While the Nashville Predators are away on their current four-game Pacific Division road trip through Arizona and California, their home, Bridgestone Arena, is serving as host to the 2015 SEC Men’s Basketball Championship. The SEC Championship is just one of countless conference championships going on around the country as NCAA sports with winter/spring schedules prepare for their upcoming national tournaments.
Like basketball, NCAA hockey runs on a winter/spring schedule – with games beginning late in October and stretching through early April, if team’s get their wish. This past weekend, many college hockey teams began finishing up their regular season schedules and started preparations for their conference tournaments.
On March 22, after all of the conferences have declared a victor, the names of the 16 teams participating in the playoff bracket for the NCAA Hockey National Tournament will be announced. Over the course of the next couple weeks, these 16 teams will be whittled down to the “Frozen Four,” college hockey’s final four teams that will compete for the National Championship on April 9 and 11 at Boston’s TD Garden.
With conference tournaments, and the National Tournament, just around the corner, let’s take a look at how some of the Preds’ prospects in the NCAA have fared this season.
Jack Dougherty (Nashville’s third choice, 51st overall, second round, 2014 Draft)
A first-year defenseman at Wisconsin, Jack Dougherty has put up nine points (2g-7a) in 30 games played, good for a tie for seventh among all Badger skaters and third among defensemen.
Wisconsin is 4-24-4 this season with two regular-season games remaining (March 13 and 14 vs. Ohio State). Over the course of the season, Dougherty has tallied one game-winning goal and ranks fifth on the team in penalty minutes (29).
Teemu Kivihalme (Nashville’s fifth choice, 140th overall, fifth round, 2013 Draft)
During his freshman season at Colorado College, Teemu Kivihalme (pictured above) has tallied 10 points (4g-6a) in 33 games played, tying him for second among team defensemen and seventh among all team skaters. Among the entire National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Kivihalme is tied for third among freshmen defensemen in goals and tied for fourth in points.
Colorado College, who finished the regular season 6-24-3, takes on the University of North Dakota this weekend (March 13 and 14) in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
Wade Murphy (Nashville’s ninth choice, 185th overall, seventh round, 2013 Draft)
Forward Wade Murphy, who is in the midst of his sophomore season, plays for the University of North Dakota. UND was recently awarded the Penrose Cup as the NCHC regular-season champions and moves into the first-round of the NCHC playoffs this weekend ranked No. 1 in the Nation in both the USCHO.com poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
In 12 games played this season, Murphy has tallied an assist and six penalty minutes.
Nick Oliver (Nashville’s eighth choice, 110th overall, fourth round, 2009 Draft)
Playing in his senior season at St. Cloud State University, forward Nick Oliver, who was a captain for the Huskies this season, has four points (2g-2a) in 34 games played. Oliver was recognized by the NCHC as one of eight Huskie student-athletes to receive NCHC Academic All-Conference honors – in order to qualify, a player must “maintain at least a 3.50 grade-point average and play in at least 50 percent of their teams’ games this season.”
St. Cloud finished up their regular-season schedule with a 4-2 win over Denver last Saturday and plays in the first round of the NCHC playoffs against the University of Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.
Zach Stepan (Nashville’s fifth choice, 112th overall, fourth round, 2012 Draft)
With a win over Bemidij State on Friday, Zach Stepan’s Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks clinched the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship and were awarded the McNaughton Cup. The Mavericks are ranked No. 2 in both the USCHO.com poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and are slated to play Lake Superior State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs this coming weekend.
In the midst of his sophomore season, Stepan, a forward, has tallied 11 points (3g-8a) in 31 games played.
Jimmy Vesey (Nashville’s third choice, 66th overall, third round, 2012 Draft)
Jimmy Vesey (pictured above), a junior forward at Harvard University, leads his team in points (50), goals (25), power-play goals (tied, 6), shorthanded goals (tied, 1), game-winning goals (tied, 4) and shots (134) this season. Additionally, he is ranked second on the team in both assists (25) and plus/minus (+19).
Among all NCAA players, Vesey leads in goals per game (.81) and ranks second in points per game (1.61). He is also among the nation’s Top 20 in assists per game (.81), power-play goals (6) and game-winning goals (4).
In the first round of the Eastern College Athletic Association playoffs, Vesey, who was named the 2015 Ivy League Player of the Year, posted back-to-back three-point games to help lead Harvard to a sweep of Brown University. Harvard will play Yale in the ECAC quarterfinals beginning on Friday.
To keep up to date on NCAA hockey news and the road to the Frozen Four, visit www.ncaa.com/hockey.