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Joey Kenward: Have you heard?

by Joey Kenward / Vancouver Canucks

Chances are you've never heard of Merrimack College.

And chances are, unless you're a die hard follower of college hockey players in the eastern United States, you've probably never heard of Joe Cannata. This weekend, you might want to follow both.

More from KENWARD

Joey Kenward is into his third season as the Canucks broadcaster/reporter for the Team 1040.

Follow Joey on Twitter: @kenwardskorner

Cannata was the only goaltender taken by the Canucks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Selected in the sixth round (173rd overall), Cannata was believed to be a decent puck-stopping prospect in his draft class.

At the time of him being drafted, he had completed his first year of NCAA hockey at Merrimack, located in North Andover, Massachusetts. Two years later, he has blossomed into one of the best college prospects the Canucks have in their system.

The native of Wakfield, MA is now 21 years old and has proved this season to be a premier goalie in the Hockey East Conference. As a Junior, he as appeared in all 36 games for his team, putting together a combined record of 24-8-4. What's even more impressive is that since the Christmas break, Cannata has helped the Warriors go 17-4-0.

"With Joe, he's in a lot better shape than what he was (conditioning wise) when he came to our first summer camp," says Stan Smyl, Canucks Senior Advisor to the General Manager. "He's been rewarded for his hard work and he's the best goalie I've seen in Hockey East this year."

Prior to his days in college, Cannata played for the US National Under-18 team, which included winning a gold medal at the 2008 U18 Five Nations tournament. This year, Cannata is one of a handful of goaltenders in college hockey who has started every game for his team, something that the Canucks have no problem with as far as a development process is concerned.

"When Cory Schneider played at Boston College, he carried the load," says Smyl, who among his responsibilities includes scouting and evaluating college players in North America. "Cory earned it then, and it's the same situation with Joe. He's earned it now."

This weekend, Smyl is off to Boston to watch the Hockey East championship tournament at TD Garden Arena. Of all the players in the four schools competing (others being New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Boston College), Cannata is the only Vancouver prospect in the tournament. With the season he's had, and perhaps a strong showing in the playoffs, it won't come as a shock to Smyl if Cannata is nominated as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's most prized individual honour.

"Joe has all the attributes that are required to be selected for that award," adds Smyl. "He's such a poised goalie, he doesn't get rattled, and where he's really good is making the second or third save when you think there's going to be a goal."

Cannata and Merrimack College face off against the University of New Hampshire Friday night. To follow Cannata's and Merrimack College's progress towards an appearance at the NCAA Frozen Four, check out

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