What about Californians in college hockey?

We like college hockey – a lot actually – here. Covering the college and junior A versions of hockey is where I got my start.

Here is a conference-by-conference capsule look at some — but by no means all — the projected impact players from California in the NCAA Division I game. This was to accompany a November story in California Rubber Hockey Magazine about the large group of Californians at Western Michigan University this season.

Atlantic Hockey – RIT Sr. G Shane Madolora was a second-team All-American last season, when he went 17-3-7 with a 1.93 goals-against and DI-best .935 save percentage. …  Sr. F Nielsson Arcibal (Vista) is American International’s captain and was fourth in scoring on the team a season ago. … Jr. F Kyle De Laurell (Mission Viejo) was third in scoring for Air Force last season and leads the Falcons early this campaign.

CCHA – So. F Brett Mohler (Yorba Linda) was second on Bowling Green in scoring as a freshman. … So. C Chase Balisy (Rancho Santa Margarita) is Western Michigan’s top scorer, while three D from the state – Jr. Matt Tennyson (Pleasanton), So. Dennis Brown (Cypress) and Fr. Garrett Haar (Huntington Beach)– anchor the blue line.

ECAC – Sr. D Corbin McPherson (Folsom) is one of Colgate’s captains this season.

Hockey East – So. F Matt Nieto (Long Beach) is one of Boston University’s top scorers, while Jr. D Max Nicastro (Thousand Oaks) is one its top blue liners. … Jr. F Dalton Speelman (San Jose) is counted on for scoring by New Hampshire. … So. D Kyle Bigos (Upland) – one of the biggest players in the league at 6-5, 235 – is a shutdown defenseman for Merrimack.

WCHA – Denver So. F Jason Zucker (former LA Select) was selected the league’s preseason player of the year, while North Dakota Fr. F Rocco Grimaldi (Rossmoor) was projected to be the conference’s rookie of the year. … So. F Beau Bennett (Gardena) was among top scorers in ’10-11. … So. F Matt White (Whittier) led Nebraska-Omaha freshman in scoring last season. … Jr. D Joe Marciano (Alta Loma) was voted Colorado College’s most improved player last season.

A few notes … Grimaldi is near a return after sustaining a knee injury early in the fall. … Bennett underwent wrist surgery this past week, and he is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. However, a couple of those will be during the Christmas break, so his games lost won’t be what they could be. … Zucker will represent Team USA at the World Jr. Championships for the third consecutive year. Emerson Etem (Long Beach) will join him for the second year in a row.

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Californians at NHL prospects camps

Several recent NHL draftees from California have been attending prospects camps during the past week, and several were noted on various team sites.

On the New York Islanders’ site, forward Rhett Rakhshani of Huntington Beach is mic-ed up for some of the scrimmage video highlights (Day 3). If one looks carefully, you can spot the Denver University product behind John Tavares on the camp opening page. Rakhshani, incidentally, has been selected DU’s captain for the upcoming season.

Forward Colin Long of Santa Ana is quoted several times throughout coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes’ camp on the team’s web site. Long served as captain for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League this past season, and the Rockets came within one game of winning the Memorial Cup.

The Edmonton Oilers have a nice video interview with defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland on their prospects camp coverage. Bigos addresses a variety of topics, including winning the RBC Cup and his college choice of Merrimack.

And the Detroit Red Wings have a nice feature on forward Mitch Callahan on their site. Callahan went from being a walk-on player at Kelowna’s camp to a sixth-round draft choice in one year!

Congratulations to CA draftees

Two players who played their youth hockey in California, and a third who was born in the state were selected on Day 2 of the NHL Entry Draft on Saturday. I write about all three at Calirubber.com

A few personal notes about each that you won’t read about there.

As impressive as defenseman Kyle Bigos‘ size is (6-5, 230 pounds), his commitment to improve his skating in recent years has really put him over the top with scouts. He was dominant in the RBC Cup this spring, and he played at a consistently high level in all three zones this past season, his second in the BCHL.He also led the Vernon Vipers’ blueliners in scoring.

