Merrimack. Rounding out the poll are Vermont, Massachusetts, Northeastern, UMass-Lowell and Providence.

NHL.com's Top 10

1. Notre Dame
2. Miami
3. North Dakota
4. Denver
5. Boston College
6. Michigan
7. Colorado College
8. Minnesota-Duluth
9. Boston University
10. Yale
Western Collegiate Hockey Association
The league with the most national titles (36) again brings a complement of the most teams capable of winning it all in 2012. Led by preseason No. 1 Denver, throw a blanket of balance over the next four with Colorado College, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, and 2011 national champion Minnesota-Duluth making up the top five. Minnesota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech round out the deepest league in the country.

On Campus Clips: The Atlantic Hockey League’s 2012 postseason tournament will have a new format, and it's same as the neighboring ECAC, since both leagues have 12 teams. The top four teams will receive a bye in the first round. The first-round matchups will be between seeds 5-12, with 5 hosting 12, 6 hosting 11, etc., in best-of-three series. The top four seeds will host the four teams advancing from the first round, with re-seeding taking place. … A Hockey East doubleheader is scheduled for Jan. 7 at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox and the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. It will feature the University of Vermont Catamounts against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen at 4 p.m., followed by the University of New Hampshire Wildcats against the University of Maine Black Bears at 7:30 p.m. The back-to-back college hockey games are part of "Frozen Fenway 2012," a two-week series of ice events at the storied ballpark.
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