It’s been a tumultuous decade in college hockey, to say the least. But through it all, the overall talent level in the sport has never been higher, and some fantastic players have come through the ranks.
As the 2010s come to a close, I’ve put together three “All-Decade teams” of some of the best players to play college hockey from 2010-2011 through the present. I made my selections on a set of highly objective criteria that included best overall college career, biggest impact, and whatever felt right to me. Mostly the last one.
This is my All-Decade Team third team.
Forward: Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State, 2012-2015, 120 games played, 64 goals, 48 assists, 112 points
At the beginning of the decade, Brodzinski seemed a long shot to even play college hockey, let alone find a spot on this honored list. Best known as the too-slow linemate of Nick Bjugstad at Blaine High School, he drew minimal interest from NCAA schools, except for St. Cloud State, whose head coach, Bob Motzko, knew Brodzinski’s father from when they were both at SCSU in the mid-’80s. When Brodzinski slogged through a year in the USHL, only scoring 10 goals in 58 games, there were legitimate concerns about Brodzinski’s future from SCSU faithful.
But Motzko’s faith was rewarded when Brodzinski immediately developed into one of the premier goal scorers in college hockey. In his freshman season, he developed chemistry with that year’s Hobey Baker winner, Drew LeBlanc, and would lead the Huskies with 22 goals scored, en route to helping St. Cloud State to the last MacNaughton Cup of the old WCHA and to the school’s only ever Frozen Four appearance.
The Huskies would also win the inaugural NCHC regular season title the next season, with Brodzinski scoring 22 goals and leading the team in scoring. In his junior year, Brodzinski would emerge as the leader of the Huskies, scoring 21 goals and carrying the team to a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
In all, Brodzinski would score at least 20 goals in all three of his NCAA seasons, something only an extremely small handful of players managed to do this decade.
Forward: Matt Leitner, Minnesota State, 2011-2015, 158 games played, 49 goals, 113 assists, 162 points
The list of four-year players that managed to score over a point per game over the entirety of their career is a small one. But Leitner’s impact went far beyond the scoresheet. No program saw a more dramatic, sustained turnaround in fortunes this past decade than Minnesota State. And while much of the credit for that goes to Mike Hastings’ hire in 2012, Hastings was always quick to credit the fact that he inherited a lot of talent when he took the helm in Mankato.
After sitting out a season while he worked to gain eligibility, Leitner led the Mavericks in scoring as a rookie in 2011-2012, though with a modest 29 points on a 12-win team. The next season, with new head coach Mike Hastings, Leitner would lead the Mavericks with 47 points, while the Mavericks won 24 games, setting a D-1 program record, made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, and established some much-needed credibility by finishing in the top half of the conference in the final season of the old WCHA before being relegated to the new WCHA the following season.
The Mavericks would return to the NCAA Tournament again the following year, with Leitner once again leading them in scoring. In his final season, the Mavericks would take another step forward, winning 29 games, their first ever regular season championship, first ever league playoff championship, and earning the first ever #1 ranking in school history.
Forward: Kyle Rau, Minnesota, 2011-2015, 160 games, 67 goals, 97 goals, 164 points
Rau was never the most physically gifted hockey player, but his grit and determination more than made up for whatever limitations his 5’8” frame provided. Already a Minnesota high school hockey legend thanks to a dramatic championship-winning overtime goal as a senior, Rau came to the University of Minnesota at a time when the Gophers had missed three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, the school’s longest drought since Don Lucia’s first year coaching the team in 1999-2000.
The results during Rau’s four years in Minneapolis, both individually and as a team, speak for themselves. Rau posted point totals of 43, 40, 40, and 41 in his four years, while Minnesota won two WCHA regular season titles, two Big Ten regular season titles, made the NCAA Tournament all four years, and appeared in two Frozen Fours. Rau also served as a two-time captain for Minnesota. In the four-plus years since Rau’s departure, they managed two league titles in a weak Big Ten, and just one NCAA Tournament appearance.
Rau might not have been the flashiest, most exciting player, but his consistency and ability to lead his team to success was truly special.
Defenseman: Joey LaLeggia, Denver, 2011-2015, 156 games, 49 goals, 83 assists, 132 points
Joey LaLeggia was one of the early precursors of the modern college hockey recruiting landscape. Back before it became a commonplace rite of passage for all talented 15-year-old hockey players, LaLeggia made a commitment to New Hampshire as a 15-year-old, before re-opening his recruitment and ultimately choosing Denver.
LaLeggia was an offensive force from the outset, scoring 38 points as a rookie, which earned him the Tim Taylor Award as the NCAA rookie of the year. Ironically, his junior season, in which he scored a career-low 25 points, may have been his most impressive campaign. After the Pioneers suffered multiple offseason departures of key players to the NHL and the surprise firing of long-time head coach George Gwozdecky in the summer of 2013, LaLeggia helped lead the Pioneers on an improbable run through the inaugural NCHC playoffs to keep the school’s lengthy streak of 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances in tact.
He was named the NCAA’s best offensive and defensive defenseman in both his junior and senior years, and was a first team All-American and Hobey Baker finalist as a senior.
Defenseman: Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth, 2017-present, 97 games played, 16 goals, 70 assists, 86 points
If you believe, as I do, the adage that the team with the best defensemen often is the one to win the NCAA Tournament, it might seem counter-intuitive that a team that only played five defensemen, four of them freshmen, would go on to win the title. But when the ‘17-’18 Bulldogs snuck into the NCAA Tournament by the slimmest of margins, they got the chance to prove their group of defensemen, an overall talented set led by a superstar in Perunovich, was the best unit in the country. They did, and then repeated the task the following year, becoming the only team in the decade to win back-to-back titles.
Perunovich is a wizard on the ice. He plays the game at a different pace, and has the ability to see the ice and sense what is going to happen better than any other player out there. He’s twice been named NCHC offensive defenseman of the year, twice named All-American, and has a chance to start the 2020s by being named a Hobey Baker winner. Regardless, his legacy as an all-time great is already cemented by two rings for his local school.
Goalie: Jon Gillies, Providence, 108 games played, .931 save percentage, 2.08 GAA, 60-34-13
In late-March of 2012, Northeastern goalie Chris Rawlings, presumed likely to head to the pros after fielding some interest the previous offseason, opted to return to Northeastern for his senior season. Northeastern’s top goalie recruit, not wanting to spend a year as an apprentice, asked, and was granted, a release from his Letter of Intent to look elsewhere. He ended up choosing a nearby school that had a new head coach and had not been to the NCAA Tournament since he was seven years old. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jon Gillies would become the foundation of Nate Leaman’s rebuild of Providence’s program. His .931 save percentage as a freshman helped the Friars to their first winning record since ‘05-’06. Gillies was named the Tim Taylor Award winner for his effort. The next season, Gillies was at .931 again, and this time, the Friars made their first NCAA Tournament appearance. In his final campaign, Gillies would finish with a .930 save percentage and help lead Providence to the school’s first national title.