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Frozen Four: Weekly look at local and national college teams

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

TEAM TO WATCH

NIAGARA

Ranked No. 16 in USCHO.com and No. 15 USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls; split pair of games with Robert Morris last weekend, with the loss coming in overtime. Niagara had lost only once in regulation in its previous nine games heading into this weekend.

Key players: Senior center Giancarlo Iuorio returned from injury to record a hat trick against the Colonials on Feb. 16 and a goal and three assists the following day. He entered this weekend leading the team with 16 goals in 20 games.

Notes: Clinched first regular-season Atlantic Hockey championship and first conference title since 2006-07.

THE TOP 5 (according to USCHO.com; records through Thursday)

1. Quinnipiac 22-4-4

Retained top spot despite 21-game unbeaten streak ending on Feb. 15

2. Minnesota 20-6-4

Nation's top power play at 26.3 percent

3. Miami 19-8-5

Entered weekend clinging to two-point lead in Central Collegiate Hockey Association

4. Boston College 17-8-3

Won Beanpot tournament but only three other wins since Dec. 29 for former No. 1

5. New Hampshire 16-8-4

One of five teams within three points of Hockey East lead heading into weekend

U.S. college hockey is producing more NHL players than ever. And that trend figures to continue.

According to College Hockey Inc., 301 players from college hockey backgrounds played in the NHL during the 2011-12 season. That meant college hockey produced more NHL talent than all of Europe, and another 19 have made their debuts this season. The ratio of NHL players with experience in U.S. college hockey has grown by 34 percent since 2000.

On Friday, as an example, not only were there 15 former college players on the rosters when the Penguins played the Florida Panthers, there also were two sets of former college teammates. The Penguins' Brooks Orpik and the Panthers' Scott Clemmensen closed out their Boston College careers with an overtime win against North Dakota in the 2001 national championship game.

Also, Beau Bennett and the Panthers' Drew Shore played together for the University of Denver from 2010-12.

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