From: Las Vegas Review Journal
by Todd Dewey
Less than a year after Jason Zucker became the first player from Nevada to be selected in the NHL Draft, the Las Vegas resident was poised to realize another rare feat for the University of Denver.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the left wing was on the verge of becoming only the second freshman in the 59-year history of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to win a scoring title.
Zucker, who led North Dakota senior Matt Frattin by three points entering last weekend, fell short in his quest when he was held scoreless and Frattin scored seven points.
But Zucker, a second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, was named WCHA Rookie of the Year on Thursday and exceeded most expectations in his first season for the fifth-ranked Pioneers (21-10-5).
"I never expected him to have the impact offensively this early in his career that he's had with us this year," said 17th-year Denver coach George Gwozdecky, a two-time national Coach of the Year. "He's had a very dramatic impact on his team this year."
The 5-foot-11-inch, 180-pound Zucker, who also was named second-team all-conference, scored all 20 of his goals and 36 of his 38 points in 28 league games, finishing third in the WCHA in scoring.
"I didn't get (the title), but it was still a good run," said the understated Zucker, who had 12 multiple-point games and a nine-game point streak this season, and in February was named the national Division I Rookie of the Month.
"He is a very gritty player with good speed and plays with a lot of energy and drive," said Gwozdecky, who has guided the Pioneers to two national titles. "I don't know if there's anybody that goes to the net harder that I have coached in many years like Jason.
"When he gets it in his mind he's going to go to the net, it's really difficult to stop him."
Zucker was born in Newport Beach, Calif., but his family moved to Las Vegas when he was 2 months old and still resides here.
He attended Bonanza High School his freshman year before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., to play for the prestigious Detroit Compuware Under-16 team and in the United States National Team Development Program.
Zucker, who turned 19 in January, helped lead the U.S. squad to consecutive gold medals at the U-18 world championships, in 2009 and 2010, and he was the youngest member of the U.S. U-20 team that shocked Canada for the gold medal in the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Zucker also helped the U.S. team earn a bronze medal at this year's world juniors in Buffalo, N.Y.
"Medaling at that tournament at all is an accomplishment," said Zucker, who was knocked out -- almost literally -- of a 6-1 win over Slovakia when he took an elbow to the head in what widely was regarded as a cheap shot.
"In nontechnical terms, I got my bell rung," Zucker said. "I was a little bit out of it that night."
Fortunately for Zucker, he didn't suffer a concussion; Jesse Martin, Zucker's teammate at Denver, wasn't so fortunate.
Martin suffered a broken neck Oct. 30 in a game against North Dakota. But he was walking shortly after undergoing surgery and has remained a big part of the team.
"He's around the locker room every day," Zucker said. "We're all playing for him and trying to win games for him.
"He's been a huge inspiration. It makes you really think how lucky we are to play hockey every day."
Zucker's future beyond this season is unclear, but it appears likely he'll return to Denver for at least another year or two before turning pro.
"The trend is your best players aren't around for their senior years," Gwozdecky said.
For now, Zucker is content to help the Pioneers pursue their eighth national title. Denver, seeded second in its league with a 17-8-3 mark, will embark on its quest today, when it opens the WCHA playoffs at home against 11th-seeded Minnesota State (14-16-6, 8-16-4 WCHA).
"Obviously, (making the NHL is) my end goal, but I have to focus on myself here and winning a national championship before I can worry about anything else," Zucker said. "I've been successful so far, I'm having fun, and there's not a whole lot more I could've asked for."