Blues Well-Represented in NCAA Playoffs

(This article originally appeared in the print edition of St. Louis Game Time on March 24.)

The NCAA college ranks have always been a fruitful harvest for the Blues when it comes to prospects, and the 2008-09 season has been no exception.

In October, the NCAA season started with no less than eleven Blues prospects playing at eight Division I schools, and one Division III program. Six months later, three prospects remain standing, or skating as the case may be, and all play for teams seeded number one in their regions. Tonight, we'll take an in-depth look at those prospects, and their teams' chances at a national championship.

First, however, we'll take one last look at the prospects who are watching from their dorm rooms, having fallen in their league playoffs.

The Minnesota State Mavericks, with Blues' center prospect Andrew Sackrison (31 games played, 3-5-8, minus-4, 18 PIM, 2 PPG, 2 GWG) were eliminated in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs by traditional powerhouse Wisconsin, falling in two straight games at Madison by a 7-1 score on Mar. 13, and a 4-2 tally on March 14. Sackrison scored the Mavericks' first goal at 11:21 of the first period in the March 14 game, with an assist by senior defenseman and pending free agent Brian Kilburg.

Elsewhere, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were an odds-on favorite to win the WCHA championship and play in front of the friendly Mariucci Arena crowd as the host school in the West Regional. Blues prospects Jay Barriball (34 games played, 11-23-34, plus-3, 52 PIM, 4 PPG, 3 GWG) and Cade Fairchild (35 games played, 9-24-33, plus-5, 52 PIM, 5 PPG, 2 FG) finished second and third on the Minnesota scoring parade, and were expected to play a big role in leading the Gophers to hometown glory.

There was just one problem; someone forgot to tell the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth that they were supposed to lose.

The cross-state rivals met in the WCHA Final Five Play-In Game on March 19, with the winner moving on to the WCHA semifinals, and the loser going back to campus. Minnesota-Duluth entered the game ranked 17th overall, while the Gophers were ranked just outside the top ten at 11th overall. When the smoke had cleared, Fairchild had scored for Minnesota, with assists to Barriball and 2009 draft prospect Jordan Schroeder, but the Bulldogs had tallied twice to send the Gophers home on the short end of a 2-1 score.

In a surprise twist, Minnesota-Duluth (21-12-8) will be seeded third in the West Regional, while the Pioneers of Denver University (23-11-5) will be seeded first in the region; Denver, the defending WCHA champions, fell in the championship game this season to UMD by a 4-0 score.

Denver is the only one of the top regional seeds that does not feature -- prominently -- a Blues prospect; the Pioneers do, however, boast a senior with good bloodlines and family ties to the Blues. Patrick Mullen, son of former Blues' great and Hall-of-Famer Joe Mullen, finished the year 4-21-25 with 39 minutes in penalty time, and had played both center and defense in his career with DU.

Each of the other top seeds boasts a Blues prospect in their lineup, and each of those prospects is a key player on their team. Starting with the Midwest Region, the top seed is the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (31-5-3), featuring sophomore defenseman Ian Cole.

Ian Cole

 Blues defenseman prospect Ian Cole will be doing a lot more than just watching as his Notre Dame Fighting Irish battle for a spot in the Frozen Four and a national championship (Game Time photo by Brian Weidler)

 

The Irish, who finished second in the final US College Hockey Online/CBS College Sports poll, cruised to the CCHA championship by blanking Nebraska-Omaha in the first round (5-0 on March 13 and 1-0 on March 14), squeaking by Northern Michigan 2-1 in the semifinal matchup on Mar. 20, and topping rival Michigan 5-2 in the championship game on March 21.  In the four playoff games, Cole racked up four assists (including an assist on the GWG in the win over Northern Michigan), a plus-2 mark, and eight PIM.

Cole and Notre Dame will take on College Hockey America conference champion Bemidji State (18-15-1) at 7:30 PM on Saturday, Mar. 28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The early game in the Midwest Regional will feature ECAC power Cornell (21-9-4) facing off against Hockey East upstart Northeaster (25-11-4) at 4:00 PM.

In the Northeast Regional, the top-ranked Terriers of Boston University (31-6-4) and freshman defenseman David Warsofsky earned their way to the Hockey East championship by dispatching Maine two games to one in the first round, spanking crosstown rival Boston College 3-2 in the semifinal game on Mar. 20, and blanking Mass-Lowell 1-0 for the championship on Mar. 21. In five games of Hockey East playoff action, Warsofsky, the Blues' seventh choice (95th overall) in 2008, racked up four assists (including an assist in the GWG in the Hockey East Championship game) and a plus-4 mark, with no penalty time.

Warsofsky and BU will take on the CCHA's Ohio State Buckeyes (23-14-4) at 5:30 PM on Saturday, Mar. 28 at Manchester, New Hampshire. The early game in the Northeast Regional, also on Saturday at 2:00 PM, features powerhouse North Dakota (24-14-4) of the WCHA vs. host New Hampshire (19-12-5) of Hockey East.

Finally, in the East Regional, coach Red Berenson and the Michigan Wolverines (29-11-0) will have perhaps the toughest road to the Frozen Four. The Wolverines, led by sophomore Aaron Palushaj, rolled through the first two rounds of the CCHA playoffs earlier this month, dispatching Western Michigan in two games by a combined score of 11-3, and stopping a surprising Alaska-Fairbanks squad 3-1 in the semifinal.

Then came the showdown with the Fighting Irish, where the third-ranked Wolverines blew a 2-0 lead, surrendered four third-period goals, and finished in the wrong end of a 5-2 score. In four CCHA playoff games, Palushaj led the way with three goals, five assists, a plus-4 mark, and just two minutes in the penalty box (for goaltender interference in the championship game loss to Notre Dame).

In the East Regional, the top-seeded Wolverines will meet a tough Air Force (27-10-2) squad, champions of the Atlantic Hockey Conference, in a 3:00 PM game on Friday, March 27 at Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the later game in the East Regional, host Yale (24-7-2) of the ECAC will face Hockey East power Vermont (20-11-5) at 6:30 PM.

Join us next time for more of the latest on the Blues' prospects, and until then, remember... "if we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.

 

Player Club (League) Pos GP G A Pts +/- PIM PP SH GW Shts Sht %
COLE, Ian Notre Dame (CCHA) D 37 6 20 26 +15 56 3 0 2 83 7.2%
PALUSHAJ, Aaron Univ. of Michigan (CCHA) RW 38 13 37 50 +25 26 4 0 2 91 14.3%
WARSOFSKY, David Boston University (HEA) D 41 3 19 22 +25 24 1 1 0 89 3.4%
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