In two weeks, the Tampa Bay Times Forum will become the ninth active NHL venue to host an NCAA Frozen Four, following the facilities in Detroit, Boston, Anaheim, Minnesota, Buffalo, St. Louis, Denver and Washington, D.C.
Of the 16 schools who will spend this weekend vying for a seed in the semifinals, five carry a player who is simultaneously eyeing future employment at the Forum with the Lightning. Another has a former Tampa Bay draft choice who remains productively involved in the sport even after a health condition spelled the abrupt conclusion of his playing days.
In ascending order of class year, the prospective Frozen Four participants with ties to the host city’s NHL franchise are as follows:
Jimmy Mullin, freshman, Miami: Notwithstanding a pair of pointless outings in the CCHA semifinals and consolation game last weekend, Mullin has been clicking down the stretch of his rookie season. Prior to the Redhawks’ venture to Joe Louis Arena, he went on a five-game streak in which he had hree goals and eight helpers.
Mullin, along with fellow freshmen Austin Czarnik, Blake Coleman and Tyler Biggs, will be asked to step up for Miami’s sake in the national dance. For his long-term future, the new big-game experience should give him something extra to build on after charging up an 11-15-26 scoring log over his first 36 college contests.
Brendan O’Donnell, freshman, North Dakota: O’Donnell will not be in action, as he has not been since mid-January due to an injury. But the young pivot ranks No. 13 among Lightning prospects on hockeysfuture.com and still has three years left at North Dakota, plenty of time to elevate his status.
And should his team make it to the national semifinals, being on hand at the Forum ought to be enough to whet O’Donnell’s appetite for the coming years.
Kirill Gotovets, sophomore, Cornell: A Belarusian blueliner who went in the seventh round of the 2009 entry draft, Gotovets has had off-and-on injury problems and missed 11 of the Big Red’s first 33 games this season. However, he ended his latest hiatus in time for the postseason and will be heavily leaned on against Michigan this Friday.
Justin Courtnall, junior, Boston University: Courtnall certainly has professional pedigree, being the son of former NHL player Geoff Courtnall and the nephew of the equally seasoned retiree Russ Courtnall.
The younger Courtnall, however, will need more work and better fortune to equate his predecessor. He has been on Tampa Bay’s radar for nearly five years and has barely secured a “career” campaign at BU with four goals and seven points on the year.
If the Terriers emerge from the West Regional with a Frozen Four passport, it might be Courtnall’s only opportunity to play a competitive game in the Lightning’s mansion.
Luke Witkowski, junior, Western Michigan: The burly blueliner is the most frequently penalized Bronco, but can also make the opponents pay for their wrongdoing. Both of Witkowski’s goals and five of his 11 assists through 39 games-played this season have come on the power play.
As a sophomore last season, Witkowski led his team with a plus-13 rating. As a senior next season, he could lead the team with a “C” over his heart, having already split this year’s alternate captaincy with classmate Dane Walters.
David Carle, senior, Denver: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy forced Carle to retire in June of 2008, one day before he was planning to attend the entry draft in Ottawa. But the Bolts, who employed his older brother, Matt, at the time, chose to reward his lifelong dedication to the game by selecting him in the final round.
Since then, Carle has utilized his scholarship to the University of Denver in the role of a student-assistant coach and has made strides toward a lengthy off-ice career in the professional ranks. If the Pioneers advance beyond the Midwest Regional, he will appropriately close out his college days at the home of the Lightning.