St. Cloud, MN – I read an interesting piece this week by Tony Ferrari @theTonyFerrari of Dobber Prospects titled Searching for the Next ‘Elite Pest’. The posting discussed the rarity of NHL prospects exhibiting the characteristics of what he described as the “skilled pest” or “Brad Marchand archetype”, a player that has the ability to put up offense but “aggravate the opposition to no end.” A player example provided was 5’9″ 179 pound forward Marco Rossi, a prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft who produced 120 points and accumulated 40 penalty minutes for the Ottawa 67’s this past season.
Steve Ott, an undersized forward by NHL standards, logged over 800 NHL games and was drafted 25th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2000 draft. A known annoyance to the opposition in the Ontario Hockey League he racked up 178 minutes in penalties in addition to 88 points in his final season with the Windsor Spitfires. He was drafted as much for his ability to get under the skin of his opposition as he was for his offense. His 848 game NHL career proved as much accumulating over 1500 penalty minutes while putting up decent offensive numbers (288 points).
The collegiate game has always had the undersized “skilled pest” and two players that come to mind are former collegians, Jason Blake and Garrett Roe. Blake, skated for the University of North Dakota from 1996 to 1999 and then twelve solid years in the NHL. At the collegiate level, he averaged 56 penalty minutes per season but was also a prolific goal scorer averaging 24 goals per year. Former St. Cloud State Husky, Garrett Roe, listed at 5’7″ and 170 pounds finished his four-year career at St. Cloud State University third on the all-time points list with 65 goals and 113 assists for 178 points while averaging 60 penalty minutes per season. He’s since carved out a nice professional career in Europe. Both players had a well-known reputation for persistently annoying the opposition and then torching them with their offensive ability.
College Hockey’s Peskiest Forwards
This had me pondering who the peskiest forwards in college hockey are as we head into the 2020-21 season. My research included input from current collegiate players, coaches and even a parent to see who would fit the characteristic of an undersized forward meeting the definition of “skilled pest”. These players possess the characteristics of being small in stature, shifty and gritty players unafraid to get their nose dirty while being an offensive threat at the same time. Some do their share of “chirping” fueling the antagonistic nature of their game. Others are simply troublesome to play against due to the aggressive nature of their game. Most have overcome the stigma of being told they are too small to succeed at higher levels of hockey. Here’s my list of undersized players exhibiting those characteristics of being persistently painful to play against:
#8 Adam Dawe – 5’8″ 161 Forward, University of Maine | Junior
To survive the rigors of NCAA Division I hockey at 5’8″ and 160 pounds is an accomplishment in itself. Dawe, a native of Gander, Newfoundland hit his stride in his second year as a Maine Black Bear. He finished the season fourth in points with 9-11-20 and third on the squad with 41 penalty minutes trailing only 6’5″ 212 pound J D Greenway and 6’2″ 201 pound Simon Butala, both defenseman.
A small, shifty forward Dawe plays aggressive, with passion and is fearless. “He’s small, but he doesn’t play small,” said his former coach Clint Mylymok. “He’ll cut in to the high traffic areas and take guys on physically in the corners. He’ll pay the price to get to the net and set up his teammates.” Dawe has been a game-breaker with six power play goals and two game-winning goals this past season for Maine. He’ll continue his troublesome play in Hockey East next season as a junior.
#7 Khristian Acosta – 5’8″ 170 Forward, Mercyhurst University | Sophomore
Mercyhurst’s first-year forward, Kristian Acosta continued his reputation for piling up penalties leading the Lakers in number of penalties with 23 and in total minutes with 68. It shouldn’t be a surprise as Acosta logged 175 penalty minutes in 121 United States Hockey League games before joining the Lakers. Acosta floated between three USHL teams and also his choice of college as he committed to Quinnipiac in 2015, UMass in 2017 and finally Mercyhurst in 2019.
A highly productive offensive player in New Jersey high school, he produced over 200 points and was named to the Jersey Shore All-Decade Hockey Team. The scoring has not translated to the college level yet but his reputation as a pesky player has. Former Sioux Falls teammate and current SCSU forward Nolan Walker describes Acosta as a “scrappy player who despite his size doesn’t hesitate to mix it up on the ice and sprinkle in some chirping at the same time. He uses his style of play to his advantage and I think it energizes him on the ice when he plays like that.”
