July 24, 2005
Brighton Beach Memoir

Recruits' postseason play bodes well for UMD

By Paul Shaheen

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Could the postseason performances of some of Minnesota Duluth's recruits serve as a sign of what’s to come in 2006 and beyond? If so, folks in Duluth may well be appreciating a sight almost as picturesque as Brighton Beach, a lovely stretch of Lake Superior shoreline just minutes from the WCHA school's campus. To wit:

• Goaltender Alex Stalock (South St. Paul, Minn.) led Cedar Rapids to the USHL playoff title with a 7-2 postseason record and subterranean 1.44 goals-against average.

"Alex is such a competitor," said Cedar Rapids head coach and general manager Mark Carlson, a former UMass Lowell player and assistant coach. "He loves big games. He's very athletic, he never gives up on the puck, and his concentration is tremendous.”

Fortunately, netminders are judged on results and not on style – Stalock admits he didn’t cut his teeth at the Ken Dryden School of Goaltending.

"People have said I play an unorthodox style," said Stalock, who played for South St. Paul H.S. as a sophomore and junior. "I've always loved playing the puck … sometimes too much. I've had to work on cutting down angles more, and being in more control.”

• Forward Mason Raymond followed a 40-goal, 82-point effort for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League – earning the circuit’s MVP award in the process – with a dazzling performance at Canada's Tier II junior A national championship. The 19-year-old scored four goals and 10 points in five games as Camrose finished second to the host Weyburn (Sask.) Red Wings.

"He has all the tools," said Kodiak head coach Boris Rybalka. "He works every shift and has all kinds of skills to match the effort he puts forth on the ice."

According to NHL Central Scouting’s final prospect ratings for this week’s entry draft, Raymond is 123rd among eligible North American skaters.

• Shattuck St. Mary's won USA Hockey's Midget AAA national championships in April with a 7-0 whitewash of the L.A. Selects. The star of the show? UMD recruit Michael Gergen, a 5-11, 185-pound forward who scored a goal and three assists in the title game and led all tournament scorers with a 7-6—13 scoring line.

Said one scout at nationals after witnessing Gergen’s performance, "He's got talent, and is as tough as nails."

Perhaps Gergen earned his grit from his days working the family farm near Hastings, Minn. Or perhaps it was out of necessity – when you play for Shattuck, it’s like skating for Midget AAA's version of the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Manchester United … combined.

"I've got good foot speed and puck-handling ability," said Gergen, "but at the college level I'll have to push everything up a notch. There will be so much less time and space. I'll have to adjust quickly."

• Then there’s forward Cody Danberg, who won’t debut in the Twin Ports until the 2006-07 season. The Canwood, Sask., native helped the Saskatoon Contacts claim this year's Canadian Midget AAA national championship with a two goals and 10 points in seven games. That showing came on the heels of a 34-goal regular season which, combined with his postseason efforts, earned the 6-0, 180-pound Danberg a spot with the British Columbia Hockey League's Nanaimo Clippers next season.

"Cody brings a great attitude," said Clippers' head coach and general manager Bill Bestwick. "He's one of the finest two-way players I have ever seen play with the ability to score and create offense."

A Tall Cup 'o Joe

How's this for a summer itinerary: Finish your junior year of high school, start summer school, earn senior status by early June, take more classes via Internet and be on track to graduate by August 1 in order to head off to college in the fall?

Sounds like too much? Not for Joe Finley, the 6-7, 240-pound defenseman from Edina, Minn., who played for the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede last year. This September, he’ll step into the breach as a blueliner at North Dakota.

"It's been a whirlwind," said the 18-year-old Finley, who in 55 USHL games last year scored three goals and 18 points and compiled 181 penalty minutes. "I knew what I had to do to get this all done, but sometimes I wasn't sure if I'd bitten off more than I could chew. But it looks like everything's going to fall in place, and in the end, it's been worth it."

The notion of accelerating his studies became increasingly attractive to Finley as his junior year progressed.

"The idea of accelerating had been on my mind for some time," said Finley, who played two seasons at Edina H.S. under the tutelage of Hornets' head coach and 14-year NHL veteran Curt Giles. "I know it takes mental maturity to do this and I've been working hard in the classroom and also on the ice."

Several schools battled for the chance to bring in Finley. In the end, it came down to the Fighting Sioux and their bitter rival, Minnesota.

"You look at North Dakota's tradition and you see they love big defensemen, and I think I can fit that mold," said Finley. "I took my official visit there recently and I had a chance to meet a lot of the guys and see the campus. I just had the feeling this was the place I wanted to be."

The Fighting Sioux are naturally excited. So is Sioux Falls head coach Kevin Hartzell, who was hired by the club after the season but saw Finley play on several occasions.

"He is absolutely a fantastic prospect," said Hartzell, who played at Minnesota in the late 1970's. "It's really scary how good he could be. He has great hands, good feet and he just keeps getting better.

"He can play almost any type of game. I've seen him play a very intimidating type of game and I've also seen him [play with] more skills by moving his feet and really handling the puck."

