College hockey holiday tournaments preview, Part 1

By DJ Powers

With nine tournaments and one Cup series happening in various regions across the US, college hockey fans will have plenty of games to feast their eyes on during the holidays. Plenty of NHL prospects will be in action, however several will be out due to their participation in the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championships taking place December 26th – January 6th in Vancouver.

For those unable to attend games, there will be plenty of games on television. Unless otherwise noted, all games (where applicable) are available on digital cable and/or satellite systems throughout the US.

The listing showing the number of NHL prospects participating do not include players who are absent from their respective teams lineup due to known injury, suspension or participation in the WJC. All statistics shown are current as of December 18th.

Providence College Holiday Tournament (December 21st and 22nd)

Host school: Providence College
Other participating schools: Brown University, Colgate University and Sacred Heart University
Where: Schneider Arena (on the campus of Providence College)
Number of NHL Prospects to be showcased: 8
TV: Cox Sports (Local only)

The Providence College Holiday Tournament kicks off the post-Thanksgiving portion of college holiday tournament time when it drops the puck on December 21st. Host #17 Providence College welcomes Mayor’s Cup rival Brown as well as #11 Colgate and Sacred Heart to Schneider Arena.

The Friars currently are tied atop the Hockey East standings and have gotten off to their best Hockey East start ever under new head coach Tim Army. Providence is coming off of a 4-1 win over conference rival Boston University back on December 8th. Two factors that have contributed to the team’s success thus far has been a near perfect record (5-0-1) at Schneider Arena and stellar goaltending from sophomore Tyler Sims. Sims sports a 9-5-1 overall record with .923 save percentage and a 2.24 goals against average.

Senior Torry Gajda has been one of the hottest players coming out of Hockey East. He has six goals in four games coming into the tournament. Gajda’s 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) leads Providence. He also leads the team in several other categories including short-handed (2) and power-play (3) goals.

Junior Colin McDonald (EDM) got off to a decent start to the season but struggled offensively through the month of November. So far in the month of December, McDonald looks to have returned to form. He has racked up five points (two goals, three assists) in the three games that Providence has played this month. Overall, McDonald has 12 points (six goals, six assist) on the season and leads the Friars with three game-winning goals.

The Friars will face Colgate in their opening game of the tournament. The Raiders have gotten off to an excellent start in the hotly contested ECACHL this season. Colgate is the only team in the nation whose team offense and defense both rank in the top five.

The Raiders have the nation’s fifth best team offense, averaging nearly 3.75 goals per game.
Leading the way are three players with 20 or more points on the roster, including senior Kyle Wilson (MIN). Wilson currently ranks third on the team in scoring with 20 points (13 goals, seven assists). The area where Wilson has done most of his damage to the opposition has been on the power play. Seven of his 13 goals have come with the man-advantage. It also leads the team.

A pair of sophomores in Jesse Winchester and Tyler Burton leads the team in scoring with 23 and 22 points respectively. Burton, along with Wilson, is tied for the team lead with 13 goals apiece.

Equally impressive has been Colgate’s defense, which also ranks fifth in the nation, averaging two goals against this season. Sophomore goaltender Mark Dekanich has been brilliant in goal for the Raiders and a big reason for the defensive success of the team. The North Vancouver native currently sports a 9-1-3 overall record that includes two shutouts. Dekanich, a 2006 NHL draft eligible goaltender, has a .932 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average. Both statistics rank fifth and seventh respectively in the nation.

Providence College’s in-city rival Brown will face off against Sacred Heart in the second game of the opening series of the tournament.

The start of the 2005-06 season hasn’t gone as well as Brown had hoped. Thus far, the Bears have managed just two wins and a tie. Brown comes into the tournament hoping to halt a seven-game winless skid (0-6-1), including a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Maine on December 7th.

One of the contributing factors to the Bears struggles has been a lack of offense. In Brown’s two wins and tie, the team scored three or more goals. In all of their losses, the Bears were held to two goals or less. The team has just a combined 20 goals on the season thus far, which ranks last in the nation.

Compounding the problem is the fact that none of the players on the roster has ten or more points on the season thus far. Sophomore Jeff Prough, who leads Brown in scoring with nine points (five goals, four assists), is the lone player on the roster who has more than two goals coming into the tournament.

Junior Brian Ihnacak (PIT), who is the team’s returning top scorer from last season, has struggled to find his scoring touch this season despite ranking second in scoring on the team with six points (two goals, four assists).

Brown will face Sacred Heart in their opening game. The Pioneers will look to get back on track after being swept in the weekend series versus UConn back on December 10th.

Sacred Heart has gotten off to a very good start to their season thanks in part to the superb goaltending of junior Jason Smith (NJ). While Smith’s overall record of 7-6-1 may not be all that impressive, his .923 saves percentage and 2.31 goals against average are. One of Smith’s best performances on the season came back on December 2nd, when he posted a 44-save, 4-3 overtime win versus RPI.

