Californians taking the lead as team captains in NCAA Division I hockey circles
They span the continent and have different roles on their respective teams, but there are similarities.
California Rubber Magazine has identified seven players with ties to the state who are wearing a letter for NCAA Division I programs this season. They bring different skills and play various positions, but there are a few constants in the template. All are good students, six of the seven are leading ranked teams and none shy away from accountability.
Two are captains – Alaska-Fairbanks’ Justin Woods and Northeastern’s Nolan Stevens – while five are assistants – Clarkson’s Brett Gervais, Harvard’s Merrick Madsen, Notre Dame’s Andrew Oglevie, Boston University’s Nik Olsson and Michigan’s Jake Slaker.
Woods, a burly defenseman who played Midget hockey for the California Titans, missed his sophomore season as he battled – and overcame – a rare form of bone cancer. He graduated and is playing this season as a redshirt senior.
A WCHA All-Academic Team pick, Woods is a heavy contributor at both ends of the ice for the Nanooks.
“What stands out to me most about him is how he is such a strong and humble leader,” Nanooks coach Lance West told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Justin not only has the ability to lead and pull others in, he teaches his teammates how to become leaders as well.”
Stevens, a forward who played Midgets for the LA Jr. Kings, helped Northeastern to a 6-3-1 start and No. 12 ranking. A Hockey East All-Academic pick, Stevens suffered a season-ending injury after piling up 22 points in 17 games last season. He had 42 points as a sophomore, prompting the St. Louis Blues to draft him in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He was back scoring more than a point per game this season.
“Nolan will give us a little bit of versatility,” Huskies coach Jim Madigan told the school’s official website. “He’s a really smart player. You can make some comparison to his brother (John) that there’s a really good hockey IQ there. It’s not hard to find out quickly that their dad (Kings coach John) was a positive influence.”
Woods and Stevens were assistant captains last season, as was Gervais, who has been Mr. Consistency for Clarkson, which has been in the top 10 all season.
The senior forward from Corona, who played for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Yorba Linda Blackhawks and OC Hockey Club, is a three-time ECAC All-Academic pick. He also was the Golden Knights’ Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, chips in offense and is a face-off monster.
“He’s an engineering major, so he’s attacking one of the tougher disciplines, and he has a work ethic that is unmatched,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “There’s a lot that goes into being a leader – keeping the team’s energy up, figuring out how to stay grounded. It’s a grind with the academics, but he’s balanced all that.
“He plays in all situations for us. His hockey sense and IQ are excellent. He’s not the rah-rah guy. He’s someone who spends a lot of time with the guys on the side to get to know them.”
Madsen’s ascension into a leadership role is notable because he’s a goaltender.
“I’ve been here 14 years and it’s the first time we’ve had a goalie wear a letter,” Crimson coach Ted Donato said of the Acton native. “It’s a tremendous honor and a tribute to Merrick’s character and how his teammates perceive the manner in which he carries himself on and off the ice.”
Harvard’s outgoing captains hold a team vote to determine the following season’s leadership group, and Donato cited Madsen’s treatment of others a huge factor in his election.
“It also speaks to the fact you’re judged not on a popularity contest, but how you treat those people you encounter away from the rink,” Donato said.
Madsen was a lynchpin for a Harvard team that reached the Frozen Four, setting a school records with 28 wins and a 16-game win streak. With a 2.11 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, the 2013 Philadelphia Flyers draft pick (his rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes this past summer) also was a Mike Richter Award semifinalist and an ECAC All-Academic selection.
Oglevie, a junior who played for LA Hockey, scored the goal that sent the Irish to the Frozen Four last spring, and he’s picked right up where he left off, averaging more than a point per game. He was selected Notre Dame’s Most Improved Player after going from nine points as a freshman to 41 as a sophomore.
After an up-and-down junior career, Oglevie has made a believer of Irish coach Jeff Jackson, who told the Indianapolis Star, “You can stereotype kids from California, mostly beach boys and maybe a little bit free spirited. Andrew, I was worried that he didn’t have the commitment level to be that kind of player and he’s definitely proved that’s not the case.”
Olsson is another story in resilience. Wearing an ‘A’ for the second season in a row, the Hockey East All-Academic pick, has seen the past two seasons derailed by injuries, including a broken leg in January. Yet the senior, who played for LA Hockey and the San Diego Jr. Gulls, pressed on and carved out a niche as a leader for the Terriers.
“I know Nik’s time has been hard, but what he went through last year is worth it for him,” coach David Quinn told the Daily Review. “He went through some tough times and is a better player for it now.”
Slaker is the only sophomore among the group, but he has wasted no time become a key member of the Wolverines, who recently climbed into the national rankings. The San Diegan scored a team-high 21 points as a freshman and was Michigan’s Rookie of the Year.
“He has a lot of leadership qualities,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Jake brings a couple of things. He plays with a lot of energy. Not once in a while, but all the time. He has that passion. He’s one of the more vocal players in the locker room, whether it’s encouraging or saying what needs to be said.”
A younger player has some leeway in that regard when he brings what Slaker does on the ice.
“He’s a good skater with a great work ethic,” Pearson said. “He has a really good shot; a great release. He also sees the ice well and I can play him anywhere.”
Clearly these seven are up to the task of leading their teams.
Photos: Gervais/Clarkson Athletics; Madsen/Harvard Athletics; Slaker/Michigan Photography
— Chris Bayee
(Dec. 5, 2017)