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Beanpot Represents Changing Face of College Hockey

Forsbacka Karlsson
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
John Corneau/SB Nation

For the second year in a row, the four starting goaltenders in the Beanpot will all hail from outside of New England.

In last year’s tournament, three of the four starting goaltenders came from the hockey hotbed of California while the other was from British Columbia.

The first game between Northeastern and Harvard will pit two goaltenders from California while the nightcap will feature one from Missouri and one from Minnesota.

Talk of Beanpot heroes coming from outside of the Route 128 beltway might have been nearly sacrilegious a few decades ago, but it is now commonplace and a microcosm of the changing face of hockey.

Not only will the goaltenders be from 3,000 miles away, both leading scorers for the Crimson and Huskies come from north of the border.

The nightcap between Boston College and Boston University will showcase at least two Europeans, including Boston Bruins prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson who features prominently on the Terriers’ scoring chart.

As the common saying goes, throw out all the records when it comes to the first two Mondays of February in Boston. But, this year’s Beanpot should come with plenty of hype, and rightfully so. Three of the four teams are in the top seven of the all-important Pairwise Ratings and the one that isn’t is the defending Hockey East Tournament Champion with three of the top six scorers in Division I.

While there are still plenty of local players who could live out a childhood dream by playing hero on the TD Garden ice, players from outside the region could have a significant role in the outcome of the games.

Northeastern (11-11-5) vs. Harvard (15-5-2)
5:00 ET, NESN

Northeastern’s Dylan Sikura scored just five goals and two assists as a freshman. He increased his scoring production to 28 points as a sophomore. Now, in his junior campaign, the Aurora, Ontario native has already surpassed his combined freshman and sophomore total of points.

Sikura has 17 goals and 29 assists for 46 points. The 2014 sixth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks ranks second and third nationally in points per game and assists per game, respectively.

He comes into Monday’s game on a six-game point streak in which he’s tallied five goals and added 10 assists. He’s largely slid under the radar while teammates Adam Gaudette and Zach Aston-Reese have received much of the media attention, but he’s provided some of the best highlight reel plays of the college hockey season. His speed, creativity and hands are what fans can expect to notice on Monday night.

Freshman defenseman Jeremy Davies will play a key role in the Huskies’ ability to push the pace, transition effectively, break the puck out of their own zone and enter the attacking.

The Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec native is an undersized blue liner, but he has terrific mobility. He is able to move the puck by making heady outlet passes or carrying it out of trouble.

A 2016 seventh round selection of the New Jersey Devils, he is more of an offensive defenseman, but his defense has improved as he’s learned to engage more and defend with his feet.

“I’m an offensive defenseman who likes to get into the play, but I also take pride in playing defense and being involved in all 200 feet,” Davies told SB Nation in November. “I’ve always worked on my skating. Obviously I’m not the biggest guy out there. My feet help me defend in my own zone and I try to have a good stick,” explained Davies.

When his name lands on the box score, NU is above .500. When he is held scoreless, the Huskies are below .500.

There has perhaps not been a more maligned player in college hockey this season than Northeastern sophomore goaltender Ryan Ruck. A year after taking over the starting job and being between the pipes for the program’s first Hockey East Championship in nearly three decades, he’s struggled to find consistency and let in his share of soft goals.

He’s the only goaltender in the tournament who won’t have his NHL rights owned by a team come July, but if he can find confidence with a few early saves, he could help the Huskies find their way to the late game next Monday.

After three seasons of falling in the shadows of Jimmy Vesey, this season has finally been Alexander Kerfoot’s time to shine in a Crimson uniform. The senior from West Vancouver, British Columbia has nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 22 games played which ranks 17th nationally.

A 2012 NHL Draft selection of the New Jersey Devils, he is undersized, but he has above average speed and exceptional vision. He does a good job of creating time and space for his linemates by using his quickness to separate from defenders.

Facing one of the most explosive offenses in college hockey, junior goaltender Merrick Madsen might be the most important player in the game. The 6-foot-5 Acton, Calif. native is a draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.

His development path took him on stops to Proctor (N.H.) Academy and the Minot Minotauros of the North American Hockey League before arriving at Harvard. He has a .918 save percentage, and he’s the better goaltender on paper in the game, but he’s not at the level of either starter in the late game.

