Capitals College Credits: March Madness on Ice

Photo: Minnesota Gophers Hockey

College hockey in March generally means wrapping up the regular season, competing in Conference Championship playoffs, and, for those teams fortunate enough to get selected, competing in the NCAA Hockey Tournament that concludes in April.

Capitals’ draftees who are currently playing for college teams:

  • Ryan Chesley (2022 NHL Entry Draft — Round 2 – Pick #37 overall),
  • David Gucciardi (2022 NHL Entry Draft – Round 7 – Pick #213 overall),
  • Brent Johnson (2021 NHL Entry Draft — Round 3 – Pick #80)
  • Joaquim Lemay (2021 NHL Entry Draft — Round 4 – Pick #114 Overall),
  • Mitchell Gibson (2018 NHL Entry Draft — Round 4 – Pick #124 Overall) and
  • Chase Clark (2021 NHL Entry Draft — Round Six – Pick #183rd Overall).

As it turns out, the six Capitals college prospects represent three different college conferences whose playoffs have begun.

Ryan Chesley and David Gucciardi both play for colleges in the Big Ten Conference, with Chesley a freshman for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Gucciardi a sophomore for the Michigan State Spartans.

Brent Johnson and Joaquim Lemay both play for colleges in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), with Johnson a sophomore for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Lemay a freshman at University of Nebraska – Omaha.

Goaltenders Mitchell Gibson and Chase Clark play for colleges in the ECAC, with Gibson a senior at Harvard University and Clark a freshman for Quinnipiac University.

Big Ten Conference

Chesley’s team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers finished in first place in the Big Ten for the regular season, posting a 28-8-1 overall record and a 19-4-1 record in their conference. They won their conference by a record 19 points and were the first school in conference history to win it by double digits. They closed the regular season with four consecutive wins.

Photo: Minnesota Gophers Hockey

By virtue of finishing first in their conference, the Golden Gophers got a bye for the Quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Conference tournament and did not have to partake in any of the “Best of Three” Quarterfinal series that took place from March 2-4.

The bye week also gave Ryan Chesley time to recover from a wrist injury he suffered against Wisconsin on February 11 that kept him out for the remainder of his team’s regular season. At the time of his injury, Head Coach Bob Motzko expressed hope he would recover in time for the playoffs.

Gucciardi’s team, the Michigan State Spartans, finished their regular season with a 16-16-2 overall record and 10-12-2 within the Big Ten Conference. They finished as fifth seed, their highest seeding since the 2015-16 campaign when they also were fifth seed, missing out on the fourth seed by a very narrow margin.

As the fifth seed, they met the fourth seeded Notre Dame Irish at South Bend, Indiana on the road during the Quarterfinal series in a Best of Three series that took place on March 3-5.

Quarterfinals: Michigan State Spartans Against Notre Dame Irish

In their quarter final series against Notre Dame, Michigan State lost 1-0 on March 2. The next game, they evened the series with a 4-2 victory. Gucciardi had the second assist on the team’s first goal which occurred at 8:38 during the second period and evened the score at 1-1.  Gucciardi also blocked five shots which was a career-best five from him.

The win on Saturday was the first-ever Big Ten Tournament win for the Spartans after a combined 0-13 through the first nine seasons in the league. The Spartans went on to win the “rubber” game on March 5 by a 4-2 score.

The win gave Michigan State University their first postseason series win since 2013. The Quarterfinal series win allowed the Spartans to advance to the Semi-Finals to be played against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Photo: Gagnon/Getty Images

Semi-Finals: Minnesota Golden Gophers Michigan State Spartans

On March 9, the finalists for the “Big 10 Player Awards” were announced which included several members of the Golden Gophers. Both Chesley and fellow freshman, Jimmy Snuggerud (drafted by the St Louis Blues), were nominated for Freshman of the Year.

The following day, Gophers’ head coach, Bob Motzko, gave an update on the health of Chesley and other ailing teammates.

As it turned out, Chesley would play in the Semi-Finals against Michigan State. He was initially listed as the seventh defenseman. However, he shined in his return to the lineup as he recorded two assists during a 5-1 victory where the Golden Gophers scored five unanswered goals after the Spartans scored first.