Bigos (Upland) is an example of why persistence pays off in hockey. He was picked as a 20-year-old in a draft that can pick players as young as 18. And aside from one summer before he left to play in Saskatchewan, he didn’t play at the AAA level in California.

Right wing Mitch Callahan of Whittier is another example of where hard work can get a player. He played just one season of AAA in California, and even more impressively, he made the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets as a walk-on. As if that wasn’t a rare enough feat, he was an impact player for a team that came within one victory of winning the Memorial Cup. Callahan didn’t sit out one game all season and he was one of the toughest players in the league despite weighing well south of 200 pounds. And he could score – he had 27 points, including 14 goals, in the regular season.

The third player, right wing Brandon Kozun, was born in Los Angeles and might have played some of his earliest hockey here. A former coach of his older brother confirms they were part of the West Valley Wolves program at one point in the late 1990s. Kozun has an invite to the Canadian World Junior camp, and he put up 108 points, including 40 goals, for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.

Giant steps for Upland’s Bigos

I spoke with Vernon Vipers defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland earlier this week about his BCHL team’s recently completete season.

Bigos was selected the MVP and Top Defensive Player of the RBC Cup (Canadian Jr. A hockey’s championship series). This is quite an accomplishment for the 6-5, 230-pound blueliner who barely played AAA hockey in Southern California.

Bigos left home before his sophomore year in high school to attend Notre Dame Prep School in Saskatchewan. From there, he played the past two seasons in Vernon. This season he led all Vipers defenseman in points, and Vernon captured the league’s Doyle Cup en route to taking the RBC Cup.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Bigos recently accepted a scholarship offer to play collegiately at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

All in all, not a bad month. And it could get better. Bigos has been getting feelers from NHL teams for that league’s upcoming Entry Draft. Unpicked in his first season of eligibility, there is a good change he’ll go this time around.

California juniors tearing it up

This week I take a look at four junior leagues – the BCHL, NAHL, USHL and WHL – where the most California players are located this season.

And Californians figure prominently in all four playoff races.

In the BCHL, the Vernon Vipers have five Californians on their roster as they battle for the Doyle Cup. That includes defenseman Kyle Bigos of Upland and forward Cory Kane of Irvine, both of whom are 2009 NHL Entry Draft prospects.

In the NAHL, Californians figure prominently in all four Robertson Cup quarterfinals. Forward Soren Jonzzen of Mountain View had four points in two games for St. Louis. Fairbanks forward Austin Block of Thousand Oaks also had four points in two games. Block, the NAHL’s leading scorer, recently decommitted from Air Force and figures to attract a lot of attention from recruiters.

In the USHL, Indiana forward Brandon Richardson of San Clemente racked up 10 points in a five-game, first-round series. Matt Leitner of Los Alamitos had six points in Fargo’s first-round sweep of defending champion Omaha. Several defensemen – Jake Newton of Lincoln, Loren Barron of Indiana and Darren Rowe of Simi Valley also had excellent first rounds.

In the WHL West Finals, Vancouver and defenseman Jonathon Blum of Rancho Santa Margarita is squaring off with Kelowna and center Colin Long of Santa Ana. Both players were all-WHL selections and have been drafted by NHL teams.

For more alumni news, visit calirubber.com

California alumni updates and catching up with John Blue

What ever happened to … goaltender John Blue?

The former U.S. Olympic and Boston Bruins netminder now pastors a church in Irvine, and he took some time out to talk with me recently for both the book and CaliRubber.com. Excerpts of the interview include how a California guy landed at the University of Minnesota, how he made the Olympic team and which NHL stars of the 90s were the toughest opponents.

This week’s alumni report salutes the numerous players from California who are participating in their pro and junior leagues’ all-star games. The list includes Tim Kraus and Matt Ford in the ECHL, Kyle Bigos in the BCHL, Max Nicastro, Jake Newton and Brandon Richardson in the USHL, and a dozen players who participated in the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament.