Florida’s Hockey Scene Produces NCAA Talent

A couple of Floridians made waves this college hockey season

Last week, as college hockey’s conference championships wrapped up, each conference has started to hand out its 2017-2018 awards.

There was not much surprise in to whom these awards were given. What might be just a little surprising, however, was where one of the award winners came from. Hockey East, a conference that routinely produces national champions and NHL mainstays, gave its rookie of the year award to Boston College freshman Logan Hutsko.

Hutsko is a native of Tampa, Florida. Perhaps the greatest sign that Tampa is a true hockey town for reasons other than the excellence of the Lightning at the moment is that the city is beginning to produce real hockey talent. Hutsko is the poster child for that talent.

Logan Hutsko does not come from out of nowhere. He was so good that he attended Minnesota’s Shattuck-Saint Mary’s High School, kind of the hockey equivalent of athletics factory Mater Dei in California. They’ve won 25 USA Hockey national championships, after all. At Shattuck, he caught the eye of Boston College coach Jerry York, college hockey’s winningest coach. This is to say, the Tampa native has a true hockey pedigree.

Hutsko led the Eagles in scoring this year with 12 goals, 19 assists, and 31 points across 36 games. That’s no small task for a school that brings in so many NHL-bound prospects. Boston College is where Johnny Gaudreau played his college hockey, after all. This year’s squad is a younger one, with just one senior on the roster. York’s plan is to build the team for future years, where Hutsko will be their leader. With eight teammates having been selected in the NHL Draft, Hutsko’s team will only get better as it grows. Expect the Eagles to have a lot of buzz coming into the 2018-19 season largely because of the Tampa product.

This is the kind of player who spends a lot of the game with the puck. Hutsko seems to be everywhere at times for the Eagles. In the semifinal, while he did not score a goal, if Boston College was on the attack it was largely a product of his hard work in getting the puck into the other end.

The forward averaged a point per game across one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Boston College took an ambitious out of conference slate that included defending national champions Denver and a number of other regular powerhouses on the ice. The schedule was so difficult, in fact, that BC ended up without a single out of conference victory. Still, they won the Hockey East regular season championship with strong conference play, and coming into the semi found themselves in position for a potential at-large bid even after their loss to Boston University.

The results on Friday and Saturday night across the country came in, and they weren’t good for Hutsko’s Eagles.

Coming into the weekend, Boston College sat right on the NCAA Tournament “bubble,” sitting at fifteenth in the PairWise Rankings generally used as the metric that determines who goes to the tournament and who doesn’t. With sixteen spots available and at least one automatic bid going to a school ranked outside of the top sixteen, that left BC in a position to possibly be the last team selected. Of course, they could make matters simple and win Hockey East, but with the conference loaded like always that was not going to be an easy task.

Despite Hutsko’s hard work, the Eagles did not advance to the Hockey East final, losing on Friday to their rival Boston University in an overtime heartbreaker. This already put the Eagles’ bid on thin ice, but the results in other conferences made an at large bid increasingly impossible.

With automatic bids going to Air Force, Princeton, Boston University, and Michigan Tech, Boston College’s season was over before 9:00 on Saturday night, thus bringing an end to Logan Hutsko’s remarkable 2017-18 campaign.

Saturday night popped the bubble for college hockey, with four automatic bids coming from outside of the top 16 in the PairWise. Boston College isn’t the only team who will be left on the cutting room floor, with national powerhouse North Dakota and Big Ten stalwart Minnesota joining them. This is the cruelty of a 16 team postseason, but of course when there are just 60 college hockey programs across all division I there is no room for a bigger tournament.

From here, Hutsko moves on to NHL Draft season, where he will most certainly receive a fair share of attention. Mock drafts and projections suggest he’ll be a late round pick, but with the approval of Jerry York, as well as that of Hockey East, he is almost a lock to be selected at some point. After being drafted, Logan Hutsko will return to BC and York’s program, as the BC coach is one of the great player development men in the history of collegiate hockey.

Given the way Boston College’s season ended, Hutsko will return to the Newton, MA campus with renewed resolve and a program-wide chip on his shoulder. Not only did the school miss the NCAA Tournament, but their rivals Boston University eliminated them, and crosstown upstarts Northeastern won the coveted Beanpot with a puncher’s chance of doing damage next week in the big tourney.

For the Boston schools, Hutsko’s Eagles will provide stability in a time of transition. Boston University is always in transition, coveting NHL-bound prospects and watching many of them leave early. Meanwhile, Northeastern is saying goodbye to two senior forwards who helped their top line become the best in the country, and likely to Hobey Baker frontrunner Adam Gaudette as well. This college sports mainstay, the state of flux that teams are often in, will benefit Hutsko.

Logan Hutsko wasn’t the first, and isn’t the only, hockey player from the Gulf Coast to find himself on a Hockey East team.

The Northeastern Huskies, who will be in action in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon, feature freshman forward Zach Solow, from Naples. Solow leads all Huskies freshmen in points with 26, good for fifth on the team despite not playing on the much-celebrated first line with Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura.

Again, the recruiting is a testament to the quality of the Sunshine State native. When a forward is recruited by Jim Madigan, he likely has a good nose for the net. Northeastern has produced the leading scorer in the country two years in a row, both times on lines loaded with other talent. Solow will also be eligible for the 2018 draft, and mock drafts have him going around the middle of the event.

Solow will be critical on Saturday for the Huskies. Northeastern has the best top line in the country, and Adam Gaudette is going to be a handful every time out, but the Huskies will need support for their top three scorers to keep up in the NCAAs. Against Michigan, Solow’s play could be the difference between moving on and going home for a team looking to put the finishing touches on one of the best years in the program’s long history.

With major programs starting to recruit players born in Florida, it’s another sign of the Lightning’s impact on the sports landscape of the Gulf coast.

The club level of college hockey is governed by the ACHA. In their standings, Florida Gulf Coast is regularly among the top teams in their subset of Division 2.

This season, USF went to the ACHA national tournament, eventually being turned away by Georgia Tech to bring to a close their 15 win season. The Ice Bulls continue to grow their club program and its following, and that following is showing just how far beyond NHL games the west coast of Florida’s love for hockey goes.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.