There's a lot to be said for being a star in your hometown.
John Leonard is living it. He grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts and loved going to University of Massachusetts Amherst games at the Mullins Center.
Now the 21-year-old has blossomed into a dynamic player at the school, where his father was once a men's basketball assistant coach.
Described by coach Greg Carvel as a true goal-scorer, the junior right wing has lived up to that label by scoring twice in each of his past three games, including a virtuoso winning goal in a 4-2 win against Northeastern on Nov. 2. He's scored seven goals in seven games for second-ranked UMass.
"He has that hunger and that drive to the net, that unique ability to score goals," Carvel said.
Chosen by the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round (No. 182) of the 2018 NHL Draft, Leonard (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) had a fine sophomore season with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists), when UMass reached the NCAA national championship game before losing to Minnesota Duluth. He is on track to be a better player this season.
"He was a guy that we really weren't worried about having to take a big step forward, but he took it upon himself and he came back at an unbelievably new level," Carvel said. "He's faster, stronger, he's scoring goals in different ways that he wasn't scoring before.
Last season, UMass was led by Hobey Baker Award winner Cale Makar, now a rookie defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche. Leonard's skating, like Makar's, stands out.
"John's a unique player in that he doesn't need a lot of help to create offense," Carvel said. "He can create a ton by himself. He can skate the length of the ice, very similar to Cale, how Cale could use his strong skating to create offense."
"The game-winning goal against Northeastern, he stickhandled through four different guys and then put the puck in a real tough place for the goaltender."
Leonard is setting himself up to follow in the footsteps of Makar, who signed an NHL contract after last season.
"Where Cale wasn't ready to leave after one year, John wasn't quite ready to leave after two, but he's showing he'll be ready after this year," Carvel said. "He's always been a good player, but now he's becoming a special player and it's great to see."
Sophomore center Sam Hentges continued to produce for St. Cloud against Princeton last weekend.
Selected by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round (No. 210) of the 2018 draft, the 20-year-old had three points (one goal, two assists) in a 5-3 loss Friday and a goal and an assist in a 5-5 tie Saturday.
Hentges (6-0, 175) leads the NCHC in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in six games. He was named conference player of the month for October.
ON THE BOARD
Western Michigan freshman defenseman Ronnie Attard ended a five-game pointless streak with two goals in a 4-4 tie at Colorado College on Saturday.
Attard (6-3, 208) was chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round (No. 72) of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Known for his big shot, the 20-year-old scored 30 goals in 48 games for Tri-City of the USHL last season.
Sophomore left wing Angus Crookshank paced New Hampshire to its second and third overtime wins of the season.
Crookshank (5-10, 181) scored at 2:15 of overtime to defeat Boston College 1-0 on Nov. 1, then scored twice and set up Charlie Kelleher's winner with nine seconds left in OT for a 5-4 victory against Dartmouth the next day.
The 20-year-old was picked by the Ottawa Senators in the fifth round (No. 126) of the 2018 draft.
HOBEY BAKER WATCH
The two University of Denver players to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player were defensemen: Will Butcher (New Jersey Devils) in 2017 and Matt Carle in 2006.
Denver has another defenseman in the running for the award, junior Ian Mitchell,
Selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round (No. 57) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Mitchell leads top-ranked Denver with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in eight games. He had three assists in a 6-2 victory against Niagara on Nov. 1.
Mitchell (5-11, 173) is a strong skater who is at his best with the puck on his stick.
"He's getting better defensively and he's not going to stop getting better because of how he pushes himself. His internal motor is unreal," said Denver coach David Carle, younger brother of Matt Carle. "That's what's really cool. He's a really good player for us now, but he's going to be even better come March and April."