The weekends of December 20th and 27th will feature an array of holiday tournaments in which teams from different conferences going head to head in what should be some terrific matchups. Below are previews of each, with prospects to watch for each team.
Since the World Junior Championships (WJC) in Finland will be in progress at the same time, key players who are not likely to be in participation for their respective schools in these tournaments have been noted. All statistics included here are for all 2003-04 regular season, non-exhibition games played through December 7th. All team rankings noted here are those according to both the USCHO and USAToday national coaches polls from the December 8th releases. The television listings noted are for those tournaments that are available nationally in the United States via satellite/digital cable systems. Please note that some of these tournaments may also be carried on local television stations not listed here.
DODGE HOLIDAY CLASSIC (December 20th and 21th)
Host School: University of Minnesota
Other participating schools: Miami-Ohio, New Hampshire and Princeton
Where: Mariucci Arena (on the campus of the University of Minnesota)
TV: Fox Sports Net North (December 21st only)
Kicking things off for the holiday tournaments is the 13th annual Dodge Hockey Classic (formerly the Mariucci Classic) in Minneapolis. Host and reigning tournament champion Minnesota will look to make it a five-peat as it welcomes surging CCHA foe Miami-Ohio, Hockey East powerhouse New Hampshire and ECAC foe Princeton to Mariucci Arena. The opening matchups of the tournament will see host Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Princeton Tigers and the fifth-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats facing off against the 14th ranked Miami-Ohio RedHawks. A plethora of NHL drafted prospects will be showcased in this tournament. Minnesota’s many NHL drafted prospects led by top-flight defenseman Keith Ballard (COL) will be in action. One key player for Minnesota who could miss this tournament will be left wing Tomas Vanek (BUF), who could be representing Team Austria at the WJC. Other NHL drafted prospects from the visiting schools include New Hampshire’s record-setting goaltender Michael Ayers (CHI), Princeton defenseman Matt Maglione (WSH) and top Miami-Ohio forward Greg Hogeboom (LA). Several up and coming players to watch for include Minnesota defenseman Michael Vannelli (ATL), along with a couple of 2004 NHL draft eligible forwards in New Hampshire’s Daniel Winnik and Princeton’s Kevin Westgarth, plus the talented netminding tandem of Miami-Ohio’s Brandon Crawford-West (PIT) and Steve Hartley. Hartley is a 2004 NHL draft eligible player and is the son of Atlanta Thrashers head coach Bob Hartley. The weekend series could see the Minnesota Golden Gophers facing off against the Wildcats of New Hampshire in the Tournament Finals on Sunday, December 21st in a rematch of the 2003 NCAA national title game.
BADGER SHOWDOWN (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: University of Wisconsin
Other participating schools: Ferris State, UMass-Lowell and Union
Where: Kohl Center (on the campus of the University of Wisconsin)
TV: Fox Sports Net North
The 15th annual Badger Showdown will have a couple things different about it this year than in years past. This time the tournament has a new home at the Kohl Center in Madison and Bank One is now a former sponsor. The seemingly unstoppable Wisconsin Badgers will host and look to defend their tournament title against visiting reigning CCHA champions Ferris State, Hockey East foe UMass-Lowell and ECAC foe Union in what should be an entertaining tournament. The opening matchups for the tournament will see seventh-ranked host Wisconsin facing off against the Skating Dutchmen of Union College with the Ferris State Bulldogs facing off against the RiverHawks of UMass-Lowell. Among some notable NHL drafted prospects to watch for are Badgers excellent centerman Andrew Joudrey (WSH) and high-flying winger Ryan MacMurchy (STL). The Badgers will also be without some key personnel due to their participation in the WJC, defensemen Ryan Suter (NSH) and Jeff Likens, forward Jake Dowell, and head coach Mike Eaves. There are many talented players among the visiting teams who are well worth a look. The ones to watch include Ferris State’s leading scorer, center Brett Smith, UMass-Lowell’s lead scorer and 2004 NHL draft eligible forward Ben Walters and Union’s top scorer Scott Seney. The tournament will feature some of the nation’s hardest working goaltenders in Mike Brown of Ferris State, Bernd Brückler (PHI) of Wisconsin, Chris Davidson of UMass-Lowell and Kris Mayotte of Union. With the exception of Mayotte, they all rank among the top ten goaltenders in the nation in total minutes played (second, seventh and eighth respectively). All four netminders have already logged over 760 minutes of ice time each.