#6 Sean Dhooghe – 5’3″ 155 Forward, Arizona State University | Senior
Dhooghe is the poster boy for proving persistence and hard work bring success. Always fighting the stigma of his size, Dhooghe, from Aurora Ill., constantly had to prove himself but worked his way onto the USA NTDP team and then to the University of Wisconsin. He led Wisconsin in goals (15) in 2018-19 and tied for the team lead in points with 26. His efforts earned the 5’3″ forward an invite to the Arizona Coyotes Prospect Development Camp in 2019.
He was quoted as saying “I’m 5’3″ but I like to play like I’m 6’3”. He told the AZ Central “I like to get in a guys head and get in their face a bit.” What makes Dhooghe successful is his desire to play bigger than his stature and his work around the goal and in the crease area. In a down year for Dhooghe offensively in 2019-20, he still had 39 penalty minutes, third among Badger forwards despite playing five fewer games than Roman Ahcan (43 PIM) and seven less than Dylan Hollaway (49 PIM). It was a frustrating year for the Badgers finishing in the Big Ten cellar and for Dhooghe who was scratched the last eight games of the season. Recently, Dhooghe announced he would be transferring to the Arizona State Sun Devils for his senior season.
#5 Jake Durflinger – 5′ 8″ 169 Forward, Denver University | Senior
Like many of these players, Durflinger, a native of Walnut Grove, California bounced around junior hockey eventually becoming a two-time assistant captain in the USHL. Never a high-output offensive player, that’s not what intrigued the Denver Pioneers to recruit this aggressive forward who racked up 208 minutes in penalties in 2014-15 for Sioux City of the USHL. More likely, it was the gritty nature of his play that reflected the type of collegiate player then coach Jim Montgomery was at the University of Maine.
Former USHL coach Dennis Williams said “He’s an emotional player. He lives right on that line of being effective and taking himself out of the game at times.” Not surprisingly, Durflinger’s favorite NHL player is Brad Marchand, the ultimate “skilled pest.” Although he’s gained control of his penalty minutes at the collegiate level, he still finished second on the team in penalties with 46 in 2019-20 and was just 4 minutes shy of team leader and defenseman, Slava Demin. Former SCSU Husky Robby Jackson, who played with and against him told me “Duerflinger is a great competitor, knows how to get under a player’s skin and is not afraid to mix it up. (He’s) the kind of guy you love to have on your team but hate to play against.” Another SCSU player told me “You hate to play against him – he’s like a mosquito out there bugging you and he won’t go away. But, he’s a tough competitor and he always lays it on the line when he’s on the ice.”
#4 Aaron Miller – 5’9″ 172 Forward, Bemidji State University | Senior
Miller plied his trade for two years in the NAHL for the Minnesota Wilderness and caught the eye of BSU coach Tom Serratore. The Superior, WI native is somewhat of an anomaly on one of the least penalized teams in college hockey. The ultra-disciplined Beavers finished 49th out of 60 teams in average penalty minutes per game in 2019-20 with Miller owning up to 20% of the team’s total. His 63 PIM were 27 more than the next closest teammate, forward Owen Sillinger (36). But, his aggressive play is backed up by his offense finishing third on the Beavers in goals (12) and points (29).
A high tempo player, Miller gravitates to the dirty areas with determination to be the first to the puck. His competitive, physical play garners his share of penalties but also goads his opponents into infractions as well. He’s content to battle in the goal crease and that’s where he’s parked on the BSU power play. Coach Serratore told me that Miller “Plays on the edge and at times needs to harness things” but as his coach doesn’t want to “Take his game away from him”. Although he’s only 5’9″ and 172 pounds, Serratore describes that “He plays a heavy game, plays in traffic and wins battles. He plays with a chip on his shoulders. There are times when he crosses the line and I have to talk with him to tone it down.” Miller, who is 24, had thoughts of departing to to Europe after his junior season but recently announced he would return to the Beavers for his senior year.
#3 Roman Ahcan – 5′ 9″ 170 Forward, University of Wisconsin | Junior
Rather than following in the footsteps of his brother Jack to St. Cloud State, the Burnsville, MN native decided to bring his play to the Big 10 and the Wisconsin Badgers. After one season in the United States Hockey League where he produced 15 goals and 63 minutes of penalties he’s carried his gritty game to Madison, WI. Much like older brother Jack, a defenseman who recently signed with the Boston Bruins, Ahcan plays bigger than his 5’9″ frame in a generally irritating way to his opponents. As a freshman, he incurred 58 minutes of penalties and 15 total points but really stepped things up as a sophomore finishing second to Cole Caulfied in goals with 14 and fourth in team points with 25. He was third on the team in penalty minutes with 43. However, 23 of those penalty minutes were in a game last November vs Penn State following hits that leveled PSU’s Dennis Smirnov and Tyler Gratton. Despite his size, Ahcan is a complete player, gritty, effective in traffic and adept at attacking the goal.