Finley's not the only Division I athlete in his family. His sister, Kelly Rae, plays basketball at Northwestern.

"She's a brain and a good athlete," said the younger Finley.

Sounds like brother and sister are a lot alike.

— P.S.

Crazy Eighty-Eights

Each summer, USA Hockey sponsors several "Select" festivals – week-long tournaments in which top players in various age groups come together for a series of exhibitions intent on showcasing their talents for both college and pro scouts. Perhaps the most watched of these is the Select 17 Festival, which took place earlier this month in St. Cloud, Minn. Several of these 1988-born players made lasting impressions, here's a few who caught our eye:

• Tysen Dowzak (D, 6-5, 223 pounds)

Humongous in street shoes and larger than life on skates. Six-foot-five and still growing. Didn't have the best showing at the Select 17's, but it's obvious why everyone is drooling.

The former Shattuck standout will skate for the USHL's Lincoln Stars this year before moving to college in the fall of 2006, quite possibly to North Dakota. A top-10 prospect for the 2006 NHL Draft in the opinion of most observers.

• Joe Palmer (G, 6-1, 195)

One of the top-rated goalies for the 2006 NHL Draft, his efforts in St. Cloud showed why Palmer is held in such high regard. He's big and athletic and can cut down angles and play the butterfly with equal aplomb. Palmer had a 3.00 GAA in 138 minutes played. Now with the U.S. National Team Development Program, he's already committed to Ohio State for the fall of 2006.

• Patrick Kane (F, 5-10, 153)

Too small for the pro game? Perhaps, but his skill should translate to an outstanding college career at the very least. He might just keep developing and score at every level. The U.S. NTDP standout, who scored one goal and seven points in six games at the Selects, is considering schools such as Michigan and Boston University for the fall of 2006 or '07.

• Andrew Rowe (F, 6-2, 175)

Rowe could be considered the second coming of Justin Abdelkader. After two years at Mona Shores H.S. in Muskegon, Mich. – where Michigan State discovered incoming recruit Abdelkader – Rowe wowed onlookers with two goals in his very first game. He’ll play for the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers next season.

• Brian Strait (D, 6-1, 195)

The talented NTDP blueliner made incredible strides during the year and his performance in St. Cloud in many ways mirrored his growth in recent months. Extremely mobile and very skilled, Strait has committed to Boston University for the fall of 2006.

• Michael Carman (F, 6-0, 180)

One of the week’s top two-way players, the former Academy of Holy Angels star gives an honest shift every time he's on the ice. Now a member of the NTDP, Carman scored five goals and seven points in six games. He’s committed to Minnesota for the fall of 2006.

• Nigel Williams (D, 6-4, 220)

A thoroughbred with all the tools who, as he continues to learn the game a bit better, will become even more dominant. Williams, who played with Team Illinois last year and has already committed to Wisconsin for the fall of 2007, posted a 1-2—3 scoring line at the tournament.

• Mike Forney (F, 6-3, 180)

Forney's size and strength piqued the interest of college and pro scouts long before the Select 17's began and at the tournament he showed why. Forney, who scored 33 goals and 66 points in 28 games for Lincoln HS in Thief River Falls, Minn., last season, pumped in an impressive two goals and 11 points in six games in St. Cloud. He has one more year of high school hockey and perhaps a season or two in the USHL before moving on to D-I.

Incoming, and Draft Eligible

With the NHL lockout settled and the entry draft slated for Saturday in Ottawa, Research On Ice – thanks to ROI's colleagues at Red Line Report, the widely respected independent scouting service – presents its top five NHL draft-eligible players who'll make their D-I debuts this October.

1. Jack Skille (F, 6-1, 200, U.S. NTDP)

Put him down low and he owns the ice. Rugged and vastly skilled. Off to Wisconsin this fall.

2. Jack Johnson (D, 6-1, 200, U.S. NTDP)

Arguably the most skilled and naturally talented defenseman in this year's draft. Plays with a mean streak when he wants to. Off to Michigan this fall

3. Andrew Cogliano (F, 5-9, 173, St. Michael’s-OPJHL).

49 games, 36 goals, 102 points. Need more? Speed and skill will make him a fabulous collegian, if not a pro someday. Heading to the Wolverines come September.

4. Brian Lee (D, 6-2, 202, Moorhead (Minn.) H.S.)

Playing against competition far below his level of ability at the high school level, things will get a lot more interesting this fall when he arrives at North Dakota. Though he struggled at the 2005 World Junior Championships, he's a smooth skater and great decision maker.

5. Matt Niskanen (D, 6-0, 193, Virginia, (Minn.) H.S.)

Think Duluth is fired up about Gergen, Stalock and Raymond? Get ready for Niskanen, who has speed to burn and a great set of hands to boot.

Paul Shaheen is the publisher of Research on Ice and will contribute recruiting updates to Inside College Hockey throughout the year. To subscribe to Research on Ice's free daily recruiting e-mail newsletter, contact Paul at puckkeg@comcast.net.

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