January 3, 2006
Year-End Review

By Paul Shaheen

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The world of college hockey welcomed 2006 much like everyone else did – with hopes and dreams for bigger and better things in the year to come. The events of December on and off the ice, however, allow a few clubs to springboard into the New Year.

Here's a sampling:

• There are several reasons why the Miami RedHawks are the country’s second-ranked team, and one of them has nothing to do with what's happening on the ice.

Head coach Enrico Blasi, along talented assists Jeff Blashill and Chris Bergeron, have gotten to the point where their program is in on nearly every top-flight recruit the Midwest and its environs have to offer. One such recruit is 5-10, 175-pound center Carter Camper, the North American Hockey League's top scorer with 20 goals and 54 points in 34 games, who last month gave a verbal commitment to the RedHawks after entertained offers from Ohio State, Bowling Green, Vermont, Boston College and others.

"I am really excited about committing to Miami," said the 17-year-old Camper, who skates for the NAHL's Cleveland Barons. "I chose it because it's the right fit for me academically and athletically. When I visited Miami, I really connected with the players and coaches and I'm real excited about the direction their hockey program is taking. I also feel Miami is the right place for me to continue my development as a hockey player."

Just a junior in high school, the earliest Camper will arrive in Oxford would be the fall of 2007. The Rocky River, Ohio, native relies on a combination of vision, speed and smarts, and recognizes he needs to improve his strength and physical play.

"My game is finesse and using my quickness to get around guys, but I do need to get stronger," said Camper, who has played at USA Hockey's Select festivals each of the last four summers. "I don't mind going into the corners, but I just need more strength."

Springfield's Father Figure

Sixteen years before the “Miracle on Ice”, there was the miracle on ice that nearly was.

About three weeks prior to the start of the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the heavily favored Soviets – in an eerily similar fashion to what they did to Team USA just before the 1980 Winter games – blasted Canada, 9-0, in a pre-tournament exhibition match.

After the shellacking, awestruck Canadian center Gary Dineen approached his coach, amateur hockey legend Fr. David Bauer, and asked, "What was that game we just watched out there?"

"Don't worry,'" Bauer told Dineen. “We’ll talk about it, take a look at our notes and figure them out.”

The Canadians nearly fulfilled their coach’s prophecy by taking a 2-1 lead late in the second period of the gold medal game before the Soviets rallied for a 3-2 win.

Dineen, not unlike Fr. Bauer, has devoted much of his life to amateur hockey. After a three-year professional career that included a short stint with the Minnesota North Stars in 1968-69, Dineen started the first junior A program in Springfield, Mass., in 1973 – the city where he spent the 1971-72 season as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Over the past 33 years, the junior club’s nickname has changed from Olympics to Whalers to Coyotes to its current moniker, the Falcons. Dineen has been the one constant as the franchise’s owner and general manager, having recently turned over the coaching reins to, Lincoln Flagg, one of his former players.

The list of notable alums Dineen has ushered through the Springfield system is impressive – familiar names such as Bill Guerin, Scott Lachance, Dan LaCouture, Mike Komisarek and Ron Hainsey – and the program continues to churn out top prospects. The most notable member of this year’s Falcon team is 17-year-old Barry Almeida, a 5-9, 185-pound forward who has scored 24 goals and 37 points in just 24 games and is already getting interest from schools such as New Hampshire, Maine, Boston College and Boston University.

Almeida's game, as evidenced by his performance at last summer’s Junior World Cup and U.S. Select-17 Festival, is all about speed. The breakout effort may have been sparked by a seminal moment with Dineen.

"Late last season, I didn't think Barry was playing his game," Dineen explained. "In talking with one of his old midget coaches, I said, 'Look, your boy has stopped skating.’ For Barry to stop skating is like Mike Bossy deciding not to shoot."

Word of the conversation eventually reached Almeida, who took Dineen's advice to heart.

"You have to respect that coming from a guy like Coach Dineen who has been around as long as he has," said Almeida. "If I don't skate, I'm not as asset out there. So I thought about it, and a few days later I came up to him and said 'Coach, skater Barry is back.'"

Was he ever. Though the Falcons fell in the EJHL's championship round, Almeida scored six of his club's seven postseason goals.

"He could be a real special player, and now he's really learning all about playing 200 feet of hockey,” Dineen said. “He used to be able to make a team better all by himself. Now, he's learning to help make better all the players around him."

— P.S.

"He needs to play tougher and with a bit more courage," said one scout, a frequent NAHL observer. "But he's a good young man with very good vision, speed and stick skills."

Hockey bloodlines run deep through the Camper household. Carter’s younger brother, Jay, is a ’91 born center who's skating with the Baron bantams this year. The oldest brother, Ben, was also reared in the Barons' development system – he’s a sophomore forward for Colgate.

