Hi, My Name Is ... Blake Kessel
Having a famous last name doesn't always work out well for an athlete. For every Eli Manning, there is a Brett Lindros or an Ozzie Canseco.
Obviously, Blake Kessel (NHL rights: N.Y. Islanders) hopes things work out a little differently for him, as he makes the transition from amateur to professional in the near future.
Kessel, currently a sophomore defenseman at the University of New Hampshire, is probably better-known as "Phil's younger brother." Phil Kessel, of course, is a forward for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. He also made the cut for Team USA's roster at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month.
Blake Kessel was a bit of a late-bloomer, blossoming into a solid Division I prospect while playing in the United States Hockey League. He isn't afraid to say that he wanted to get out of the Midwest to play college hockey. Even if Blake didn't follow in Phil's footsteps (Minnesota), it made sense for him to think that any school in the Midwest would have left him in Phil's shadow.
Don't take this stance as some sort of disdain for Phil. The two remain close.
Blake has good size, and he can hold his own physically. He's also becoming an elite puck-moving defenseman, as evidenced by his performance Saturday against Dartmouth.
In that game -- a 5-2 New Hampshire win -- Kessel assisted on four goals, including two power-play markers that helped salt the game away for the Wildcats.
He might not be too terribly far away from being a serious NHL prospect, so UNH would be wise to enjoy him while they can. With his four-point night Saturday, Kessel is up to 26 points, including a team-high 20 assists, in just 20 games. UNH has struggled a ton in non-conference games, going just 1-5-1 against opponents outside of Hockey East. That stat will make it tough for UNH to return to the NCAA Tournament, unless they're able to take the Hockey East crown and qualify automatically.
Other Players to Watch
Minnesota appears to be coming to life. Jordan Schroeder (Vancouver) had three points as the Gophers picked up three huge Western Collegiate Hockey Association points against rival North Dakota. Minnesota rallied for a 3-3 tie Friday and then blew out the Fighting Sioux 5-1 Saturday. Freshman Zach Budish (Nashville) and junior Cade Fairchild (St. Louis) also posted three-point weekends. The Gophers are still seventh in the WCHA, but they're now .500 in league play for the first time this season, and they're only four points behind fifth place.
Red-hot Minnesota Duluth moved to 10-3 in their last 13 games with a sweep of Minnesota State, Mankato. The wins moved UMD past idle Denver into first place in the league. Sophomore center Jack Connolly (undrafted) had two points in a 4-3 overtime win on Saturday to hold on to the WCHA scoring lead with 35 points. Freshman defenseman Dylan Olsen (Chicago) scored his first collegiate goal Friday, and it proved to be the game-winner.
Senior David McIntyre (New Jersey) scored twice in Colgate's 6-2 win over Clarkson Saturday. It proved to be a nice way for them to rebound after a 4-0 loss at St. Lawrence Friday.
Perhaps this is the start of a turnaround for Notre Dame. After a relatively hideous start, the Irish moved to .500 overall with a win and a tie against Michigan State. Ryan Thang (Nashville) and Nick Larson (Calgary) scored twice each in a 5-2 home win Friday, then Thang picked up two more goals in a 4-4 tie at Michigan State Saturday.
Freshman Chris Brown (Phoenix) scored three goals for Michigan as the Wolverines beat Alaska 6-0 Friday before tying 3-3 Saturday. Matt Rust (Florida) added three assists in the two games.
Miami (Ohio) rebounded from a stunning sweep at the hands of Robert Morris by sweeping Ferris State (Mich.). Chris Wideman (Ottawa) had a goal and two assists in the 4-0 and 5-4 wins, while Carter Camper (undrafted) picked up three assists, and Tommy Wideman (undrafted) scored twice.