By John Bishop, BostonBruins.comBoston --
With the National Hockey League and college hockey seasons in full swing, the annual Beanpot and Hockey East Tournaments coming soon to the TD Banknorth Garden, and the Stanley Cup Tournament a distinct possibility for Boston, last week's 5-4 Bruins victory over the Penguins had more than just the usual level of excitement over a Bruins win.
Beyond the obvious thrill of an NHL victory, there was a distinct sense of happy nostalgia throughout the contest as several former New England area NCAA players were back in Boston. With the on-ice reunion of those special players, the Garden proved that it continues to be a showcase for all of the great skaters that collegiate hockey can, and does, produce every season.
Furthermore, the frenetic game between the Bruins and Penguins also proved, yet again, that beyond the happy accident of having New England's best and brightest return home with their professional club, the best way to catch the NHL's future superstars is a ticket to the Annual Beanpot Tournament or Hockey East Championship Tournament.
Just by fortuitous circumstance, Beanpot alumni Andrew Alberts, Bobby Allen, Brooks Orpic, Rob Scuderi (all from Boston College), Dominic Moore, Noah Welch (both from Harvard), and Ryan Whitney (who played for Boston University) all graced the Garden's ice when Pittsburgh fell to Boston on Thursday, January 18th.
And despite the lack of representation on the ice, Northeastern University certainly held sway elsewhere -- namely the Penguins front office, where former Huntington Hounds players and coaches, Jay Heinbuck (Director of Amateur Scouting) and Jim Madigan (amateur scout for the New England area) plot personnel moves.
Looking beyond the Beanpot school alums, the game also featured Mark Mowers, who joined Alberts, Allen, Orpic, Scuderi and Whitney in representing Hockey East.
Mowers, a Bruins forward, captained the UNH Wildcats and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his senior season of 1997-98. Allen, a B's defenseman who was making his first professional appearance in the Garden, played four seasons at Boston College alongside the Pen's Orpic and Scuderi, and was instrumental in BC's 2001 National Championship.
Another Bruins D-man, Alberts, was also a BC stalwart on the blue line for four seasons, and filled Allen's spot in the BC defensive corps after the elder player had graduated, earned All-American honors in 2004 and 2005, and won the Hockey East Tournament title in 2005 -- just days before signing with the Bruins and going to the playoffs with the Providence (AHL).
And while you are at it, you can add Bruins forward Jeff Hoggan (University of Nebraska - Omaha), rookie Phil Kessel (University of Minnesota) and goalie Tim Thomas
(whose University of Vermont Catamounts played in the ECAC when he was a student, but who now compete in Hockey East) as examples of how important U.S. college hockey has become to the NHL and hockey in general -- and a reminder that the Garden has also served as the home of the NCAA's Frozen Four.
However, it was probably Allen, in particular, who was probably the most nostalgic person in the building. After being Boston's second pick (52nd overall) in 1998, the Cushing Academy graduate had a very circuitous route to make the Bruins following his graduation from BC in 1998.
Stops in Providence, Hamilton, Edmonton, Hamilton (again), Toronto, Albany, Providence (again) preceded his recent promotion to the NHL and the defenseman spoke, from the heart, for many former Beanpot and Hockey East players when he gave credit to and credits his time in college for helping him succeed in the pros.
And apparently the mentoring goes on and on, long after a college career ends.
"(BC head coach Jerry York) sent me a text message," said Allen before his first Bruins game, just days earlier. "He let me know he was thinking about me and let me know he'll be watching the game…Coach has been great to me over the years and it's good that he gave me a ring and wished me luck."
College hockey, and tournaments like the Beanpot and Hockey East, gave Allen the building blocks necessary for a rise through the professional hockey ranks and the great circle route back to the Garden.
"I learned so much when I was (at BC)," said Allen. I think (most importantly) the simple things about the game (and) Coach York has been around the game for such a long time so you get a great base of knowledge for how to play hockey and how to prepare yourself to play in the next level.
(BC) has had a lot of NHL guys who have played under him and he used to talk to us all the time about preparation…and what you need to do to get to the next level, be it conditioning or playing on the ice.
"So coach has been instrumental to my success so far in my career and I owe a lot, not only to Coach York, but the entire staff at BC."
So, if you are interested in catching a rising star before they head to Pittsburgh, Canada or wherever the NHL leads them, grab a ticket to the Beanpot and/or Hockey East Tournament.
Who knows what you'll learn?