"Ben is truly one of my role models," said Carter Camper. "He's had his share of injuries like the broken leg he suffered last year, but he's always worked hard and come back. When he comes home for the summer he's always pushed me to get better. He's truly one of those 'never say die' kind of guys and I've always respected him for that."

• Whenever the North Dakota asks prospects to hop on the Fighting Sioux train, recruits invariably seem happy to come aboard. Two more dandies said yes to the 2005 NCAA Frozen Four runners up last month, as coach Dave Hakstol secured commitments from 18-year-old left wing Evan Trupp and 19-year-old right wing Darcy Zajac.

Zajac debuts for the Fighting Sioux next season, while Trupp will head to Grand Forks in the fall of 2007. Both are products of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Interior Division – Trupp plays for the Pecticton Vees while Zajac, the younger brother of current North Dakota standout Travis Zajac, skates for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Zajac ranks fifth in the BCHL in scoring with 24 goals and 54 points in 36 games, well past the 33 points he scored in 60 games a year ago. While he chose North Dakota over other suitors such as New Hampshire, his brother’s presence in the Fighting Sioux lineup had, according to Darcy, little to do with his decision.

"I was looking for the one I felt would put me in the best position to get to the next level in my career,” the younger Zajac said, “and I honestly feel North Dakota is that place. Look at the success and the players they've had…it seemed like the right place to be."

"Darcy may not be quite as skilled (as Travis), but he plays with more of an edge," said Salmon Arm coach Garry Davidson, who had Travis on his Silverbacks squad three years ago. "They have one common denominator: They both have great focus and are very hard working."

Trupp, an Anchorage native, has been on the radar screen for some time thanks to several stints representing the U.S. at various international tournaments including the 2004 Under-18 World Championships in Slovakia.

A 5-9 151-pound forward, Trupp is tied with his future teammate, Zajac, in the BCHL scoring race with 18 goals and 54 points in 36 games.

"He's shifty and crafty," said Zajac of Trupp. "He seems to find a way to get guys the puck no matter where they are or where he is on the ice."

• Michigan always seems to cast its line right where the big fish reside. Just days before Christmas, Red Berenson once again landed a lunker when Des Moines Buccaneer center Trevor Lewis – arguably the United States Hockey League's top recruit this year – agreed to suit up for the Wolverines for next season.

From the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray, the 18-year-old Lewis is tied for third in the race for the USHL's overall scoring lead with 19 goals and 35 points in 26 games.

At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Lewis had also considered likes of Minnesota, Ohio State, Bowling Green, Ferris State and Boston College.

"After playing so well at the end of last year, he's come back with all kinds of confidence this season," said Des Moines coach-general manager Regg Simon, who played at Alaska Anchorage. "He has deceptive speed and a powerful stride. He doesn't always look like he's skating very fast, but he always seems to get past everyone and he's not at all afraid to get to the net." Utah isn't exactly the first place one usually thinks of when it comes to college hockey recruiting, but if Lewis continues his rapid developmental ascent, that could change.

"I started skating at two and began playing hockey at age five," the right-shooting Lewis said. "I played all the way from squirts to bantams back home, but it got to the point where I knew I could only go so far if I stayed (in Utah), so I started looking for a way to challenge myself and get better."

Lewis bid adieu to Salt Lake City for the other side of the Continental Divide, where he spent two seasons with the midget AAA Pikes Peak Miners in Colorado Springs.

"A friend of mine had gone there, so I went and tried out," Lewis explained. "I made it, but those first steps were huge. I felt so winded and out of shape, but at our first tournament, I scored a hat trick in my first game. I was pretty excited, and I don't think my coaches expected that out of me."

Drafted by the USHL’s Cedar Rapids franchise last spring, Lewis was unable to crack what was (and still is) a very deep RoughRiders club. Des Moines’ coach at the time, Bob Ferguson, who had seen Lewis play at a number of USA Hockey Select festivals, invited Lewis to join the Bucs for the 2004-05 campaign.

"He became a big-time player for us," said Simon, a Buccaneer assistant before assuming head coaching responsibilities midway through last season. "He was arguably one of our better players in the second half. He can do just about anything and we could put him out there near the end of big games."

Last season was a difficult one in Des Moines – the Bucs won just three of their first 26 games en route to a 17-37-6 finish. This season has been quite different, however, as the Lewis-led Des Moines team paces the USHL's East Division with a 19-6-4 record.

"I think I've done fairly well," said Lewis, modestly. "I got injured last year (a ligament tear in his right knee) just after Christmas and missed eight games. When I came back, I realized what I had to do – use my speed and my size and not be scared of going into the corners.

”With all the padding you wear, you're really not going to get hurt, so I started skating into the corners without fear and began doing a better job of taking the puck to the net."