DUNKIN’ DONUTS COFFEE POT (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: Providence College
Other participating schools: Clarkson, Harvard, and St. Cloud State
Where: Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
The Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot (also known as the Providence Tournament) will drop the puck on its inaugural year at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. Providence College will host ECAC foes Clarkson and Harvard along with WCHA foe St. Cloud State in this tournament. The opening matchups of the tournament will see the host Providence Friars facing off against the Golden Knights of Clarkson. ECAC powerhouse Harvard Crimson will face off against the surprising sixth-ranked Huskies of St. Cloud State. One player that will be absent for the Crimson is sophomore defenseman Dylan Reese (NYR) due to his participation in the WJC. Some of the nation’s best and most exciting defensemen will be showcasing their talents in this tournament. Among those to watch include Harvard sensation Noah Welch (PIT), Clarkson’s rugged Matt Nickerson (DAL), Providence’s up and coming blueliner James Pemberton (FLA) and St. Cloud State’s hard-hitting Tim Conboy (SJ). There are also some talented forwards to keep an eye on that include Providence’s Peter Zingoni (CBJ), Harvard’s Dennis Packard (TB), Clarkson’s Jeff Genovy (CBJ) and St. Cloud State’s Matt Hendricks (NSH). The tournament finals on Sunday, December 28th could see two excellent netminders squaring off in Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris (PHI) and Providence’s Bobby Goepfert (PIT).
FLORIDA EVERBLADES COLLEGE CLASSIC (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: NONE
Participating schools: Cornell, Maine, Notre Dame and Ohio State
Where: TECO Arena in Estero, FLA
The fourth annual Florida Everblades College Classic will be one of the must-see tournaments this year and will take place at TECO Arena in Estero, Florida. Defending tournament champions and Hockey East powerhouse Maine will look to defend its title against formidable opponents in ECAC powerhouse Cornell along with up and coming CCHA foe Notre Dame and the always-tough CCHA foe Ohio State. The opening matchups will see the third-ranked Maine Black Bears taking on 11th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and the 15th ranked Big Red of Cornell taking on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Maine will be without the services of two of their best players in netminder Jimmy Howard (DET) and RW Greg Moore (CGY) due to their participation in the WJC. This tournament will feature some of NCAA hockey’s finest netminders in Maine’s Frank Doyle, Cornell’s David McKee, Ohio State’s Mike Betz and one of the NCAA’s brightest newcomers in Notre Dame’s David Brown. In addition, some excellent talent among the NHL drafted ranks will also be showcasing their skills. Among the notables are Maine’s top-notch winger Todd Jackson (DET), Notre Dame’s talented power forward Rob Globke (FLA), Ohio State’s top sniper Dave Steckel (LA) and one of the NCAA’s more exciting lines in the Cornell trio of senior Ryan Vesce along with NHL draftees Byron Bitz (BOS) and Matt Moulson (PIT). All eyes will also be on some talented youngsters who could be among those drafted by NHL teams in 2004, most notably Notre Dame’s Wes O’Neill, Maine’s Mike Lundin and Cornell’s Mitch Carefoot. The second and final day of the tournament on December 28th could see Cornell and Ohio State facing off in a rematch of last year’s tournament consolation game that saw the Buckeyes beat the Big Red 1-0.
GREAT LAKES INVITATIONAL (December 27th and 28th)
Host Schools: Michigan Tech and University of Michigan
Other participating schools: Boston College and Michigan State
Where: Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI
TV: Fox Sports Net Detroit
One of the highlights of the holiday tournaments will be the 39th annual Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The WCHA’s Michigan Tech and CCHA powerhouse Michigan will co-host this always-entertaining tournament. Last year’s champions Boston University will not be in participation to defend their title, which is good news to the Michigan Wolverines who lost to them in the tournament finals. However, the bad news is they will faceoff instead against the second-ranked team in the nation in Hockey East powerhouse the Boston College Eagles in one of the two opening matchups of the tournament. The other opening matchup will see the host Michigan Tech Huskies facing off against the Michigan State Spartans in a rematch of last year’s consolation game. There will be a myriad of terrific NHL drafted prospects in action that include one of the nation’s top scorers in Jim Slater (ATL) of Michigan State, speedy Michigan forward Dwight Helminen (EDM) and Boston College’s immensely talented centerman Ben Eaves (PIT). The tournament will also feature Michigan Tech’s “awesome twosome” of Chris Conner and Colin Murphy, both of who are ranked among the top scorers in the nation. The tournament will see some familiar names missing due to their participation in the WJC. Those not in action are Michigan’s talented netminder Alvaro Montoya, Boston College’s sensational winger Patrick Eaves (OTT) and a pair of dynamic young Michigan State Spartans in defenseman Corey Potter (NYR) and forward David Booth. Michigan could also be without the services of left wing Jeff Tambellini (LA), who is the sole NCAA player invited to Team Canada’s WJC selection camp.
