Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Trio of Alumni in the NCAA Frozen Four

Zach Davies (3) playing in his final year of college hockey
is heading to the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament

Getting through to the Frozen Four is the dream of every college hockey player and it is being shared by a trio of Spruce Kings alumni this year. Zach Davies, Brooks Robinson and Michael Colantone have all wore the Crown and represented Prince George in recent years and have since moved on to further their hockey careers in the NCAA.

Zach Davies first came to the Spruce Kings as an 18 year old with hopes of lighting it up as a forward in 2006. The coaching staff saw something more in Davies and worked with him on his defensive game putting him on the blue line where things just seemed to fit more naturally.

In his rookie season, Davies put up some numbers as he transitioned from forward to defence, but it was the increase in ice time that really showed off the player that was waiting to emerge. Davies was effective as a stay-at-home defenceman and started an iron man streak that lasted 148 games until he graduated from the Spruce Kings. In three seasons, he missed out on only six games and all of those were in his rookie season.

Showing just how effective he was from the back end, Davies went from a rookie season with 17 points (3G, 14A) to double that the following year with 11 goals and 22 assists. In his third season he increased those totals again to 16 goals and 34 assists for a 50 point year and a career total of 100 points (30G, 70A) in 174 games.

His defensive style caught the attention of the scouts from Quinnipiac and, as they say, the rest is history. What a history it has been for Zach Davies who is having a career year that has been capped off so far with the ECAC Defensive Defenceman Player of the Year Award.

"That was actually a bit of a surprise to me," said Zach Davies in a phone interview from Hamden Connecticut. "I didn't really expect it but it was nice to be noticed. I got a bit more attention from it that's for sure."

"I thought there was some bigger name defenceman and draft picks that more people were looking at," explained Davies. "Danny Biega from Harvard and George Hughes from Saint Lawrence would have been my picks for that award."

Defence is a big part of the College game and Davies shared a little insight on what up and coming players should be concentrating on.

"In college if you don't learn how to play defence you often don't play that much," advised Davies. "I'd say most college players are very sound defensively which is why the NHL is taking interest in so many of the players. They don't have to teach them that part of the game and that makes college players more ready for the NHL."

Great advice and an interesting perspective from the defencive defenceman of the year. We got see those attributes about the player first hand in Prince George and today Zach Davies still recalls fondly his three years with the Spruce Kings.

"I definitely developed a lot as a player in Prince George," recalls Davies. "I played a lot of minutes with the Spruce Kings. I wish we could have done more in those three years but I had fun there."

Four years later, Davies is looking at the end of his college career but not before getting the chance to do something every college hockey player dreams of doing. For the first time in their history, the Quinnipiac Bobcats are into the NCAA Frozen Four with the prospect of being two wins away from a National Championship.

"Obviously this is the highlight of my career here," said Zach Davies about his time with the Bobcats. "It's a highlight for the program. This is the first time (the Quinnipiac Bobcats) have made it to the Frozen Four. Those two games we won were the first wins ever in the National Tournament."

Inexperience at the Frozen Four is a common theme this year with three of the four teams being first timers on the national stage. The Yale Bulldogs last appearance was in 1952, long before it was known as the Frozen Four. The St. Cloud State Huskies and UMass Lowell River Hawks are the other two teams entering the tournament for the first time.

"I'm sure for all people involved, that will be the largest crowd we have ever played in front of," said Davies of playing in the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and home of the NHL Penguins. "It's sold out already, so that's 19 to 20,000 people which probably make you a little more nervous than the average game."

The Quinnipiac Bobcats will get the prime time slot of 8:00pm EST for their semi-final matchup against the St. Cloud State Huskies. Although there are no Spruce Kings alumni on the Huskies, that is the former team of both Jordy Christian and Nicholas Rioux.

"They'll be good, there's no question about it," said Davies of the Bobcats first opponent at the Frozen Four. "I think it is a good matchup for us. We'll be ready."

The Bobcats go into the Frozen Four as the number one ranked team thanks to their 18-0-3 run through the middle part of the regular season. To get to the final weekend, the Bobcats defeated Canisius Golden Griffins 4-3 in a come-from-behind nail biter and then followed that up with a 5-1 trouncing of the Union Dutchmen.

"I don't think the rankings will have much to do with it," added Davies. "By the time you get here everybody's a good team. We're just working on our game, fixing little things and trying to improve so that we can give ourselves the best chance to win."

Michael Colantone (24) in his first year of college hockey
is living a dream season heading to the NCAA Frozen Four

In the other semi-final that will get started at 1:30pm in the Pacific time zone, Michael Colantone and the UMass Lowell River Hawks will be in a dog fight with the Yale Bulldogs.

Colantone played one season with the Spruce Kings after being acquired from the Victoria Grizzlies just two games into the 2011-12 season. Colantone came in and immediately found a spot for himself on the top line alongside Paul de Jersey (the BCHL scoring leader for that season) and Jujhar Khaira (highest drafted BCHL player in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft).

The trio lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 251 points with Michael Colantone finishing in the league's top fifteen (33G, 41A). His play earned him a scholarship to the UMass Lowell River Hawks and now in his first year of college hockey finds himself in the Frozen Four.

"It's been good with both the school and the hockey," said Michael Colantone over the phone from Lowell Massachusetts. "I'm maintaining a 3.5 GPA and things are very good right now with the hockey. This is the first time the school has ever made it to the Frozen Four. It was also the first time we've ever won the Hockey East Championship."

A world away from his junior hockey days, Colantone sees all of the extra attention that the team and its players are getting making them feel like celebrities. Balancing all of that with the task at hand of preparing to play in the National Championship is no easy task and isn't being taken lightly by the team either who have requested that all interviews be approved in advance.

The River Hawks will have to play the first semi-game against a team that has been to the final four before; although that was many years ago. The Yale Bulldogs are a bit of an unknown for the River Hawks as the two teams have not played each other this season.

"They play in a different conference," explains Colantone. "We don't really know much about them. We know that they're a good team, but we also know that we're a good team and we have faith in ourselves. We're looking at going there to win."

"This is an awesome opportunity," said Colantone of being able to play in a NHL arena. "Playing at a pro rink just makes it that much better. When we played at the TD Gardens there was something like 14,000 fans which was just incredible."

Playing in his first year of college hockey, it is not certain just how much ice time Michael Colantone will get if any but being along for the ride is just as important for him as it is with any player on the team. In his freshman year, Colantone played in 18 regular season games scoring five goals including three game winners.

"Personally this is great, I never expected this right away coming in," said Colantone. "We've had an excellent year, it's definitely been a great ride and I've learned a lot. Hopefully we can finish out with a national championship and achieve everything there is to achieve."

The Frozen Four gets started on Thursday April 11 with Michael Colantone and the UMass Lowell River Hawks facing the Yale Bulldogs followed by Zach Davies and the Quinnipiac Bobcats facing the St. Cloud State Huskies. The winners of those two games will meet for the National Championship on Sunday April 13th at 4:00pm Pacific.

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