State of Hockey in Massachusetts Not at Its Highest Peak
Massachusetts isn’t the hockey hotbed it used to be.
The latest reminder comes courtesy of NCAA Tournament team rosters.
Despite having four teams from the Bay State make the 16-team field (UMass, American International College, Harvard and Northeastern), only 30 players with Massachusetts roots are on teams that will begin play for a national championship this weekend.
By comparison, Illinois has 32 players in the field.
Massachusetts has the most schools in this year’s NCAA Tournament field.
With three schools in the hunt, Minnesota has more than double (67) the players that Massachusetts has. If Northeastern didn’t make the field -- granted, that’s a leap because the Huskies have a terrific team -- players from Massachusetts would decrease by 33 percent.
Northeastern has 10 players from Massachusetts, far and away the most of any college still playing. Take Northeastern out of the tournament and California would only be two players behind Massachusetts.
That’s a not a misprint -- California has 18 players with sights on making the Frozen Four.
Of the 16 teams with aspirations on shuffling off to Buffalo, N.Y., and the Frozen Four, seven don’t have a Massachusetts player on their roster.
Florida, for crying out loud, has eight players with national championship aspirations.
Internationally, 10 players hail from Sweden and seven call Finland home.
The feel-good story of the NCAA Tournament is just two hours away in Springfield.
Underdog American International College will play top-seeded St. Cloud State on Friday in Fargo, N.D.
AIC has just one Massachusetts native on its roster. The Yellow Jackets have 11 players from outside North America. They are the United Nations of hockey, with multiple players from Sweden (4) and the Czech Republic (2), and one from the Ukraine, Slovakia, Norway, Slovenia and Latvia.
Take away Northeastern, Providence and Harvard, and there are only 10 players from Massachusetts among the other 13 teams.
This is a trend that’s been happening for awhile as the sport has become popular in non-traditional hockey markets.
Locally, only five of the roughly 400 players in the tournament are from the Lowell area and only two -- the Burke brothers from Boxboro -- figure to be in the lineup this weekend.
The Burkes attend Notre Dame.
Cal is a junior forward who is Notre Dame’s third-leading scorer with 28 points in 34 games. He scored a pivotal goal last weekend when the Fighting Irish defeated Penn State, 3-2, in the Big Team championship game.
Cam is a freshman forward. He has netted five points in 30 games. Both are expected to play Friday against Clarkson in Manchester, N.H.
At Northeastern, defenseman Collin Murphy of Wilmington has skated in 15 games, though not many down the stretch.
UMass defenseman Ryan Bliss moved to Chelmsford several years ago with his family. After playing two seasons at Cornell, the injury bug bit Bliss. He was eligible to play in the second semester after transferring to UMass, but he’s yet to play in a game for the Minutemen.
At St. Cloud, Jeff Smith has excelled in limited duty as the backup goaltender. The UMass Lowell transfer (he was a River Hawk during the 2014-15 season) went 6-1-1 with two shutouts and a .923 save percentage in the regular season.
Five players with local roots in a 16-team field is a far cry from 2015 when Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford), John MacLeod (Dracut) and Brien Diffley (Burlington) played key roles as Boston University advanced to the national championship game in Boston.
That BU team, by the way, featured 11 Massachusetts natives.
Massachusetts is still a major player in the hockey world. Just not as big as it once was.
Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun