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 second team. The third team can be found here.
Forward: Sam Anas, Quinnipiac, 2013-2016, 121 games played, 69 goals, 63 assists, 132 points
Sam Anas isn’t necessarily the player that turned Quinnipiac into a power. In 2012-2013, the year before his arrival, the Bobcats won 30 games and made it to the national title game, losing to cross-town rival Yale. But it is fair to say that Anas played a big role in keeping the Bobcats at the forefront of the college hockey conversation over the course of his three-year career.
Anas didn’t look like a traditional goal-scorer. He was measured at 5’8” 160 lbs. But he had a ridiculous knack for putting the puck in the net. He led the Bobcats in scoring in each of his three seasons, including scoring at least 22 goals in every campaign.
The Bobcats skated in the NCAA Tournament in each of his three seasons, culminating in the best year in school history in 2015-2016, when Quinnipac won 32 games and made it to the national title game.
Forward: Austin Czarnik, Miami, 2011-2015, 159 games played, 46 goals, 123 assists, 169 points
The early half of the decade saw Miami’s program cruising at a historic high, while CCHA rivals Michigan State suffered through a historic low point and Michigan went through a stretch of missing three consecutive NCAA Tournaments concluding a streak of making the tournament every year since the Bronze Age. There were a ton of factors that went into that, far more complex than any single player. But looking back on his career, it’s not a tremendous stretch to say Austin Czarnik was one of those major factors.
Czarnik originally committed to his homestate Michigan State as an under-sized, but extremely talented youngster. He didn’t get much bigger, but continued to develop as a prospect and decided to re-open his recruitment. Michigan was interested, but a sour relationship with the family after his cousin Robbie Czarnik’s mid-year departure from Michigan for the OHL ultimately pushed him south to Miami.
Czarnik made an instant impact for the RedHawks, scoring 37 points and earning CCHA all-rookie team honors. He would lead the RedHawks in scoring in each of the next three seasons, with over 40 points in all three years. He captained the RedHawks twice and was named to the All-American team in each of his last three seasons. He won a CCHA regular season title as a sophomore and an NCHC playoff championship as a senior.
After winning 25 games and making the NCAA Tournament in Czarnik’s senior season, the RedHawks have yet to finish a season with a winning record.
Forward: Brock Boeser, North Dakota, 2015-2017, 74 games, 43 goals, 51 assists, 94 points
The Frozen Four had been a Sisyphean task for North Dakota. Since winning their last title in 2000, North Dakota had made it to the Frozen Four eight times, never winning a title, and losing six consecutive semifinal games, including a heartbreaker to rival Minnesota with 0.6 seconds left in regulation in 2013. It would take a dynamic scoring budding superstar to put them over the top.
By all rights, Brock Boeser probably never should have ended up at North Dakota. He grew up dreaming of playing for the Wisconsin Badgers, where his cousin Dan was a team captain, and quickly committed to the Badgers when given the opportunity in 2013. But as Boeser began to trend upward as a legitimate major NHL prospect, Wisconsin’s program went in the opposite direction. After the Badgers started the ‘14-’15 season 0-6, Boeser re-opened his recruitment, and as Wisconsin slogged to a 4-26-5 season, it became clear that Boeser would have to go elsewhere if he wanted to compete on a winning team.
Boeser would go scoreless in his first three collegiate games, but explode for a hat trick against Bemidji State in his fourth. Always a gifted goal-scorer, Boeser would score 27 goals in his rookie campaign. But it wasn’t until a mid-February series against Denver, when Boeser was paired with linemates Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula that he would start to take off as a playmaker.
From that point onward, Boeser would lead the country in scoring with 29, 20 of them assists, including a pair of assists in a Frozen Four semifinal win over Denver, and a goal and three assists in the national title game to help lead North Dakota to the title.
He was one of the few pro prospects to return to North Dakota for another year after the national title run, and with less of a supporting cast, his second year was good, but not as remarkable. But the magic of his rookie year remains an indelible performance.