Chesley had the primary assist on the team’s second (and game winning) goal. At 17:51 in the first period, Chesley ripped a shot from the point which John Mittelstadt tipped into the net.

He also recorded the secondary assist on the team’s last goal, which came at 15:59 into the third period. Chesley passed to Snuggerud who ripped the puck down the ice. Logan Cooley got to that puck and tapped home the team’s last goal.

Chesley’s return to the lineup introduced a physical element to the lineup. Coach Motzko’s specific comment on Chesley’s play was, “Kinda crazy — I don’t think he missed a beat. He’s just a whale of a competitor.”

Including the playoffs, Chesley played in 31 of the Gopher’s games, scoring two goals and seven assists. He has taken 48 shots on goal and blocked 45 shots.

For the Spartans, Gucciardi had a big shot block during a penalty kill which, at the time, kept it a 3-1 game, but had no goals or assists in that game.

With the Golden Gophers beating Michigan State in the Semi-Finals, Michigan State has now been eliminated from the Big Ten playoffs. This likely finishes the season for David Gucciardi, as Michigan State is now a long shot to be selected for the NCAA Tournament.

For the 2022-23 season, Gucciardi played in 36 games. He has scored four goals and recorded six assists. He had 83 shots on goal and blocked 46 shots. He scored no goals in the playoffs but recorded one assist.

The Golden Gophers advance to the Big Ten Conference Finals against the Michigan Wolverines, who finished second during the regular season and won their Quarterfinals and Semi-Finals series.

National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC)

Joaquim Lemay’s team, the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, closed out the regular season against Brent Johnson’s team, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on the weekend of March 3 and 4. The North Dakota Fighting Hawks won both games, winning the first 5-4 in Overtime and winning the second 2-1.

The Mavericks concluded their regular season with a record of 18-13-3 overall and 13-9-2 within the conference which earned them third place. The Fighting Hawks’ final record for the regular season was 16-13-6 overall and 10-10-4 within the NCHC, which resulted in a fifth-place tie.

The two teams would meet in the Quarterfinals for a three-game series from March 10-12 at Baxter Arena in Omaha. The Mavericks won the first game on March 10 by a 2-1 score, but dropped the next two, losing 3-1 on March 12 and losing 5-2 in the finale. This ends the Mavericks 2022-23 season.

Lemay scored the team’s first goal on March 11 at 12:24 in first period on the power play but was kept off the scoresheet in the other two games.

Lemay’s final statistics for 2022-23 were: played in 32 games, scored two goals, recorded 10 assists, made 35 shots on goal, and blocked 27 shots.

Lemay and fellow defenseman both were named to the 2022-23 NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Capitals Blueline Prospect Joaquim Lemay Selected To 2023 NCHC All-Rookie Team | NoVa Caps (

While Johnson’s team advanced to the NCHC Conference Semi-finals, he played in none of the games. In fact, he has not played since December 3 and just one game since November 19. He has been passed up on the depth chart by other players.

For the season, Johnson played in 13 games, has scored one goal and five assists, made 13 shots on goal, blocked 8, and is +3.

ECAC Conference

As Quinnipiac University, Chase Clark’s team, and Harvard University, Gibson’s team, finished first and second, respectively in the ECAC, and as a result, earned a first round bye for the ECAC playoffs and were idle for March 3 and 4. The other teams played one another in a one game single elimination playoff round.

This set up the Quarterfinal matchups where Quinnipiac University, the first-place team, would play Yale University (tenth seed) and Harvard University, the second-place team, would face the Princeton University Tigers in three-game series from March 10-12.

The Quinnipiac University Bobcats beat Yale 3-0 on March 10 and beat them 6-2 on March 11, thus advancing to the Semi-Finals against Colgate University.  Clark appeared in the game of March 11 where he played 2:51 and did not make any saves or give up any goals.

Photo: Harvard Crimson

The Harvard Crimson beat Princeton on March 10 and March 11 by identical 6-1 scores and advanced to the Semifinals against Cornell on March 17. On March 10, Gibson made 31 saves in 32 chances with Princeton making 17 shots during third period alone.  This included two big saves on Mackenzie Merriman midway through the period to keep Harvard in control of the contest.

On March 11, Gibson made 34 saves in 35 chances, as Princeton made most of their shots during the last two periods. Gibson improved to 8-1-0 in ECAC Hockey playoff contests after this weekend.

