During this time of year, most college students are finishing up finals and making plans to go home for the holidays. For four Dallas Stars prospects, the break will have added meaning. Two are hoping to protect the net for their respective countries at the 2018 World Junior Championship; another is hoping to represent at the WJC for the first time, while an upperclassman is left to reminisce about his gold medal winning 2017 Team USA journey.
The WJC tournament begins on Tuesday, Dec. 26 in Buffalo, New York. In addition to the four college players, the Stars will also have prospects Miro Heiskanen (Finland), Fredrik Karlstrom (Sweden) and Ondrej Vala (Czech) participating in the tournament.
Boston University Goalie Jake Oettinger
The Stars selected Jake Oettinger with their second pick in the first round (26th overall) last summer. Oettinger is the starting goaltender for Boston University and was a backup on last year’s gold medal-winning Team USA. He’s hoping to secure the starting job this go around.
Jake Oettinger went super American with his pads today at World Juniors camp pic.twitter.com/t1dmd2sHWg
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) December 15, 2017
Oettinger’s Boston University Terriers have struggled so far this season. The team is undoubtedly feeling the effects of losing talented players like defenseman Charlie McAvoy and forward Clayton Keller to the NHL. The Terriers have a very young squad, as 16 of their players are either freshman or sophomores. Oettinger, in his second season with BU, turns 19 on Monday.
Last season, Oettinger was 21-11-3 with 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. This season he is 7-9-1 with 2.91 GAA and a .902 SV%. The statistical regression is attributed more to the overall team play than Oettinger’s performance. Terriers head coach David Quinn has been critical of his team’s defensive game, and BU ranks eighth in penalty minutes per game averaging nearly 15 minutes per game with a subpar 75.4 penalty killing percentage.
I got an up-close look at Oettinger recently in a 3-2 loss at UMass Lowell on Friday, Dec. 8. He was solid but unspectacular. The River Hawks screened him on the first two goals, and Oettinger had a bit of unfortunate puck luck when the third goal ricocheted off his teammate’s leg into the net.
Oettinger will be competing with a cross-town rival in Boston College goaltender Joseph Woll for the starting job. Woll was the other backup on Team USA last year.
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs forward Riley Tufte
Also, hoping to represent the Stars and Stripes is left wing Riley Tufte, the Stars’ 2016 first round pick (25th overall). Tufte is a towering specimen at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds in his second season with University of Minnesota Duluth. In the summer of 2017, he suffered a broken wrist while participating in a preliminary camp for Team USA.
Tufte’s freshman season with the Bulldogs was a bit of a whirlwind. After suffering the broken wrist, he returned in time for the start of the college season but failed to score a point in his first 14 games. After finding his stride, he closed out the season by scoring points in four of his last five games as UMD advanced to the national championship game, where they lost to the University of Denver. Tufte finished his freshman season with nine goals and seven assists in 37 games.
So far this season, the Ham Lake, Minnesota native has eight goals and three assists in 19 games. Similar to Oettinger, Tufte is working through a challenging season as his team is struggling with a record of 7-7-2. However, in his last game, a 6-2 win at Omaha on Saturday, Dec. 9, Tufte scored two goals.
This past August, Tufte had a strong showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase, as Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News noted, “Tufte put a crushing hit on Dante Fabbro and was generally dangerous against Canada. Great speed and size, just needs to finish his chances more.” Tufte will be competing with a talented forward group to earn a spot on the 2018 Team USA squad.
Michigan Defenseman Joseph Cecconi
University of Michigan defenseman Joseph Cecconi, a fifth-round pick (133rd overall) in 2015, won gold for Team USA last year. As an upperclassman, he no longer qualifies for the WJC tournament this year. Christmas came early for Joseph Cecconi at the 2017 WJC when he survived the final cuts to make Team USA.
The experience with Team USA boosted Cecconi’s confidence. As he told Michigan reporter Steve Kornacki last January, “It was an honor to be on the team, and the fact that we won gold — that was ridiculous — it’s hard to explain. It was the best hockey moment of my life.” Cecconi had two assists in seven games and a plus-one rating for the tournament.
Stars prospect Joseph Cecconi gets his gold medal pic.twitter.com/7PtXdQmPnJ
— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) January 6, 2017
This season, Michigan has leaned on his leadership skills – Cecconi is an alternate captain who leads by example as well as being a vocal leader when needed. The Youngstown, New York native is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and plays on Michigan’s top pairing on defense. These aren’t Marty Turco’s Wolverines, as the team has started the inevitable shift from the Red Berenson era to a new system under former Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. The Wolverines stand at 7-7-2.
He projects as a defensive defenseman, although he already has surpassed his career high in points this season with 11 (three goals and eight assists) in 16 games.
Colgate Goalie Colton Point
Colton Point, Stars fifth-round pick (128th overall) in 2016, will be representing Team Canada at the WJC. The consensus is that Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart will start, but you never know how the tournament might play out. A year ago, Point was the backup goalie for a Colgate University team that won only nine games. He appeared in just ten games and had two wins, a .918 SV%, and 2.45 GAA.