The dogfight to hoist this year's Stanley Cup is down to two combatants whose rosters in 2016-17 featured a total of 22 players who honed their skills in NCAA Division 1 prior to turning pro.
The Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who are the defending Cup winners, had 16 former student-athletes perform during the past season while the challenger and Western Conference winning Nashville Predators had six.
The Pens set a record last season with 13 past collegians having their names etched on Lord Stanley's famous mug and that number could increase if they happen to repeat this time around.
Already the NCAA alumni have made their mark in this post-season, most notably in Pittsburgh as Chris Kunitz (Ferris State Bulldogs) broke out of a scoring slump with two goals, including the game winner, as the Pens eliminated the Pesky Ottawa Senators 3-2 in overtime of Game 7 in the conference final.
Prior to his final game heroics, the Regina, Sask. native, who also added an assist on his team's other counter, had just two assists in 13 playoff contests. He was a four-year student-athlete with the Bulldogs.
Another former NCAA performer, defenceman Justin Schultz (Wisconsin Badgers) returned from injury to notch the other marker for Pittsburgh and also added a helper in their win over the Sens. The Kelowna B.C. native played for three seasons in Wisconsin.
Conor Sheary (UMass-Lowell River Hawks) and Matt Cullen (St. Cloud State Huskies) also picked up assists in the deciding game for the Pens while Ryan Dzingel (Ohio State Buckeyes) scored for Ottawa with an assist going to New Westminster, B.C. native Kyle Turris (Wisconsin Badgers).
The other collegians on the Penguins roster include: Phil Kessel (Minnesota Golden Gophers), who is third in team scoring with 18 points and leads in powerplay markers with five; Chad Ruhwedel (UMass Lowell); Brian Dumoulin (Boston College Eagles); Nick Bonino (Boston University Terriers); Brian Rust (Notre Dame Fighting Irish); Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell); Ian Cole (Notre Dame); Carter Rowney (North Dakota Fighting Hawks); Jake Guentzel (Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks); Carl Hagelin (Michigan Wolverines); Josh Archibald (Nebraska-Omaha); and Ron Hainsey (UMass Lowell).
Key collegians with the Preds include; Colin Wilson (Boston University Terriers), who leads the team in powerplay goals with two; Toronto, Ont. native Harry Zolnierczyk (Brown Bears); and defenceman Matt Irwin (UMass-Lowell), who hails from Victoria, B.C.
The other former NCAA performers who toiled this past season for Nashville include: Brad Hunt (Bemidji State Beavers); Craig Smith (Wisconsin Badgers); and Anthony Bitetto (Northeastern Huskies).
Both teams have a number of quality student-athletes continuing to develop in university hockey with the most notable being Preds' first round pick (17th overall in 2016) defenceman Dante Fabbro. The New Westminster, B.C. native, who starred for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships back in January, will be returning to the Boston University Terriers for his sophomore season in 2017-18.Back to Top
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