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.
Forward: Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College, 2011-2014, 119 games, 78 goals, 97 assists, 175 points
Great talent always rises to the top. Johnny Gaudreau was college hockey’s most dominating scorer and the clear choice for player of the decade. But to get there, he had to fight stereotypes about his size through enormous, outstanding talent every step of the way. He famously almost never bothered to try out for a USA Hockey Select 16 Festival, having been cut in every previous year due to his size. He had an incredible performance at the camp, but some questioned if his skill could translate to the junior level in the USHL. It did. After scoring 72 points in his one USHL season, some questioned if his skill would translate to the NCAA level. It did. And while dominating at the NCAA level, some questioned if his style of play could translate to the NHL level. Of course it did. But those doubts kept him in the NCAA a year or two longer than it probably should have, giving berth to one of the most special NCAA performances in some time.
His first two seasons at Boston College were excellent. He scored 95 points in 79 games, a pace as good or better than almost anyone who made the list. But his junior season in 2013-2014 is one for the ages. 80 points in 40 games. Gaudreau is the only player in the 21st century to average two points per game over an entire season, and barring some structural changes to how the game is played, he’ll probably be the last for a while.
The 2010s are the first decade since refrigerated ice that college hockey will not have someone score at least 200 career points. The fact that Gaudreau came so close in just three seasons is absolutely incredible. He was the hands-down Hobey Baker winner in 2014.
Forward: Jack Eichel, Boston University, 2014-2015, 40 games, 26 goals, 45 assists, 71 points
If college hockey had anything approaching a “moment” in the sporting public consciousness this past decade, it was Eichelmania.
While college hockey had seen plenty of good players in recent history, in the fall of 2014, there had not been a top-5 NHL Draft pick to play college hockey since James van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris were selected in the 2007 NHL Draft. And neither van Riemsdyk nor Turris was what one would necessarily call a superstar.
Eichel had played a key role on the US World Junior Team as a 18-year-old the previous year and had solidified himself as the likely #2 overall pick in the draft in a draft year that received out-sized general public attention due to a generational talent in Connor McDavid.
Meanwhile, college hockey was still in the midst of its’ attempt of being a television sport, which meant games were being broadcast regularly on stations like NBCSN.
The time was perfect for a college hockey superstar, and Eichel delivered.
Eichel began his career with a four-point game against UMass. That would be the start of a 10-game point scoring streak, with six of those games being multi-point games. He would post four four-point games, and score three points in a game eight times.
He joined Paul Kariya as the only freshmen to win the Hobey Baker Award. The Terriers came inches short of a national title losing to Providence in the national title game on a fluke goal.
Forward: Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth, 2008-2012, 166 games, 66 goals, 131 assists, 197 points
Technically, only two of Connolly’s four seasons in Duluth fall under the jurisdiction of this list. But those two years alone are more than good enough to merit inclusion.
As a junior in 2010-2011, Connolly finished third nationally in scoring with 59 points as a dominating playmaking presence for the Bulldogs. But most importantly, that spring, he would help lead Minnesota Duluth to the first national championship in school history.
The following season, as a senior, Connolly would improve his point total for a third consecutive year, scoring 60 points to finish second nationally in scoring. Though the Bulldogs would fall in a regional final that year in the NCAA Tournament, Connolly was named the Hobey Baker winner to conclude one of the best two-year runs for any player this decade.
Defenseman: Cale Makar, UMass, 2017-2019, 75 games played, 21 goals, 49 assists, 70 points
Cale Makar was already committed to UMass when Greg Carvel was hired by the Minutemen in 2016. But with the upheaval in UMass’ program, and Makar’s reputation as a prospect surging, it wouldn’t have been out of the question for him to re-open his recruitment and seek an opportunity at a more traditional power. The same had happened five years earlier at Northeastern when head coach Greg Cronin left for the pros and their top recruit, Johnny Gaudreau, ended up at Boston College. But Carvel sold Makar on the idea that he could be the cornerstone of something special that Carvel was building at Amherst.