Defenseman: Will Butcher, Denver, 2013-2017, 158 games, 28 goals, 75 assists, 103 points
Butcher is a player whose career came full-circle. Once viewed as a possible top-5 NHL Draft pick as a youngster, Butcher opted to commit to Denver where family friend Steve Miller was an assistant coach over his hometown University of Wisconsin. Two seasons at the NTDP cooled the hype surrounding Butcher considerably and he ended up being a fifth round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL Draft.
Butcher’s rookie season at Denver coincided with the first campaign of head coach Jim Montgomery for the Pioneers. His first two seasons were respectable, but quiet. He mostly stayed in the shadow of upperclassmen Joey LaLeggia, who also made this list.
His junior season was a breakout campaign, however. Serving as the team’s alternate captain, Butcher became the leader of Denver’s defense, raising his point total from 18 the previous season to 32 points, and helping lead the Pioneers to a Frozen Four appearance. He was named a second-team West All-American for the year. Yet somehow, that was not enough to impress the Colorado Avalanche who had drafted Butcher.
That summer, Butcher was not offered a contract by the Avalanche—who were being run by local oaf Patrick Roy, who favored bigger players and would soon be fired from the job— and told they had no plans of offering him one the following year. That....was a mistake.
Butcher tore through college hockey in his senior season, scoring 37 points, leading the country in +/-, logging major minutes every game, and ultimately leading the Pioneers to a national championship. He was named the 2017 Hobey Baker winner, ending a seven-year run of forwards winning the award. Butcher would go on that summer to spurn the Avalanche and sign a nice free agent contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Defenseman: Jimmy Schuldt, St. Cloud State, 2015-2019, 156 games played, 38 goals, 80 assists, 118 points
Only the frustrating randomness of the neutral site single-elimination NCAA Tournament format keeps Schuldt from the first team. Captaining the #1 team in the country while earning first team All-American honors is notable all by itself. Schuldt did it twice.
A booming slap shot from the point and poise with the puck made Schuldt a deadly weapon on the power play, and was good enough in his own end that he won NCHC defensive defenseman of the year as a senior. He passed on multiple opportunities to sign an NHL contract to return and play all four years at St. Cloud State, and put together one of the strongest four-year careers of any defenseman in some time.
Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck, UMass Lowell, 2012-2014, 53 games, .946 save percentage, 1.60 goals against average
No matter what, good players are going to be found and rise to the top of the game in hockey. Connor Hellebuyck went from an anonymous kid walking into an NAHL free agent tryout camp to an NHL All-Star that led the league in wins in less than six years.
In between was a two-year run at UMass Lowell that, even in an era of super-inflated goalie stats, looks absolutely incredible.
Hellebuyck started his freshman season behind incumbent starter Doug Carr. In Hellebuyck’s first collegiate game, he was torched for five goals on 33 shots against Denver, and wouldn’t see the net again for another six weeks.
But as the season progressed, it became clear that Hellebuyck was the #1 goalie for the River Hawks. Lowell began the season with a 2-5-1 record While Carr posted a .897 save percentage, Hellebuyck led the nation with a .952 save percentage. They were 8-8-1 with Carr in net, and 20-3-0 with Hellebuyck. Playing just 56% of his team’s minutes kept Hellebuyck from earning much in the way of postseason honors, but his play down the stretch that season turned what looked like a lost year into the best year in school history.
The River Hawks lost just three regular season games after the new year, which led them to the school’s first ever Hockey East title. They allowed just four total goals in four games to breeze through the Hockey East playoffs for their first league playoff title as well. Hellebuyck then allowed one goal over two NCAA Tournament regional games to lead UMass Lowell to the school’s first Frozen Four appearance.
In the Frozen Four, UMass Lowell was outshot an incredible 47-18 in an overtime game that Hellebuyck held them in, but they eventually lost 3-2.
The next season, Hellebucyk would see his playing time increase, and yet he would once again lead the nation in save percentage, as well as goals against average. The River Hawks would repeat as Hockey East playoff champions, with Hellebuyck posting back-to-back shutouts at TD Garden. A second trip to the Frozen Four was foiled in the regional final, however, by Johnny Gaudreau’s Boston College team.
After his sophomore season, Connor Hellebuyck began the inaugural winner of the Mike Richter Award, given to college hockey’s best goalie.