This has been an… interesting year. Coronavirus raged across the globe, causing chaos, confusion, and a shortage of toilet paper. It also affected sports in the worst way, forcing many of the biggest events to be canceled or rescheduled. College Hockey was hit noticeably hard, as the NCAA, and all individual conferences, had to cancel postseason play.
However, there have been some brighter moments in the longest year ever. Individual awards were handed out after extraordinary performances, programs playing at the best of their ability, and one team that was left for dead, but was saved by its fans.
5. Despite Pandemic, College Hockey Returns
This one is certainly the most recent, but given the year that was 2020, it is definitely one of the most important. Even though fans were not going to be an option, the teams across the country wanted to play, no matter what the circumstances.
After the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, college hockey suffered a little bit of a lull. Major professional sports were able to go on, but obviously the financial stability and resources for leagues such as the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB are a little more stable than a lot of programs in college hockey.
However, the NCAA allowed each conference to determine how they wanted to come back, and while some teams were not allowed to play, the majority of college hockey conferences put together blueprints to return to the ice.
The first game of the season took place on Nov. 13, and the season was off and running from there.
While some games have had to be canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases, the 2020-21 campaign continues to chug along. Fingers crossed the season ends in Pittsburgh.
4. Perunovich Becomes Sixth Bulldog to Win Hobey Baker Award
The Hobey Baker Award — the most prestigious individual award in college hockey. It has been handed to the best player in the NCAA each season since 1981. Minnesota-Duluth has had its fair share of winners, as five Bulldogs had won the award heading into the 2019-20 season.
The prestigious list of players had to make room for another Bulldog, as Scott Perunovich had one incredible season, becoming the ninth blueliner to win the award, and the first Minnesota-Duluth member since Jack Connolly in 2012.
The recently signed member of the St. Louis Blues organization had a career year in 2019-20, scoring 40 points in 34 games. He finished second in the country in defencemen scoring, leading all blueliners in assists with 34 points. Perunovich registered two five-game point streaks, including a run in November where he put up 14 points in six games.
Perunovich is the second Bulldog defenceman to win the award, as Tom Kurvers became the first play in Minnesota-Duluth history to take the trophy back in 1984.
3. Both Cornell Teams End Season No. 1
Of the 61 schools that have an NCAA DI men’s hockey team, 35 of them have a women’s team as well.
It is rare to see both teams dominate at the same time. In fact, since women’s hockey became an NCAA sport in 2000, there has only been one occurrence of when both a men’s and women’s team from the same school have won a national championship. That was when the University of Wisconsin swept the National Championships in 2006.
Last season, two teams were looking to be on that same track, as the two Cornell teams were both the No. 1 teams in the country for men’s and women’s hockey. The men’s squad took over as the best team in the USCHO rankings in late February, with the women’s team named the best team in the NCAA a couple weeks prior.
Both Big Red clubs were similar in that they had two of the best goaltenders in the county. Matthew Galajda had an outstanding season, finishing with a 23-2-4 record, a .931 save percentage (SV%), and a 1.56 goals against average (GAA) that was only second to Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay. He also earned his second nomination for the Mike Richter Award.
As good as Galajda was, Lindsey Browning was a little bit better. She helped the Big Red to an undefeated conference record, going 19-0-3, 28-2-3 overall. She had the second-best save percentage in the country (.952 SV%), and a minuscule 0.91 GAA that was the best in the country. She also led the NCAA with 12 shutouts, only two off the single-season record. Browning was named the ECAC MAC Goaltender of the Year.
Arguably the biggest “what-if” of the year. What if the pandemic never happened? Would Cornell have swept as national champions? Unfortunately, we will never know.
(Really a shame they aren’t playing this year either)
2. Swayman Nominated for Hobey, Takes Richter Award
Since 2014, the Mike Richter Award is given to the best goaltender in college hockey. During the 2019-20 season, there was no doubt the best netminder in the country was the University of Maine’s Jeremy Swayman. This, despite the Black Bears finishing fourth in the Hockey East standings, and only having two players in the top-10 in conference scoring.
The Boston Bruins prospect’s year was not easy, by any stretch. In 34 games, he faced 1,170 shots, stopping 1,099 of them, both most in the country. In 14 games last season, Swayman made 35 or more saves, including five games where he stopped 40-plus. On top of all that, he finished with 2.07 GAA and a .939 SV% that was second in the NCAA.
Swayman became the fourth goaltender from Hockey East to win the award, following Connor Hellebuyck (UMass-Lowell, 2014), Thatcher Demko (Boston College, 2016) and Cayden Primeau (Northeastern, 2019).