Expectations were high for Makar when he came to UMass after being selected 4th overall in the NHL Draft. His freshman year showed some promise. He scored 21 points in 34 games while UMass improved from five wins the previous season to the 17 wins.
But in his second season, Makar took the next step to elite status. He led the nation in scoring by a defenseman with 49 points in 41 games and carried UMass to 31 wins—10 more than any other season in school history—their first ever Hockey East regular season title, and the school’s second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament that culminated with a loss in the national championship game. Makar was named the 2019 Hobey Baker winner.
Defenseman: Shayne Gostisbehere, Union, 2011-2014, 119 games, 22 goals, 60 assists, 82 points
In the early 2010s, Union’s program was on the verge of taking the next step to being an elite program. Nate Leaman had turned the Dutchmen into a consistent 20-game winner and taken the school to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011 before taking a job at Providence and handing the reigns over to Rick Bennett. They had built a strong core of older Canadian players, but when Shayne Gostisbehere joined the team in 2011-2012, it gave them something they had never had before: a legitimate high-end NHL prospect.
Gostisbehere was a skinny kid who needed time in college hockey to fill out. But his quickness and poise with the puck was absolutely elite. He would play a key role as a freshman for Union as they swept the ECAC regular season and playoff titles and made their first ever trip to the Frozen Four.
But it was his junior season that Gostisbehere really began to fill out and take the next step to being one of the elite defenders in college hockey and earn himself a spot among college hockey immortality.
Union lost 2-1 to St. Lawrence on January 31st, 2014. From that point forward, the Dutchmen would proceed to go 14-0-1 to earn a spot in the Frozen Four. The 2014 Frozen Four was one of the best in recent history. It featured Boston College and Johnny Gaudreau, in the midst of his legendary junior season on one side of the bracket, and the other side featured the first match-up between Minnesota and North Dakota since their ugly break-up with the formation of the Big Ten and NCHC. Vegas oddsmakers had those three at all about equal odds to win the national title, with tiny Union a distant fourth, almost an afterthought.
But Gostisbehere was masterful in the Frozen Four. He recorded two assists in a 4-3 upset win over Boston College to put the Dutchmen in the championship game. In the final, he played arguably one of the best games in history. He had a goal and two assists and was an absolutely insane +7 +/- in a 7-4 Union victory to give the school their first national title.
Goalie: Hunter Shepard, Minnesota Duluth, 2016-Present, 101 games played, .920 save percentage, 1.94 goals against average, 63-33-4
The 2010s were a decade that favored goaltenders. To the point that Hunter Shepard’s .920 career save percentage barely qualifies as acceptable for a team with any sort of postseason aspirations. But this is a list that values rarity of accomplishment above all else. There is no shortage of goalies that posted eye-popping season and even career stats this past decade. But, as much as I may hate the out-sized influence the exceedingly small, incredibly variable postseason plays in college hockey’s narrative there is only one goalie with eight wins in the NCAA Tournament and a pair of national titles.
It took a crazy set of circumstances for Minnesota Duluth to even make the 2018 NCAA Tournament field. But once they did, Shepard shined. The Bulldogs only scored nine goals in their four tournament games, but that was enough with Shepard in net. After needing a come-from-behind win in their first game against Minnesota State, the Bulldogs used the same formula in their next games, building an early 2-0 lead, and then letting their stellar defensive play with Shepard as the backstop carry them to 2-1 victories.
Shepard was even better in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. He held UMD in the game long enough for the Bulldogs to score a late game-tying goal and win a 2-1 overtime game in their first round. From there, he allowed one goal in the regional final, one goal in the national semifinal, and posted a shutout in the national title game. He joined Boston College’s John Muse and Michigan’s Marty Turco as the only starting goalies to win two national title games in the past quarter century.