Last week, the Chicago Tribune published an article talking about the amount of hockey talent being produced by the state of Illinois and how despite that, the state still does not have a Division I college hockey program.
One quote in particular in the article stood out to me:
"If you took just a team of Illinois players and projected it, it would be favored to win the national championship," said Mike Snee, executive director of College Hockey Inc.
That's a bold quote that requires further examination. What would an all-Illinois team look like, and just how good would be they be? I drafted my own team of players born in Illinois to see what it might look like:
First line: LW Anthony Louis (Miami, 36 12-13-25) C JT Compher (Michigan, 35 11-20-31) RW Nick Lappin (Brown, 30 13-19-32)
They're a little young, but I really like this first line. Compher is one of the tougher two-way centers in the country. Louis brings tremendous speed to the line-up, and Lappin has been a dependable scorer through two years at Brown.
Second line: LW Austin Farley (Minnesota Duluth 31 7-10-17) C Vince Hinostroza (Notre Dame, 34 8-24-32) RW Jimmy Murray(St. Cloud, 36 13-12-25)
This second line is good enough to be almost interchangeable with their first. Farley's numbers took a dip last year, but he scored a point-per-game as a freshman so he's got big scoring capability. Hinostroza is like Compher in that he's very good on both ends of the ice. Murray is fearless and a very hard worker that contributes offensively.
Third line: LW Ryan Papa(St. Cloud, 37 6-16-22) C Dan DeSalvo (Bowling Green, 39 7-25-32) RW Sam Herr (Notre Dame, 40 14-13-27)
A strong set-up man in DeSalvo combined with a guy that finish off plays in Herr is a great combination for a third line, and Ryan Papa, despite his size, makes an excellent third line grinder that is going to work hard every shift.
Fourth line: LW Ryan Wagner(Wisconsin, freshman) C Nolan LaPorte (Western Michigan 40 11-13-24) RW Alex Roos (Colorado College, 35 10-7-17)
LaPorte anchors a group of two speedy wings with offensive upside. Even with Wagner playing for the NTDP last year, this line returns 21 goals from last season. Every coach in the country would gladly take 21 goals out of their fourth line.
Extras: Ray Pigozzi(UMass), Tommy Olczyk(Penn State), Tim O'Brien(Dartmouth), Matt Ustaski(Wisconsin)
Robbie Russo (Notre Dame 21 4-11-15) Louie Belpedio (Miami freshman)
Matt Joyaux (Miami 35 2-5-7) Mitch Witek (Yale 35 0-5-5)
Chris Joyaux (Miami 35 1-4-5) Dane Cooper (Brown freshman)
Extras: David Drake(Connecticut), Justin Wade(Notre Dame)
Not the flashiest group, but pretty solid. Russo missed the second half of last season, but he's capable of playing first pairing minutes. Belpedio was great with the NTDP last year, and should be a key contributor for Miami this year. Big freshman David Drake is an intriguing player that could bring a lot of size to the lineup.
Ryan McKay (Miami 26 2.70 .913), Hayden Stewart(Cornell freshman), Cole Bruns(Army freshman)
McKay had a rough season last year as a sophomore, but his numbers were awesome as a freshman. Two of the USHL's best goalies last year are backing him up. Any of these three would be capable of starting 30+ games and carrying a team.
How Good Would This Team Be?
Would this team be the favorite to win the national title? In terms of name recognition, their roster doesn't jump off the page as loaded with high NHL Draft picks like a Minnesota or Boston College. But the depth that this team has would be very hard for anyone to match.
It's worth pointing out that I limited myself to just players born within Illinois, but if we extended the parameters to players that grew up playing in Illinois, that opens up even more options like Nick and Jordan Schmaltz, and Anders Bjork. It's also worth pointing out that this hypothetical team was hit by the same problems most top teams face. Potential Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Dzingel left early for the pros last summer, while you could make a pretty decent top six just with players Illinois has lost to the CHL(Top 60 NHL picks Conor Chatham and Christian Dvorak, others like Michael Turner, Danny Vanderwiel and Sam Povorozniouk)
As it is, I really like the offense on this team. With the caveat that this is an all-star team and some of the third and fourth liners on this team are seeing more ice time as first or second liners at their respective schools, the lineup for this team combined for 131 goals last season, enough to rank in the top 10 among offenses last year, and Robert Morris just edges them out for most goals returning from last season.
The defense isn't elite, but more than good enough, and I really like the depth in goal. They'd be good enough in goal that they would be an excellent defensive team.
I wouldn't call them national title favorites, but they would definitely be one of the contenders.