PITTSBURGH – Yale put up a Bulldog front against Umass-Lowell and Quinnipiac stomped on St. Cloud State to set up an all-Connecticut final at the Frozen Four. And though every player on the four teams will tell you they came to Pittsburgh in search of a national championship, there are other perks to a title challenge for some of the youngsters. While top free agent names such as Western Michigan's Danny DeKeyser (Detroit) and Union's Troy Grosenick (San Jose) have already been snapped up, there were still talents waiting to end their college careers before jumping to a pro contract and each squad at the Frozen Four had at least one.
Antoine Laganiere, RW – Yale Bulldogs
At 6-foot-4, 197 pounds, it's no surprise NHL teams are interested in Laganiere, a 22-year-old whose game really took off as a junior.
“The first two years we had great teams and it was more of a learning experience for me,” he said. “I took that and rolled with it into the third year. I learned to use my body more and got faster and stronger.”
Coach Keith Allain used the powerful right winger in all situations against UMass-Lowell, from penalty killing to the last shift of regulation with the game very much on the line. A physical player who's not afraid to mix it up in front of the net, Laganiere is also surprisingly adept at making himself invisible to defenders in the offensive zone, often with deadly consequences.
Drafted in the Quebec League by Rimouski, Laganiere instead headed to prep school at Deerfield Academy before decamping for New Haven.
“It's less hockey-focused (at Deerfield). But you learn a lot – it's a short, intense season. It gives you a chance to discover yourself under less pressure. I always liked school and I wanted to keep a balance between athletics and education. I think I've done a pretty good job of that.”
Christian Folin, D – UMass-Lowell River Hawks
Born and raised in Sweden, where he played in the Frolunda Indians system, Folin came over here and played in the North American League for Austin, with a brief stop in USHL Fargo as well. A big, physical defenseman, the freshman is great at protecting the puck and getting it up to his forwards. He played big minutes for the Hawks in their heartbreaking loss to Yale.
Eric Hartzell, G – Quinnipiac Bobcats
A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Hartzell is a big goaltender who tracks the puck well and will make the unorthodox save when standard practices are not an option.
“This summer I really found who I was, I found my identity working with (goalie coach) Steve Ellicott,” he said. “I'm a pretty athletic kid, but we created a sense of calmness in my game, which was relieving for me in situations where you can't think twice. We created a mind that was calm and in one place at one time.”
Hartzell's only blemish against St. Cloud was a result of a fluke; the netminder was attempting to push off to cross the crease, but his skate edge didn't catch, sending him flat on the ice and the cage yawning open for Joey Benik. Otherwise, Hartzell was a wall for the Bobcats and snuffed out any semblance of a comeback the Huskies tried to muster.
Drew LeBlanc, C – St. Cloud State Huskies
The Bobcats locked down LeBlanc for most of the contest, but the talented pivot's resume speaks for itself otherwise: The Huskies captain had 50 points in 41 games this season and boasts a very quick release. Like Hartzell, LeBlanc is a finalist for the Hobey Baker.