No Stranger to Trophy Season: Zach Sanford Shines in USHL Playoffs

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May 23, 2014 by conteconfidential

When asked what makes him so dangerous when there’s a trophy on the line, Zach Sanford chuckled.

“I dunno,” he said. “I just try to stick to the simple things, play my game the way I need to play, go to the net hard, play like a big guy. I’m one of the bigger guys on my team usually so I just got to keep using that. If I keep working hard, it will work out my way.”

Another reason is that Sanford is no stranger to the playoffs. For three straight years, his team has reached the finals in its respective league. This season, the Boston College commit was part of a high-powered Waterloo Black Hawks squad that fell one game short of capturing its second Clark Cup.

Leading up to the 2013 NHL draft, where he was selected in the second round by the Washington Capitals, Sanford was compared to Chris Kreider because of his size and skating ability. Like Kreider, the 6-foot-4 right wing tends to elevate his play in big games. With 12 points (5g-7a) in 12 contests, he came in fifth in United State Hockey League playoff scoring. And three of his goals came in games four and five of the Clark Cup finals.

With the Black Hawks facing elimination at Indiana’s home rink in game four, Sanford helped to force a decisive game five. At the end of the first, Waterloo trailed, 2-1, but Sanford netted back-to-back goals in the second period to give his team a 3-2 lead. His tallies kicked of a run of six-unanswered goals by the Black Hawks, which culminated in a decisive 7-2 victory.

“Up until then, we were getting our chances but not too many bounces going our way,” Sanford said. “Finally getting a couple of goals back-to-back really gave our team some more momentum going into the third where we were able to put them away.”

In game five, with the Clark Cup on the line, Sanford teamed with Jake Horton to give Waterloo a 2-1 lead at 11:35 in the second period. After Horton picked off a neutral-zone pass, he drove towards the net and sent a backdoor pass to Sanford for the tap in. The Ice ultimately scored two unanswered goals in the third period to secure a 3-2 win.

“I think we thought we had them and started playing on our heels and gave up those two goals late,” Sanford said. “We would have liked to get the Clark Cup, but it was a great season.”

SanfordWaterloo

Zach Sanford learned to throw his weight around in the USHL this year and even got into his first fight in a game against rival Cedar Rapids. He wouldn’t say whether he won or lost. (photo credit: Britta Lewis/Waterloo Black Hawks)

Last year, Sanford totaled eight points (4g-4a) in eight playoff games with the Middlesex Islanders of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. His Islanders fell in the Dineen Cup finals to the New Jersey Hitmen in a decisive game three.

In 2012, the Auburn, N.H. native helped Pinkerton Academy win its second New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state championship. His overtime goal in the semifinals lifted his Astros to a 3-2 win over defending champion Trinity. In the finals against Memorial, he netted a goal in the 3-2 win.

Before going to the USHL, Sanford was arguably a little raw. Earlier in his career, he had shown the ability to take over a game – including during Middlesex’s 9-3 drubbing of the Portland Junior Pirates in Jan. 2013 where he racked up six points (1g-5a) – but he still had to learn the finer points of defensive play and how to best utilize his frame. Even though he admitted that he still has “some work to do,” he was also able to add some much-needed muscle and now weighs in at 190 pounds.

In his rookie season, Sanford totaled 35 points (17g-18a) and 60 penalty minutes in 52 games for the Black Hawks, who took home the Anderson Cup as the regular-season champions.

“I wasn’t one of the top scoring guys, but I think I learned how to play a good two-way game and towards the end learned how to come up big in the pressure situations, which is what I’ll need to be doing in the future,” Sanford said.

Wearing the maroon and gold in itself brings pressure, but Sanford is confident that he and his classmates are ready for it. This year’s crop of freshmen may be small, especially in comparison to the ten-member Class of 2017, but they all boast impressive resumes.

“We have a great class coming in,” Sanford said. “I’ve played against them so I know they’re all really good players. We’re all going to be able to come right in and step up and play big roles for our team next year.”

IIHF World U-18 Championship gold medalists Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch and Noah Hanifin are expected to start, while Sanford will also be given a chance to crack a lineup that will likely be dominated by underclassmen. With BC needing to replace its top four scorers from last season, the newcomers will be expected to produce right away.

And, with the TD Garden hosting the 2015 Frozen Four, the stakes will be particularly high as the Eagles look to take advantage of the rare opportunity to capture a national championship in their hometown.

“That will be pretty cool,” Sanford said. “Hopefully we can make it to there, have a good year and come out successful there too.”

Given his track record, you better believe Sanford will be at his best.

By Jen Dobias

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