Gibson stopped 34 of 35 shots faced in Game 2 (.971 sv%) and stopped 30 of 31 in game 1 (.969 sv%) – 64 of 66 shots faced for a .970 weekend sv%.

Gibson closed out Harvard’s regular season with record of 15-5-2, a career-high save percentage of .920 and a goals against average of 2.19.

Looking Forward

Next weekend, on Saturday March 18, Ryan Chesley and the Minnesota Gophers will face the Michigan Wolverines in their Big 10 Conference Finals at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. It is a rematch of the finalists of the Big 10 Championship from 2022.

Brent Johnson’s team, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, meet St. Cloud in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) semi-finals on Friday March 18 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The championship game will take place on Saturday March 19. With their series win against University of Omaha Nebraska, they advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for the ninth time in the 10-year history of the league. It is unlikely that Johnson will play in the Frozen Faceoff, given how far he has fallen on the team’s depth chart.

In ECAC action, Harvard and Quinnipiac advance to the Semifinal round to be played at Lake Placid, New York. Quinnipiac plays Colgate while Harvard plays Cornell, both games taking place on March 17. The winners then advance to the Conference Finals.

After that is the selection of the sixteen teams to participate in the NCAA Hockey Tournament. The conference winners will automatically qualify while other teams are selected at-large.

Regionals will begin Thursday, March 23 and run through Sunday, March 26. The Frozen Four will take place on April 4 and 6 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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10 Responses to Capitals College Credits: March Madness on Ice

  1. Anonymous says:

    The North Dakota Fighting Hawks…..still doesn’t sound right to me

    I’m thinking Washington DC must lead the country in team name changes. 3 of 4 major pro sports teams have changed their names, at some point. Only the Capitals have stayed the same

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Agree with you, Fighting Hawks still taking some time for me to remember and get used to. Good point on DC name changes. Hasn’t thought about that.

      • KimRB says:

        The name change from Fighting Sioux to Fighting Hawks is pretty clearly an example of “woke”. There were a lot of Siouians who were in favor of keeping the name, but it seems like the effort to change it was spearheaded (no pun intended) by faculty of UND. To me, Fighting Sioux is no worse than Fighting Irish, but one is considered offensive, the other isn’t.

        The Expos needed to change their name, because it came from Expo 67, the World’s Fair in Montreal, and has nothing to do with DC. And Redskins is offensive, teams shouldn’t be named for skin color. No one would tolerate the Whiteys or Darkies. But the name change from Bullets to Wizards was, and remains, ridiculous. The Bullets is meant to mean speed, not violence, like the Superman phrase “faster than a speeding bullet”. But Abe Pollin changed it when his friend the Israeli prime Minister was assassinated with a bullet, and because DC was experiencing a wave of violence, due to crack, at the time. Leonsis should have changed it back, when he bought the team, but he wussed out. A team nickname won’t lower, or raise, gun deaths. That problem has deep roots, not easily solvable

  2. Anonymous says:

    “It is unlikely that Johnson will play in the Frozen Faceoff, given how far he has fallen on the team’s depth chart.”

    I g ess it’s wait until next year for Johnson. Things can change quickly for college teams, what with graduations, and players turning pro. He’ll be a junior next year, so…

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Spot on, Anon. It’s still very early in Johnson’s development. He was leapfrogged by older players. His Junior season will be key.

      • KimRB says:

        LOL. The Anonymous posts in this thread are from me. My Firefox browser updated yesterday, and I did not realize it unchecked the box saving my info. I was ant credit for my posts!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the update on the kids!

  4. GRin430 says:

    I’m thinking the NCAA and NHL need to come up with a relegation scheme… My guess is that either Minnesota or Michigan would be more competitive than Arizona, and they would certainly draw better…

    • Anonymous says:

      arizona isnt even the worst team in the league, They’re actually pretty good for the relative “talent” they have. They’re only 7 points back of .500, and they probably get better next year if cooley joins to center their one half of their top 6. CBJ or SJS would be the team getting relegated if they go with the system you propose.

    • KimRB says:

      Aren’t we talking amateur AND pro players here, though? I’ve never followed a league that does regulation, so how would it work, if a team made the pros, but was comprised entirely of amateurs? Or were you being facetious?

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