SHERATON/BANKNORTH CLASSIC (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: University of Vermont
Other participating schools: Dartmouth, Minnesota State-Mankato and UMass
Where: Gutterson Fieldhouse (on the campus of the University of Vermont)
The Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington will be rocking as host University of Vermont will welcome ECAC rival Dartmouth, WCHA foe Minnesota State-Mankato and surging Hockey East foe UMass in the ninth annual Sheraton/Banknorth Classic. Interestingly, this tournament is played every other year (in odd-numbered years) and has ties to the Ledyard National Bank Classic that Dartmouth College hosts, which is played in the years (even-numbered) that this tournament is not active. Defending champions Lake Superior State, who won this tournament in 2001, will not be in participation this year. The opening matchups will see the host Vermont Catamounts taking on the Mavericks of Minnesota State-Mankato and the 12th ranked Dartmouth Big Green taking on the eighth-ranked Minutemen of UMass. This tournament will feature some of the nation’s most exciting players in action, most notably Vermont center Jeff Miles (CHI), Dartmouth phenom RW Hugh Jessiman (NYR), Minnesota State-Mankato’s sniper David Backes (STL) and the nation’s top scoring defenseman in Thomas Pöck of UMass. One player who will be absent for UMass is talented winger Stephen Werner (WSH) who will be participating in the WJC instead. The finals of this tournament on December 28th could see ECAC rivals Vermont and Dartmouth faceoff in a rematch of the 2000 Ledyard National Bank Classic championship game where Vermont defeated host Dartmouth 4-2.
SUBWAY HOLIDAY CLASSIC (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: University of North Dakota
Other participating schools: Brown, Findlay and Wayne State
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena (on the campus of the University of North Dakota)
Two of the hottest teams in the nation will be featured in the second annual Subway Hockey Classic at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. The nation’s top ranked team, host North Dakota will look to repeat as tournament champions as they welcome surging ECAC foe Brown, along with CHA foes Findlay and Wayne State. The opening matchups will see the host the North Dakota Fighting Sioux facing off against the Findlay Oilers and the 13th ranked Brown Bears facing off against the Wayne State Warriors. North Dakota will be missing two-thirds of their exciting “Brady Bunch” line in Brady Murray (LA) and Zach Parise (NJ) due to their participation in the WJC. Many talented players, some who are already drafted, will be in action in this tournament. Among the ones to watch for include North Dakota’s scorching top sniper Brandon Bochenski (OTT), potential 2004 NHL draftee and Brown’s leading scorer Brian Ihnacak, Findlay’s top scorer Christian Olson and Wayne State’s top scorer Nathan Rosychuk. The potential tournament finals on December 28th could see the best offensive team in the nation in North Dakota facing off against the nation’s top defensive team in Brown. Two of the nation’s best goaltenders in UND’s Jordan Parise and Brown’s Yann Danis will be a must-see battle should they face one another. The teams who plan to have some things to show off of their own will be two CHA foes in Findlay and Wayne State. Upset-minded Findlay could become the surprise team of the tournament. In the opening game of this year’s Ice Breaker Tournament at Munn Ice Arena back on October 10th saw the Findlay Oilers pulling off a stunning upset of host Michigan State. Whether the Oilers can pull off another upset remains to be seen.