His father, Tim was also a collegiate player and told me “He has always played on the edge and has gotten better at making a “living” at taking other teams off their game…. including coaches. It is funny that other coaches during games can’t stand the way he plays. But afterwards, they are very quick to compliment him. His penalty minutes have gone down from year to year but he continues to refine his game without changing his style.”
#2 Bobby Trivigno – 5’8″ 152 Forward, University of Massachusetts | Junior
With the final two choices for college hockey’s peskiest we’ll get no argument for adding New Yorker and junior to be Bobby Trivigno of the University of Massachusetts to this list. He certainly fits the bill of being a “skilled pest” producing 43 points and 91 penalty minutes in his only season for Waterloo of the United States Hockey League. At the collegiate level, he’s controlled his penalty minutes averaging just 25 penalty minutes per season falling short of all of the players on this list. However, it doesn’t mean he’s any less of an antagonist to his opponents.
Coach Greg Carvel of UMass told the Daily Collegian “When you play like that the whole bench knows it. They turn the game. They find ways to get under your skin. Trig is often the guy that stirs it up. You’d like to have 3 or 4 of them”. Former junior coach PJ Hadley commented “He’s a pest. He’s got skill for sure but he’s got to play the pest role because he’s a bit undersized and plays it well” Trivigno told the Daily Collegian “Something just takes over me. I get so competitive the dog inside of me comes out. That’s my personality. It’s just how I play.”
Unfortunately, that dog surfaced in the Frozen Four vs Denver in 2019. An elbow to the head of another pest, Jake Durflinger resulted in a one-game suspension causing Trivigno to sit out the championship game vs Minnesota-Duluth. Maybe it was the penalty or maybe he simply controls his game better but his penalty minutes were down in the shortened 2019-20 season. He’ll be back for his Junior season in 2020-21 to continue his irritating brand of play.
#1 Griffin Loughran – 5’6″ 146 Forward, Northern Michigan University | Junior
It should come as no surprise that Orchard Park, NY native Griffin Loughran is my choice for “peskiest” player in college hockey. On the ice, call him annoying, troublesome, irritating or just plain persistently painful to play against. One current player I talked to laughed and knew immediately where I was going when I indicated I was listing college hockey’s peskiest players. As troublesome as he is to play against, he backs it up with offense netting 23 goals in 2019-20 and spicing it up with 93 penalty minutes.
Like many of these players, he bounced around Junior hockey a bit before gaining some footing with the Fargo Force of the USHL where he produced 18 goals, 42 points and led the team with 118 penalty minutes in 2017–18.
This miniature version of Brad Marchant is the definition of “skilled pest”. A player that will throw the opposition off it’s game with chirping and pesky play and at the same time frustrate with his ability to score big goals which included 4 game-winning goals and 7 power play goals. He led the Wildcats in every offensive category scoring over a point a game and boasted a 23 percent shooting percentage. He finished second nationally in both goals scored and penalty minutes trailing only teammate and defenseman Hank Sorenson in that category.
In a January USCHO story, NMU Coach Grant Potulny said “He’s a guy that plays right on the line. A big emphasis this year of our focus was play on that line, but don’t play over the line and here is your responsibility for all our offensive players to be on the rink and to generate. You can’t do that from the penalty box. He’s found that area where, he definitely pushes that line, but he stays right on it. That’s what you know drives him during games to continue to push. He’s so intense and so engaged in the game and just drive shift to shift to shift for him.” But, he added “Sometimes his size is actually an advantage for him because he is so low, he is hard to cover.”
Former Fargo teammate and defenseman, Spencer Meier, who just completed his sophomore season at St. Cloud State summed it up by saying “Griffin is a great guy off the ice but he is a pest on the ice. He loves to get under the skin of the opposition and he is good at it. He doesn’t like to back down from a challenge. In Fargo we would call him the Brad Marchand of junior hockey.”
I’d say that’s a compliment.
Griffin Loughran Northern Michigan University (Photo Prout)