In the midst of all the March madness involving basketball this weekend, hockey fans will be focusing on another major college tournament - the 2006 Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship.
The Division I tournament, which culminates with the Frozen Four in Milwaukee from April 6-8, brings the top 16 NCAA hockey teams together for a prestigious event dating back nearly 60 years. The college ranks have produced some of the great players in NHL history, and this tournament's alumni list includes names like Ken Dryden, Chris Chelios, Adam Oates, James Patrick, and Brian Leetch.
Some of the biggest stars in pro hockey first gained national recognition for their performances in the NCAA tournament, and there can be no doubt that the 2006 event is loaded with future NHLers.
This year's field includes six Rangers prospects, whose five teams came through their regular seasons and conference tournaments in style over the past several weeks. Four other Rangers prospects are playing in the NCAA Division I ranks, but their teams' seasons came to an end when the tournament selection committee did not award them bids last weekend.
Here is a look at all 10 of the Rangers' college hockey prospects, beginning with the six who will be playing for the NCAA title.
Greg Moore and Billy Ryan, University of Maine
Maine made the NCAA tournament despite coming up short in the Hockey East playoffs. The Black Bears lost to Boston College in the semifinals last Friday, but Moore, a senior right wing and team captain, played a big role in getting them there.
In the best-of-3 quarterfinals against Massachusetts-Lowell, Moore erupted for three goals and two assists in a pair of 4-3 wins. In the March 10 opener, he scored twice on the power play, including a goal at 9:51 of the third period to force an overtime. In the second game, he scored just 27 seconds into the second period to give Maine a 2-1 lead. He also assisted on Matt Duffy's game-winner in the third period.
Ryan, a sophomore center, also had points in both first-round playoff games, setting up the overtime game-winner by Keith Johnson on March 10 and picking up an assist on Maine's third goal in the second game.
Moore, a Maine native acquired by the Rangers in the deal that brought Blair Betts to New York two years ago, was originally Calgary's fifth-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He has led Maine in scoring this season with 26 goals and 42 points in 39 games, nearly twice the numbers he put up in each of the past two seasons. As a result, he is among the 10 finalists for this year's Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top college hockey player.
Ryan, the Rangers' third-round pick in 2004, has also nearly doubled his scoring totals from last year. With 10 goals and 28 points, he has emerged as a key player in the Maine program's future. During the season he had a four-game points streak and was named the game''s first star in a Nov. 4 win over Merrimack.
Despite its 4-1 loss to BC in the semifinals, Maine (26-11-2) goes into the NCAA tournament ranked 10th in the nation. The Black Bears, who tied for second in Hockey East during the regular season, begin NCAA play on Saturday vs. Harvard.
Dylan Reese, Harvard
Reese, a junior defenseman, had a tremendous showing in five ECAC playoff games with the Crimson, scoring six points. In the final four, he helped Harvard stun regular-season champion Dartmouth 10-1 in the semifinals and then rout Cornell 6-2 in the title game. Reese had two goals and three assists in the final two games, with three of his five points coming on the power play. In both the Dartmouth and Cornell games, he scored to give Harvard a 2-0 lead in the first period.
With the victories, Harvard assured itself of an NCAA berth at Dartmouth's expense. Ranked 7th in the nation, the Crimson join Cornell as the only ECAC teams in the NCAA tournament.
Through 27 games leading up to the postseason, Reese, a seventh-round draft pick in 2003, had 13 points. His offensive surge in the ECAC playoffs earned him a spot on the all-tournament team. He also made the All-Ivy League first team this season.
Harvard (21-11-2) will open tournament play in Albany on Saturday against Maine, where Reese will go up against two other Blueshirts prospects in Moore and Ryan.
Corey Potter, Michigan State
A senior defenseman, Potter was chosen by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 draft. He also had great success in his conference tournament last weekend, as the Spartans claimed the CCHA tournament title following a second-place finish in the regular season.
Potter was at his best in the CCHA quarterfinals, a best-of-3 series against Alaska-Fairbanks. He had a goal and four assists in the three games, including a power-play tally and two assists in the decisive 7-4 win over the Nanooks on March 12. In the semifinals against Michigan at Joe Louis Arena, Potter assisted on the Spartans' first goal, which tied the game 1-1 and set the tone for a 4-1 MSU victory.