WELLS FARGO DENVER CUP (December 27th and 28th)
Host School: University of Denver
Other participating schools: Nebraska-Omaha, Niagara and Yale
Where: Magness Arena (on the campus of the University of Denver)
TV: Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain (December 27th only)
Out west the 12th annual Wells Fargo Denver Cup will drop the puck at Magness Arena in Denver. Host University of Denver will look to make it four in a row as tournament champions when they welcome CCHA foe Nebraska-Omaha, CHA foe Niagara and ECAC foe Yale to Denver. Unlike several of the other tournaments going on this year, none of the visiting teams in this year’s Wells Fargo Denver Cup are making return engagements from last year. The opening matchups will see tenth-ranked host Denver Pioneers take on the Purple Eagles of Niagara and the Yale Bulldogs taking on the Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha. Denver’s talented young defenseman Matthew Carle (SJ) will not see action due to his participation in the WJC. Despite the absence of Carle, there will still be lots of talent to keep an eye on in this tournament. Some high-flying, high-scoring talent will be featured that include Denver’s Connor James (LA), Yale’s Ryan Steeves (COL), Nebraska-Omaha’s Mike Gabinet (LA) and one of the nation’s leading goal-scorers in Niagara’s Barret Ehgoetz. The potential tournament finals goaltending matchup between Denver’s Adam Berkhoel (CHI) and Nebraska-Omaha’s Chris Holt (NYR) is one not to be missed. Niagara could be the tournament’s surprise team. Back on October 25th, the Purple Eagles upset depleted Hockey East powerhouse New Hampshire, handing the Wildcats a 5-2 loss. Furthermore, Niagara possesses some of the nation’s finest offensive talent in one of last season’s Hobey Baker Finalists in Joe Tallari, one of the nation’s top rookies in Jeremy Hall along with one of the nation’s hottest goal-scorers in Ehgoetz.
RPI/HSBC HOLIDAY HOCKEY TOURNAMENT (December 28th and 29th)
Host School: RPI
Other participating schools: Colgate, Mercyhurst and Northeastern
Where: Houston Fieldhouse (on the campus of RPI)
The granddaddy of all the holiday tournaments will take place in Troy, New York. Host RPI will welcome ECAC foe Colgate, defending Atlantic Hockey champions Mercyhurst and Hockey East foe Northeastern to the Houston Fieldhouse in the 53rd annual RPI/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament. The tournament’s defending champions Merrimack will not be in participation this year and neither will the other visiting schools from last year. Host RPI Engineers, who won this tournament in 2001, will look to reclaim the championship this year. They will face off against Atlantic Hockey powerhouse Mercyhurst Lakers while the Colgate Raiders will face off against the Huskies of Northeastern in the tournament’s opening matchups. The RPI/Mercyhurst matchup will feature two talented netminders likely going head to head in RPI’s Nathan Marsters (LA) and Mercyhurst’s Andy Franck. While there will be many not so familiar names showcasing their skills in this tournament, some are definitely worth a look. Those to watch include RPI’s top scorer Kevin Croxton, Colgate’s talented defenseman Joey Mormina (PHI), talented Northeastern winger Mike Morris (SJ) and Mercyhurst’s scoring leader Adam Tackaberry. The school that could conceivably win this tournament is Mercyhurst. The Lakers currently rank among the best offensive teams in the nation and possess the nation’s top power play.
UCONN HOLIDAY CLASSIC (December 28th and 29th)
Host School: University of Connecticut
Other participating schools: Air Force, Bentley and Sacred Heart
Where: Connecticut Ice Arena (on the campus of the University of Connecticut)
One of the two final tournaments to get under way will be the 11th annual UConn Holiday Classic at the Connecticut Ice Arena in Storrs, CT. This tournament features teams from the two lesser-known conferences the Atlantic Hockey and CHA. UConn will host Atlantic Hockey foes Bentley and Sacred Heart along with CHA foe Air Force. Defending tournament champions Alabama-Huntsville will not be in participation in this year’s tournament. Host UConn Huskies will faceoff against Atlantic Hockey rival the Bentley Falcons in a rematch of the 2002 tournament consolation game in one of the two opening matchups of this year’s tournament. The Sacred Heart Pioneers will face off against the Air Force Falcons in the other opening matchup. The Sacred Heart-Air Force matchup will feature two talented goaltenders in Kevin Lapointe of Sacred Heart and Air Force workhorse Mike Polidor. Among the players to watch in this tournament include Air Force’s top scorer Spanky Leonard, Sacred Heart’s top rookie Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Bentley’s top defenseman Seth Vinocur and UConn top scorer Chris Uber. The tournament could also see the lone Atlantic Hockey NHL prospect in Sacred Heart netminder Jason Smith (NJ) in action.
A few notable schools not participating in holiday tournaments this year are: Alabama-Huntsville, Boston University, Bowling Green, Colorado College, Merrimack, Minnesota-Duluth, Northern Michigan and St. Lawrence.