1. Boosters and Supporters Save Alabama-Huntsville
If there was a better feel-good story in college hockey, I clearly have not heard about it.
Back in May, it was announced that the University of Alabama-Huntsville was going to cut their hockey program, along with teams at the school, citing financial reasons. To some, it was not the biggest surprise as the Chargers had one of the most expensive travel budgets in the country, and they were one year away from being without a conference.
However, folks that support the team decided they were not going down without a fight. A GoFundMe was created to help raise at least $500,000 to bring back the team for at least one season.
The catch: The university said the goal had to be reached in one week.
Despite the odds, enough money was raised in time for the school to bring back the hockey program, thanks to big donors such as UAH alumni Taso Sofkitis, Sheldon Wolitski and Cam Talbot, and other big names like Brian Burke and John Buccigross.
The money did not stop there. A hockey advisory board was created to help sustain the program. They took a big step a few months ago, where $17 million was raised to fund the program over the next decade. It will cover the team’s travel cost, day-to-day operations and other expenses the program needs.
Plans are also in place for a multi-purpose facility on Alabama-Huntsville’s campus, which would include an arena for the Chargers to call home. Baby steps are being taken, but from where the program was back in the spring, the Alabama-Huntsville hockey program has taken giant leaps to become a sustainable program.
Tuesday, Dec. 29
No. 7 Bowling Green def. Robert Morris, 2-1
Robert Morris was looking to avenge their loss earlier this season to the Falcons, and took a 1-0 lead into the third period. However, goals from Bowling Green’s Connor Ford and Will Cullen early in the third period changed that narrative. Zack Rose made 11 saves in the third period, 30 on the night, helping Bowling Green to the win.
No. 10 Clarkson def. Niagara, 6-3
After getting upset by Colgate last week, the Clarkson Golden Knights made sure that did not happen on Tuesday night. Anthony Callin led Clarkson with a pair of goals, with both Dustyn McFaul and Alex Campbell each registering a pair of assists in the team’s fifth win of the season.
RIT ties Colgate, 4-4
The Colgate Raiders looked to build off their big win over Clarkson when they took on the Tigers. Colgate jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first thanks to two goals from Paul McAvoy. Yet, RIT stormed back with two of their own by the end of the frame, and another in the second. The Raiders came back to tie the game, and then McAvoy completed the hat trick to give his team the lead in the third. However, the Tigers were able to tie the game thanks to a goal from Kobe Walker in the final minutes of regulation.
Neither team scored in overtime, so the game ended in a draw.
Wednesday, Dec. 30
No. 9 Massachusetts def. New Hampshire, 4-0
The UMass Minutemen improve to 6-3-1 with a win over the Wildcats in a rather tight battle, as New Hampshire outshot UMass 27-23. Matt Murray was exceptional in goal for the Minutemen, stopping all 27 shots that he faced. Matthew Kessel scored what ended up being the game-winning goal, including a pair of assists. Bobby Trivigno also chimed in with a goal and an assist for UMass.
Northern Michigan def. Ferris State, 6-5 in overtime
The second meeting in a month between the Northern Michigan Wildcats and the Bulldogs was a wild one. Ferris State went up 3-0 in the first period, but Northern Michigan stormed back with three of their own in the second. After the Ferris State Bulldogs’ Coale Norris scored in the dying seconds of the second period, the Wildcats’ AJ Vanderbeck scored twice in the third to give his team the lead late in the contest.
However, Ferris State tied the game in the final minute, forcing overtime. It ended up being Northern Michigan who go the last laugh, as Joseph Nardi deflected a shot by Roni Salmenkangas gave the Wildcats the win. Vanderbeck’s two tallies gives him four against Ferris State, with Vincent de Mey scoring twice as well for Northern Michigan.
Thursday Dec. 31
No. 12 Quinnipiac ties St. Lawrence, 2-2 (Quinnipiac wins in a shootout)
Finally, the St. Lawrence Saints stepped onto the ice for the first time this season in the first official game of the ECAC season. While they took on a tough opponent in the Quinnipiac Bobcats who had won four-straight, St. Lawrence was able to stay in the game. Cameron Buhl scored a goal and an assist for the Saints, while Odeen Tufto stayed hot for the Bobcats with a two-point night of his own.
Overtime solved nothing, so a shootout was needed to determine a winner. Once again, Tufto stepped up and scored the only goal in the shootout to give Quinnipiac the extra point.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.