Potter has 22 points in 43 games this season and leads Michigan State with 115 penalty minutes. The Detroit native's scoring totals have been a huge improvement over last season, when he had six points in 32 games.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation, Michigan State (24-11-8) is one of four CCHA teams in the NCAA tournament. Seeded fourth in the 16-team field, the Spartans open their drive for the Frozen Four in Albany on Saturday against New Hampshire.
Ken Roche, Boston University
No team has dominated Eastern college hockey this season like Boston University, and Roche, a third-round pick of the Rangers in 2003 has been a big part of that success. In four Hockey East playoff games, he scored a goal and added an assist, helping the Terriers sweep UMass in a best-of-3 series and then rout New Hampshire in the semifinals at TD North Arena in Boston.
In the Hockey East championship game, the No. 1-ranked Terriers met rival Boston College, winning a 2-1 classic on Saturday to go with their regular-season crown.
Roche, a junior center, has 16 goals and 13 assists in 37 games this season - more than triple his scoring output from a year ago. He was named the first star in five regular-season games and had his first collegiate hat trick against Merrimack on Jan. 20.
Boston University (24-9-4) is seeded third in the NCAA tournament and will open play in nearby Worcester, Mass., on Friday against Nebraska-Omaha.
Joey Crabb, Colorado College
One of the Rangers' most exciting college prospects, Crabb, a senior right wing, has blossomed in his final college season, even though his 13th-ranked Tigers team fell to St. Cloud State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.
A major reason Colorado College went down in three games was St. Cloud's ability to shut down Crabb, who finished third on his team in scoring with 43 points (18-25) during the regular season.
The Rangers' seventh-round pick in the 2002 draft, Crabb has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Anchorage native registered career highs in goals, assists and points and had a nine-game points streak from Dec. 29 to Feb. 10.
Colorado College (24-15-2) opens the NCAA tournament in Green Bay on Saturday, when the Tigers face Cornell.
Jordan Foote, Michigan Tech
Foote, a hulking 6-foot-4 sophomore defenseman from Edmonton, played on a struggling Michigan Tech team that went 7-25-6 this season and was swept by Wisconsin in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
At the college level, Foote's game has focused on defense, as he completed the season with two goals in 31 games. He was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2004 draft and played in the British Columbia Hockey League before entering Michigan Tech.
Nate Guenin, Ohio State
Another big defenseman, Guenin completed his college career on March 14, when the Buckeyes (15-19-5) fell to Ferris State 2-1 and were swept out of the CCHA playoffs' first round.
Despite his team's sub-.500 season, Guenin made major strides in 2005-06, registering 11 assists in 39 games to earn All-CCHA Honorable Mention status. The Ohio State captain, Guenin also led the Buckeyes with 87 penalty minutes.
Selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Guenin hopes to follow in the footsteps of Mike Richter, another Pennsylvania native drafted by the Blueshirts.
Darin Olver, Northern Michigan
Olver and his Wildcat teammates were passed over by the NCAA selection committee despite finishing the season 22-16-2 and going to the CCHA's final four.
Although the season ended in disappointment, the Wildcats had a memorable run in 2005-06, and Olver, a junior, was the key to the team's entire offense. He led NMU in scoring with 35 points in 36 games, including two assists in the CCHA playoff quarterfinal series sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.
Olver's biggest night of the season came on Jan. 20, as he scored three goals and added an assist to earn first-star honors in the 5-2 win.
In three seasons at Northern Michigan, the Rangers' second-round pick from the 2004 NHL Entry Draft has piled up 122 points.
Mike Walsh, Notre Dame
It was a tough year for the Irish in hockey, as Notre Dame went 13-19-4. It was also a tough way for Walsh to complete his college career, when the Irish fell 1-0 to Alaska-Fairbanks on March 4 and were eliminated from the CCHA playoffs.
Walsh had 10 goals and seven assists in 36 points this season, an improvement over his junior year. His season highlights included eight multi-point games.
The Rangers' third-round pick in 2004 following a strong sophomore year at Notre Dame, Walsh was an alternate captain of the Irish this season.