Exploring the Icemen’s NCAA Connections

There are currently 64 Division I collegiate hockey programs in the United States. In 2019, 33 percent of NHLers were college hockey alumni. With thousands of college hockey players suiting up every season, not all of them will see the NHL, let alone crack the ranks of the pros. The NCAA estimates that only 7.4% of their 4,323 student-athletes currently in a college hockey program will play professional hockey. 

Though the NCAA does boast impressive numbers at converting college athletes into NHL-caliber players, having 49 Division One teams represented in the league, there are still thousands of college hockey competitors from schools small and large that won’t make it into the main show. So what happens to them?

Some of them will land in the ECHL. As a whole, the ECHL is a league full of former college hockey talent. When looking at US College Hockey Online’s recent signings list, every team in the league signed at least one former NCAA player in the recent offseason. Guys who were once teammates competing together for school pride now line up on the opposite side of the face-off dot. Some players are reunited with collegiate linemates. 

The league is packed with players who competed in some of the most raucous, passionate environments in hockey, and it’s reflected quite nicely on the Jacksonville Icemen’s own roster.

Gentleman and Scholars:

Of the 24 current names listed on the Icemen roster, only four of them are without a college hockey background. Goaltenders Joe Murdaca and Michael Houser, defenseman Nicolas Savoie, and forward Riley Fiddler-Schultz are the four players on that very short list. That means 83% of the roster has collegiate games under their belt.

Six Icemen saw playing time at more than one school, with recent blueline loan Jeff Solow being the only player to have played with both a division one and a division three program. In fact, with the exception of three players who picked up college hockey experience in Canada, every Icemen player with college hockey on their resume played NCAA D1 hockey. 

Icemen forward Craig Martin at Quinnipiac. Credit: Quinnipiac Athletics

A majority of them saw action in the NCAA’s formidable Hockey East conference. Division 1 NCAA hockey, in particular, contains six conferences. Those six conferences are Atlantic Hockey, the Big Ten, Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). A handful of teams operate independently.

The Icemen Blueline alone has 840 games of combined college experience. That number increases to 1,326 games amongst the Icemen’s forward group. When accounting for Matt Vernon’s time at Colorado College, the Icemen roster has 2,241 games of college hockey experience shared amongst 20 active players.

Out East:

Of the six NCAA Division One conferences, the one you’ll find the most on the Icemen roster is Hockey East. Nine active Icemen skaters played college hockey for Hockey East teams. 

Icemen forward Christopher Brown during his time with Boston College. Credit: BC Athletics

Captain Christopher Brown and forward Chris Grando are two of those players who were once teammates at Boston College. Brown played 151 games for BC from 2015 to 2019, helping to captain the team during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Grando played his first two seasons of college hockey during those years, transferring to conference-independent Arizona State in 2020 for his final three seasons of college play.

Brandon Fortunato played his first two seasons of college hockey with Boston University. Fortunato played from 2014 to 2016 with the BU Terriers, earning a National Championship berth in 2015. Transferring to ECAC school Quinnipiac for his final pair of collegiate seasons, Fortunato played alongside Icemen forward Craig Martin. Martin completed four seasons with the Quinnipiac Bobcats from 2015 to 2019. Like Fortunato, Martin got the chance to play for a national championship with Quinnipiac at the end of the 2015-16 season.

The Cockerill brothers both played their college hockey with Hockey East schools. Defenseman Garret Cockerill collected 122 games of experience with Northeastern from 2014 to 2018, while younger brother Logan played in 134 games for Boston University from 2017 to 2022. Logan served as BU’s captain for his final two seasons with the team.

Ivan Chukarov (UMass), Derek Lodermeier (University of Vermont), Julian Kislin (Northeastern), and Jeff Solow (Merrimack) are the others with Hockey East ties.

Everywhere In Between:

Dominick Mersch with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Credit: UW Athletics

Outside of Hockey East, the bulk of the Icemen’s college experience comes from other schools scattered throughout New England. Besides Craig Martin and Brandon Fortunato, Luc Brown and Jacob Panetta played for programs in the ECAC conference. Luc Brown spent three seasons at Union College (2016-19), playing for 66 games before transferring to the conference-independent University of Alaska-Anchorage for his last year of college play. Defenseman Jacob Panetta played for Colgate University, where he suited up for 136 games from 2016 to 2020.

Dominick Mersch and Garrett Van Wyhe both played their college hockey with Big Ten conference schools. Van Wyhe was a Michigan Wolverine for four seasons, playing 135 games for the school from 2018 to 2022. Mersch, much like his playing style, was a Wisconsin Badger. Mersch took part in 164 games for the University of Wisconsin over the span of five seasons (2018-23).

Brendan Harris, Matt Iacopelli, and Matt Vernon are the few players who garnered their NCAA experience at schools elsewhere around the country. Iacopelli and Vernon both suited up for NCHC schools, with Iacopelli playing 67 games for Western Michigan University over the course of two seasons back in 2015-2017. Vernon played four seasons for NCHC school Colorado College. Vernon, the only goaltender with a collegiate hockey background, played 75 games with Colorado College between 2019 and 2023. 

Brendan Harris with the BSU Beavers. Credit: Bemidji State Athletics

Brendan Harris is the only Icemen skater who played their college hockey in Minnesota. Harris was a BSU Beaver from 2017 to 2021, suiting up for 104 games for Bemidji State University from 2017 to 2021.

Carson MacKinnon, Connor Russell, and new defenseman Scott Allan all played collegiate hockey in Canada, adding to the Icemen’s stacked resume of college hockey talent. For a handful of players who played stateside, former teammates are current teammates again. Others are lining up alongside players that were in-conference rivals. As more college hockey alumni continue their careers in professional hockey, that trend will continue throughout leagues far and wide. The evidence of that is best encapsulated in Jacksonville’s current roster.

The Icemen are on the road, taking on the Norfolk Admirals on Friday, Dec. 8th, and Saturday, Dec. 9th. The team will then travel to Savannah on Dec. 14th and to Atlanta on Dec. 15th before returning home to take on the South Carolina Stingrays Saturday, Dec. 16th.

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ECHL 2024-25 Protected Lists: Florida Everblades

Teams announced their protected list on Tuesday, marking the first stage of the offseason. The protected list identifies the players for whom the team retains the ECHL rights. Teams can place as many players as they want on their protected list. Still, the player must meet one of six criteria outlined in the Collective Bargaining […]

Read More
Dan Rosen/NHL.com

Talking Hockey, Life, and Broadcasting with Nick Olczyk of the Seattle Kraken

Seattle Kraken/TNT color analyst Eddie Olczyk always dreamed about playing in the NHL. The man they call “Edzo” accomplished that and more in a terrific 18-year playing career in the league. He finished with 794 points (342 goals and 452 assists) in 1,031 games before having a brief coaching stint and then moving into the broadcasting booth full-time. […]

Read More

ECHL: Allen Americans Name BJ Adams as Head Coach

The Allen Americans have announced that they have hired BJ Adams as their Head Coach and General Manager less than two weeks after they fired Chad Costello, the team has yet to disclose any news on an assistant coach for next season. Prior to joining the Americans, Adams had spent eight seasons with the Erie […]

Read More