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Sabres prospects set to square off at Hockey East Tournament

Brown, Fitzgerald and BC will play Bryson and Providence in quarterfinal series

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Casey Fitzgerald and Jacob Bryson are both promising defense prospects for the Sabres. They both serve as co-captains on their collegiate teams, which both happen to play in the Hockey East Association. 

This weekend, Fitzgerald and Bryson will meet with plenty on the line when Boston College visits Providence for a quarterfinal series to open the Hockey East Tournament.   

The two teams ended their regular seasons on opposite notes. Bryson's (fourth round, 2017) Providence team is ranked No. 7 in the country after going unbeaten in its last six games (5-0-1), leaving the Friars as a candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Boston College dropped eight of its last nine regular-season contests, meaning Fitzgerald (third round, 2016) and fellow tri-captain and Sabres prospect Christopher Brown (sixth round, 2014) will need to win the Hockey East Tournament to receive an automatic bid for NCAAs. 

Fitzgerald and Brown are both seniors, and both have had their eyes set on making one final run to the Frozen Four in Buffalo. 

"It hasn't really sunk in yet that it's almost coming to an end," Fitzgerald said. "Senior year or not you're pouring your emotions, you're pouring everything you've got into these playoffs and this final stretch here. 

"For sure, it's definitely a little different being my last time around here, but you've got to just treat it like it's another game and just go out there and know that you've got to win to move on, so you've got to do whatever it takes."

While a Hockey East Tournament title may not be necessary for Providence to advance to the NCAA Tournament, it remains high on Bryson's to-do list. The Friars lost to Boston University in the conference championship game last season, then came a game short of the Frozen Four in the NCAA Tournament.  

"I haven't made it there my last two years, but hopefully this year we can," Bryson said. "It sucks to be knocked out after getting so close to the Frozen Four. It would be something special to get there. I think playing in Buffalo would be cool as well, but I think our team's young and it would be awesome just to make it there but hopefully win it too."

Bryson, a junior, has 24 points (4+20) in 36 games. Friars coach Nate Leaman said in November that he utilized the defenseman in all situations, a role he's grown into as the season has progressed. 

"I think I've grown a little bit over the year, which is good," he said. "I'm trying to develop every day and get better at little things each and every time I go out on the ice."

Boston College and Providence met three times during the regular season, with the home team winning on each occasion. The Eagles won the first two contests in January; the Friars took a tightly-contested game in their regular-season finale last Thursday.

The two defensemen have formed a mutual respect through their head-to-head meetings as well as their time spent together at Sabres camps.  

Here's Fitzgerald on Bryson: "He's an awesome player and a better kid. He's a great guy. I've been with him a lot over the past two years at camp. Just to see him develop as well, a very skilled player, very dynamic, crafty offensive defenseman. He's a guy that we kind of look out for playing against them. We've got to keep an eye on him."

And Bryson on Fitzgerald: "I would say he's a two-way defenseman. He's very good at defense and he's able to join the rush and stuff like that, he's very good at offense too. He's good in his O-zone, he's good in his D-zone - he's pretty good all over the ice."

Game 1 of the three-game quarterfinal series between Boston College and Providence is set for Friday at 7 p.m. 

 

Elsewhere in the NCAA

Maxwell Willman (fifth round, 2014) will also take one last stab at a Frozen Four appearance when Boston University opens its Hockey East Tournament with a quarterfinal series at No. 18 UMass Lowell on Friday. The graduate transfer has six points (1+5) in 32 games.

Linus Weissbach (seventh round, 2017) saw his season end with Wisconsin's series loss to then No. 18 Penn State in the opening round of the Big 10 Tournament last weekend. The sophomore tallied one goal, one assist and seven shots during the three-game set. 

Tweet from @BadgerMHockey: Sneaky, sneaky! pic.twitter.com/QACUrLdu9K

Weissbach concludes his season with 25 points (8+17) in 27 games, one point shy of the mark he set in 34 contests as a freshman. He tallied eight points (3+5) over his last nine games.

Phillip Nyberg (fifth round, 2016) also concluded his season with UConn's upset victory over No. 2 UMass last Friday. The defenseman tallied an assist and a plus-2 rating in the 4-3 victory, concluding his junior season with four assists in 34 games. 

 

UPL makes history

Following a 34-save outing at Niagara last Friday, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (second round, 2017) celebrated his 20th birthday by making 41 saves in a shutout win at Hamilton on Saturday. It was his sixth shutout of the season, a franchise record for the Sudbury Wolves.

Check out the highlights from Luukkonen's record-setting performance here.

Luukkonen leads the OHL in shutouts, save percentage (.921) and wins (36). The Wolves - who have already clinched a playoff berth - conclude their regular season with three games this weekend, beginning with a home game against Hamilton on Friday. 
 

Stats

Skater Position Team (League) GP G A PTS
Christopher Brown F Boston College (NCAA) 34 7 9 16
Jacob Bryson D Providence (NCAA) 36 4 20 24
Ivan Chukarov D Worcester (ECHL) 7 0 1 1
Marcus Davidsson F Djuragardens (SHL) 51 10 17 27
Casey Fitzgerald D Boston College (NCAA) 34 2 9 11
Vasily Glotov F Cincinnati (ECHL) 56 14 29 43
Miska Kukkonen D Lukko U20 (Jr. A SM-Liga) 4 0 0 0
Oskari Laaksonen D Ilves (Liiga) 45 3 21 24
Linus Lindstrand Cronholm D Malmo (SHL) 5 0 1 1
Brett Murray F Youngstown (USHL) 50 34 29 63
Philip Nyberg D UConn (NCAA) 34 0 4 4
Matej Pekar F Barrie (OHL) 33 14 22 36
Mattias Samuelsson D Western Michigan (NCAA) 30 5 7 12
Linus Weissbach F Wisconsin (NCAA) 27 8 17 25
Maxwell Willman F Boston University (NCAA) 32 1 5 6
William Worge Kreu D Linkoping J20 (SuperElit) 24 0 3 3
Goaltender Team (League) GP W L OTL SOL GAA SV% SO
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen Sudbury (OHL) 50 36 10 2 2 2.45 .921 6
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