Long Island has become somewhat of a hockey hotbed over the past decade, and the Islanders dominance in the 1980s probably has something to do with that. Adam Fox is yet another player to hail from “The Island” to make a splash in college hockey rinks.

The Jericho, NY native leads all defensemen in Division I in points per game. He’s second in assists per game for all players and ranks third in points per game among freshmen.

The Calgary Flames prospect is undersized and has defensive limitations, but his ability to skate, move the puck and think the game offensively are dynamic.

Boston University (18-7-2) vs. Boston College (18-9-2)
8:00 ET, NESN

The most historic and greatest rivalry in college hockey will be showcased once again in Monday’s late game. The Terriers swept the regular season series last month with 2-1 and 3-0 wins over the Eagles.

There is no more dynamic player in the 2017 Beanpot than Boston University freshman forward Clayton Keller. The Swansea, Ill. native and seventh overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes possesses game-changing speed, hands and overall offensive skill set.

He was hampered by an early season knee injury, but has 13 goals and 16 assists for David Quinn’s club. He’s scored at least a point in 14 straight games, including two goals and three assists over the past two contests.

Don’t be surprised if Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson plays a key role in this game. The Stockholm, Sweden native has been held scoreless in four consecutive games, but before that he had a seven game point streak. He scored a hat trick in BU’s 5-4 overtime win over Union with seven players missing at the World Juniors. A few days later, he took center stage, scoring the first two goals of the game at Fenway Park.

A 2015 second round pick of the Boston Bruins, he could be playing on the same ice he might call home someday. His skating has further progressed, and he’s added an offensive element to his game to go along with being one of the most responsible two-way centers in college hockey.

“We use him in so many situations. He’s got such poise. He’s so elusive. He’s a great skater. It’s an underrated part of his game. He’s shifty. He’s tough to defend. He’s got a great stick. He’s got a great head for the game. He’s got incredible composure and mental toughness. It’s why we use him to the point of exhaustion,” Quinn said earlier in the season.

Sophomore defenseman Charlie McAvoy is a game breaker from the backend. The Long Beach, NY native and first round selection of the Bruins in 2016 has the ability to take over a game with his elite skating and puck-moving ability. He can improve a team’s possession numbers in a heartbeat. With the dynamic play-making ability comes the shifts where he’ll take a risk that might lead to a reward, but might also lead to a scoring chance at the other end.

“He’s got incredible skill. He’s got great poise with the puck. He’s been doing that for a long time. It’s why he’s a first round pick and so highly thought of,” said Quinn after a 4-4 tie against Northeastern in November.

Boston College rookie left wing David Cotton has improved perhaps more than any other player in college hockey since October. The 6-foot-3 Parker, Texas native has always intrigued NHL scouts with his hands and shot, but he’s learned to use his size to his advantage the past month.

A sixth round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015, Cotton has scored three points in two of the last four games, including a three assist performance in a comeback win over Notre Dame. In that game, his ability to win puck battles along the left wing wall opened up scoring chances for linemates Chris Calnan and Julius Matilla, who along with his brother Jesper both hail from Finland.

“You love playing with those guys. He’s a tremendous player. He’s tall. He creates space. He protects pucks well. He’s got a bright future,” Calnan explained.

Four of Cotton’s eight goals this season have been of the game-winning variety. He’s also assisted on two game-winners.

Senior center Austin Cangelosi has won a higher percentage of draws than all but one player in college hockey. The Estero, Fla. native stands at just 5-feet-7, but he has a quick stick and helps the Eagles start off with possession rather than chasing the puck.

But don’t mistake him as just a face-off specialist. He has scored 11 goals and added 11 assists. Three of his goals have come while the Eagles were shorthanded. Despite his lack of size, he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and get into scraps.

Monday’s late game will feature two of the best NHL goaltending prospects in all of college hockey. BC freshman Joe Woll, a native of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., is a second round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’ll oppose 2017 NHL Draft eligible prospect Jake Oettinger, a teammate of his the past two seasons with the U.S. NTDP and once again this year at the World Juniors. Woll came out on the short end of the stick in the two games last month, but he’s a prototypical modern era goaltender who combines size and fundamentals to make saves look easy.

“I try to incorporate what an athletic goalie and a blocking goalie would do, and try to find the balance between the two,” Woll said earlier in the season. “I want to set my angles and try to make saves look easy by being in the right position. I also want to make the big athletic saves when my team needs me.”