The University of Denver hockey team takes the ice against the U.S. National Development Under-18 Team tonight. Its only an exhibition game, but there are interesting subplots that DU hockey fans can keep an eye on.
1). Goaltending - Will the coaches rotate Adam Murray and Sam Brittain for half a game or will each goaltender play one entire game this weekend? Either way, these two DU players will be under the microscope this weekend.
2). Freshman - Three early NHL Draft picks will take the ice and Nick Shore is sure to be selected by an NHL team next season. Throw in David Makowski, who was the best defenseman in the USHL last season and three other Freshmen and you have a stellar recruiting class. DU's best recruiting class ever? We shall see.
3). Power Play - In recent seasons Coach Gwozdecky has gone with four forwards on the first power play unit. With Freshman Beau Bennett emerging as a power play specialist in the BCHL last season, DU may be temped to try it again.
4). Lineup - In recent seasons, the exhibition game lineup was a fairly accurate representation of how DU started the season. Its always interesting to see how the Freshman players are sprinkled through the lines. Will they play together like Rakhshani, Ruegsegger and Trotter did in 2006 or interspersed with experienced veteran players?
5). Development - As players get older and bigger, they assume more leadership and playing time responsibilities. What DU player has improved the most in the offseason? Candidates include Adam Murray, Paul Phillips, Drew Shore, Nate Dewhurst, Chris Knowlton and William Wrenn. Its no coincidence that all of these players were 18 years old when they enrolled at DU. Generally the younger you enter college, the bigger upside potential you have.
6). Forwards - DU legends Rhett Rakhshani, Tyler Ruegsegger and Joe Colborne have moved on. With vacancies come opportunities. Who will seize the day and see the biggest improvement in points? Drew Shore is going to see more ice time, more power play opportunities and have slicker wingers this season. Senior Anthony Maiani may have shot to become an elite college player this season and burst on the scene nationally.
7). Defense - DU has seven defensmen who could start for virtually any other college program. Matt Donovan may only be a Sophomore, but the New York Islanders are hot on his heels. Look for him to turn pro after the season.
8). Special Teams - We talked about the power play, but juggling the lineup and creating mismatches is an art form. Coach Gwozdecky is one of the best in-game coaches in college hockey. With the TV timeouts and the imbalance in recruiting among various programs, mismatches on the ice win or lose more games than most realize.
9). DU Recruits - Its pretty rare that college hockey fans get to see two future players play for an opponent. Tonight forward Zac Larraza and defenseman Matt Van Voorhis will suit up for the USNDT. It should be a fun opportunity to see how these future Pioneers handle themselves on the ice.
10). Future NHLers - Of all the teams that DU plays this season, in all likelihood, no opponent will feature as many future NHL players as the USNDT. Sure they may be five years away from playing in the NHL, but fans will be given an opportunity to see some of the best young talent in the United States. Enjoy.