The Bridgeport Regional: Four undrafted free agents to watch

Photo Credit-Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Like in the Fargo Regional, we will highlight one undrafted free agent per team in this competitive regional to watch. Each team has some talent not selected in the NHL draft with a chance of playing in the NHL very soon.

Lake Superior State Lakers

Mareks Mitens

The Ventspils, Latvia native is one of the best goaltenders in the country, and played against several other top flight goaltenders in the WCHA this year. The Latvian netminder is one of the most athletic goalies left in this tournament, and has the ability to make saves look easy and keep the game calm. When the Lakers’ offense has gone dormant this year, he has kept them in games. His strong hockey sense, combined with getting feedback over the course of the two NHL development camps he has attended ( Islanders, Blackhawks) has helped improve his play to the point where the goaltender not many new about before he represented Latvia in the 2016 World Under 18 Championship in Grand Forks now projects to get multiple offers at the next level. If he can keep the Lakers in it early against a very offensively gifted Massachusetts team then they could have a chance to move on, beyond that if his improved defense can limit the grade-a looks that he sees, Mitens could help his team make it to the Frozen Four.

Bemidji State Beavers

Zach Driscoll

He has the athletic ability of Mitens, and calmness to match. The Beavers’ netminder also has a team in front of him with not as much offensive upside as the Lakers have. Despite that, he got his team into the tournament through playing well against the best competition in the league, Minnesota State. In every game he has played in this year, he has shown calmness in net, and the ability to make tough saves look easy while benefiting from the defense-first system that the Beavers play. When they took on Alabama Huntsville, the Chargers had moments of a surge, but Driscoll kept them at bay. For his team to defeat the high-flying Badgers of Wisconsin, he will have to do more of the same.

Wisconsin Badgers

Ty-Belton Pice

To play on a line with Cole Caufield, you need to have physicality, and the ability to get him the puck, along with some shooting prowess of your own. Luckily he has all three of those things. The senior center has 29 points in 23 games, and is a big reason for Caulfield’s likely Hobey Baker Award that he will win in a few weeks. The way he plays the game to lead his Badgers involves a lot of physicality, and he is also one of the smarter players on-ice that they have. While the spotlight will rightly be on Caufield, look for Pice’s role to matter just as much in determining how far the Badgers will go this postseason. After this year, given the success of his line, NHL teams may want to chat with one of the better assist-generating centers in the country who help set up the best goal scorer in the country. He can earn his way to the NHL in a few years if he keeps his work ethic where it is, and shows scouts that his abilities translate to the next level.

Massachusetts Minutemen

Olivier Chau

If you think Odeen Tufto of Quinnipiac will get a lot of attention by NHL teams after this year for his superb playmaking ability, you are correct. Chau’s numbers while not as gaudy suggest his ability to put up assists in a similar manor at the next level. Along with being incredibly disciplined (one penalty taken for a mere two minutes this season), he can distribute the puck at a high level. He has 17 assists in 25 games on a team that has speed and scoring up and down its lineup, and on a group that has had to win tough defensive battles in a strong Hockey East only schedule this year. Chau’s skill and discipline will most likely appeal to any NHL team looking for a responsible playmaker who can make their top goal scorers at the AHL level better, while being able to play a third or second line role in the NHL one day soon.

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UND Sweeps Bemidji State- What to look for next

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Tonight at a sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks needed to get off to a good start in their series finale against an always tight-checking Bemidji State Beavers side eager for a split. They did just that as 36 seconds in, Jordan Kawaguchi made Beavers’ netminder Henry Johnson pay for playing the puck behind his own net. He created a turnover and fired the puck to Grant Mismash who buried it in the wide open net. This goal set the tone for the period and evening at large. 16:56 into the first period, Cole Smith used a wrap around to end up bouncing a puck to Mark Senden who found the back of the net in tight shooting to an empty net as Johnson over played the first shot.

That would remain the margin through the first period and most of the second as the Fighting Hawks controlled the pace of things through the game. Jonny Tychonick added an insurance marker in the second as Mismash would add a primary assist to his ledger. He found Tychonick activating into the rush and wired across a superb pass. Jonny potted his first career goal on that rush and slammed into the boards in celebration. As UND Head Coach Brad Berry noted, it was good to see him finally get rewarded for the offensive prowess he brings to the UND blue line. Colton Poolman added an empty net marker late in the third period to restore a three goal lead after Aaron Miller found the back of the net for the Beavers 18 seconds earlier.

Now, the Fighting Hawks have one week to get ready for a one game date with the Huskies of Michagan Tech at the Ralph. How they continue the last five periods of play from this weekend will determine the result.

Beyond the scoring, UND goalie Adam Scheel played well tonight, especially as the game progressed and made more tough saves throughout the waves Bemidji State was trying to throw at the Fighting Hawks. He finished with 19 saves on the night and had a big role in keeping things calm as UND grew its lead.

In addition, Brad Berry praised Jasper Weatherby for the consistency in his game. He has begun to fill the very important role vacated by Rhett Gardner. Weatherby is now the center the staff looks to when they need a big draw won in the defensive zone to stymie a potential chance. Adding his skill at the dot is a big addition to the team this year. While he did not score for the Fighting Hawks he again spent a lot of the night parked in front of the Bemidji State net and tipped some pucks wide and just missed a few others.

In addition,  the staff mixed up the lines a little bit tonight. They rewarded Josh Rieger with time as the seventh defenseman and slotted in Casey Johnson up front. Both players played their roles, and we could see them more this year. The lineup changes were made in part due to how last night’s game finished and the coaches wanting to get different players some game action.

Next week will provide another test against the Huskies of Michigan Tech. Tonight, against a decent Bemidji State team that makes life tough for their opponents when able to defend we saw the blueprint to win for this team executed to perfection. Score early, and make responsible plays throughout to add insurance as needed. When this team can make other teams open up their game to try and score just to catch up, good things will happen.

This team has too much skill to try and play grind heavy games as a first resort if not needed, if they can get one quick and defend that allows them to roll all of their skaters and not need to worry about shortening the bench. It may not seem like much now, but spreading out minutes for as long as possible will help later on in the year. Developing depth to add with skill is not a bad idea, and hopefully this team can do so as we progress in this still early on season.

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