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NHL players look back at defining NCAA moments

by Bob Snow /

They start each fall at 59 -- NCAA Division I teams, that is.

Sixteen go on to postseason play.

The winner of each of the four regionals advances to the Frozen Four. This year it will be Massachusetts-Lowell, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State and Yale participating at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center on April 11 and 13.

For the majority of all college players, each season ends like those of current Florida Panthers forward George Parros. He left Princeton in 2003 never having made the NCAA Tournament in four years.'s Top-10 NCAA title-winning contributions by current NHL players

* In the 2009 title game, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk assisted on the game-winning goal by Colby Cohen in overtime to lead Boston University to a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Miami. Matt Gilroy assisted on the tying goal by Nick Bonino with seven seconds left in regulation.

* In 2008, Buffalo Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe scored the tying and winning goals to lead his Boston College Eagles to a 4-1 championship game win over Notre Dame. Gerbe also assisted on the third and fourth BC goals.

* In the 2007 title game, Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader assisted on the tying goal and scored the game-winner, both in the third period, to lead Michigan State to three unanswered goals in a come-from-behind 3-1win over Boston College.

* The 2006 championship game featured the San Jose Sharks' tandem of Adam Burish and Joe Pavelski each assisting on the tying (Robbie Earl) and winning goal (Tom Gilbert) for Wisconsin in a 2-1 win over Boston College.

* Blues goaltender Brian Elliott was in goal for the 2006 title game and made 22 saves.

* In a 1-1 game entering the third period in Buffalo in 2003, the Sabres' Thomas Vanek took over, scoring the winning goal and assisting on the insurance goal in a 5-1 Minnesota win over New Hampshire.

* Before the home crowd at the Xcel Energy Center in 2002, former Hobey Baker winner for the University of Minnesota and current Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold assisted on the game-winning, overtime goal by Grant Potulny in a 4-3 win over Maine.

* Former Minnesota Golden Gopher and current Vancouver Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard scored the first goal of the 2002 championship game against Maine.

* Colorado Avalanche winger Chuck Kobasew was a freshman at Boston College when he sent Krys Kolanos in for a partial breakaway and the overtime game-winner in the Eagles' championship win over North Dakota, 3-2, in 2001. Kobasew also scored BC's first goal.

* Florida Panthers netminder Scott Clemmensen was BC's winning goaltender in the 2001 championship game with 35 saves. He also holds the NCAA postseason career record of 356 total saves in four tournament appearances from 1998-2001.

He did, however, earn a degree in economics -- followed by a Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

"You get more melancholy," the articulate Parros said, "especially if you're a senior and your career is ending and there is no tournament and maybe hockey is not in your future. But I went to Princeton for the education reason; you weren't expected to win the national tournament every year."

At the other postseason experiential end is Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, whose Boston College Eagles went to the Frozen Four all four years of his college career from 1997-2001 -- and three times advanced to the championship game.

"We had two losses in the finals and one in the semifinal," Gionta told about his most memorable NCAA Tournament experiences. "So to come out as a senior and come over that hump and win a championship is extremely gratifying. The biggest disappointment was our freshman year [played in Boston]. To win against Michigan would have been special."

Gionta's college teammate, Scott Clemmensen, was in goal for BC's last game each of those four seasons.

"Obviously, it was the year we won [the national championship]," Clemmensen said about his top NCAA moment. "But I do most recall playing in the [TD Garden] as a freshman against Michigan, and we lost [the championship game] in overtime. That really sticks out in my mind because we would have won the title, and as it turned out, it would have given me 100 wins for my career. I'm stuck on 99. The significance of that one was it was in Boston. Most people don't carry along losses as a memorable moment, but it stands out."

Boston Bruins winger Jay Pandolfo had a comparable Beantown postseason run, also going to all four Frozen Fours from 1993-1996, followed by a long NHL career that includes two Cups with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003.

His best college memory?

"For me, the junior year [1995] we actually won it all," he said. "Mostly because I got my hand cut in the Beanpot [tournament in February] and I missed the rest of the [regular] season and didn't come back until the final-four first game against Minnesota. My greatest memory was to get back in the lineup to be part of that. I knew we had a good chance to win it. That's something I'll never forget."

The 2005 championship game pitted North Dakota against Denver.

Current Devils forward Travis Zajac played for North Dakota and scored the only goal for his team in a 5-1 final.

"Yeah, against Denver," Zajac smiled. "It felt pretty good because it was the biggest game of my career up till then. I was pretty happy about that."

Zajac's teammate, defenseman Peter Harrold, has three tournaments under his belt. "For me," Harrold said about his most memorable, "unfortunately we lost in the [2006] championship game to Wisconsin in Milwaukee. But it was an awesome experience and venue."

Stephen Gionta followed brother Brian to BC from 2002-2005, and was also Harrold's teammate those three years.

"The one game that I will always remember," he reflected, "is Manchester [New Hampshire in the 2004 Northeast regional final]. We beat Michigan in overtime [3-2]. That sent us to the Frozen Four, which was in Boston my sophomore year."

Panthers forward Jack Skille was a Badger on that '06 Wisconsin team that prevailed over BC in the final, 2-1. While, he had no points in that game, he pointed to the regional final -- and his highlight goal.

"The triple-overtime goal against Cornell and the 1-0 final that sent [Wisconsin] on to the Frozen Four that I scored really sticks out," Skille said excitedly. "You go into that tournament and need to go 4-0 to win. It doesn't seem too hard to accomplish -- until you get going."

Devils defenseman Andy Greene is credited with helping Miami get on the road to national prominence. From 2002-2006, he experienced two tournament appearances for the Red Hawks. Before 2006, Miami had been to just three NCAA Tournaments in school history; they have not missed one since.


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"My senior year we had a real good team," Greene said. "And you could tell, we were just about there; maybe one or two players away from contending the way they are now. That game senior year really got Miami going, and put them on the map after winning the CCHA championship at home."

Ottawa Senators forward Colin Greening has a degree in applied economics and mathematics -- and an indelible memory of his NCAA moment.

"We were down 2-0 against Northeastern in the opening game [of the 2009 Midwest regional]," Greening rattled off, "and we came back and tied it late to go 2-2. Then with about a minute left we thought we were going to overtime. Then Evan Barlow scored this great goal five-hole to send us on. That was a pretty memorable game and goal."

Florida Panthers rookie and former Denver Pioneer Drew Shore experienced almost the same as Greening.

"My sophomore year, (2011) we scored in double overtime in the first [Midwest regional] game to beat Western Michigan," Shore said. "So that was my best moment and it was pretty special."

Those OT memories run deep.

Toronto's James van Riemsdyk was a New Hampshire Wildcat in ‘08 and '09. The '09 regional first game had UNH against North Dakota.

"The one I really remember," van Riemsdyk said, "is that North Dakota game my sophomore year. I think it was five or six seconds left and we win the draw. We buried one to take it to overtime and win to go to the next round. It was back and forth all game and ended 6-5, I think. It was nuts on the bench all game."

It will be nuts next week in Pittsburgh -- with many memories in the making for players on this year's Frozen Four teams.

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