Junior Pierre-Luc O’Brien has picked up right where he left off last season, currently leading the Pioneers in scoring with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists). His 14 assists also lead the team.

One player who is off to an outstanding start for Sacred Heart (and also has one of the best names in college hockey) is freshman Bear Trapp. Trapp, an early candidate for the Atlantic Hockey conference’s Rookie of the Year, currently ranks second on the team in scoring with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists). Trapp was sensational in Sacred Heart’s 4-3 win over RPI back on December 2nd. In that contest, he notched two goals, including the game-winner to lead the Pioneers.

Florida College Hockey Classic (December 27th and 28th)

Host school: Cornell University
Other participating schools: University of Maine, University of Minnesota-Duluth and Northeastern University
Where: Germain Arena, Estero, Florida
Number of NHL Prospects to be showcased: 25
TV: NONE

The Florida College Hockey Classic has become one of the most exciting holiday tournaments to watch and this year’s looks to be no different. This tournament features more current NHL prospects than any other college hockey holiday tournament this year. The tournament will be without two players, Cornell freshman defenseman Sasha Pokulok (WSH) and UMD freshman defenseman Matt Niskanen (DAL), due to their participation in the upcoming WJC.

#8/#10 Cornell is coming off back-to-back wins over conference foes Quinnipiac and Princeton back on December 2nd and 3rd. The most noticeable change thus far has been the decline in the team’s defensive numbers. Cornell didn’t allow more than four goals all last season and the lone game they did allow four goals came in their opening series game of this tournament versus Boston College. Thus far, the Big Red have allowed four goals in two games and six in their loss to Ivy League rival Dartmouth back on November 12th.

One reason for the decline could be attributed to injuries, particularly to the blueline. Cornell has been without the services of senior Jon Gleed (MON) and junior Dan Glover (NJ) since late November. Gleed went down in the November 25th contest versus Niagara, while Glover made his last appearance on November 12th versus Dartmouth.

Senior Matt Moulson (PIT) continues to carry much of the Big Red’s offense. He currently leads the team in points (17), goals (8), assists (9) and power play goals (6).

One player who has become a significant offensive contributor of late has been junior Mark McCutcheon (COL). The Pittsford, NY native has four points (three goals, one assist) in Cornell’s last four games. Overall, McCutcheon tied for third on the team, with junior defenseman Ryan O’Byrne (MON), in scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists).

Cornell will face Northeastern in one of the two games of the tournament’s opening series. The Huskies enter the tournament looking for just their second win on the season and sporting a disappointing 1-9-4 record overall. The team’s lone win thus far came back on November 11th versus UMass. Four of the last games the Huskies have been involved in have gone to overtime. Three ended in ties while one ended in a loss.

One area that has become a concern for the Huskies is limiting the number of shots that their goaltenders face. Junior Adam Gerogosian, who has played in 12 of the Huskies 14 games thus far, has faced an average of just under 36 shots per game in the team’s last six games.

With the possibility of facing two defensively tough opponents in this tournament, Northeastern will also need to address the lack of offensive depth, particularly in the absence of injured junior Mike Morris (SJ). Sophomore Jimmy Russo leads the Huskies with 13 points (five goals, eight assists). Russo is only one of 12 players on the entire Northeastern that has a goal thus far.

Two Huskies freshmen well worth watching are linemates Joe Vitale (PIT) and Ryan Ginand. Vitale, a seventh round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2205 draft, currently ranks fourth on the team in scoring with eight points (four goals, four assists). Vitale enjoyed some excellent performances in late October/early November. He’ll be looking to for his first points since November 19th. Ginand also has eight points (five goals, three assists). He had his most memorable performance to date back on November 4th when he notched a natural hat-trick in the Huskies 4-6 loss to New Hampshire that also earned him a Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor.

The second game of the tournament’s opening series features #9/#8 Maine facing off against Minnesota-Duluth. The Black Bears are coming off of a 5-2 win over Northeastern, a team that could face again in either third-place or championship game of this tournament, up at Alfond Arena back on December 10th.

Maine brings in one of the top defensive teams and the nation’s top penalty killing team to the Florida College Classic. The Black Bears defense has allowed an average of just 1.69 goals per game, which ranks third in the nation. Maine’s penalty killing efficiency rating at 94.2 percent is the best in the nation. Two young and talented goaltenders in freshman Ben Bishop (STL) and sophomore Matt Lundin have been sensational in goal for the Black Bears thus far this season. Bishop, a 2005 draft selection of the St. Louis Blues has posted a 6-4-0 record in his 10 starts with a .914 save percentage and a 2.17 goals against average. He had one of his most memorable outings back on October 28th, where his 30-save performance helped propel Maine to a victory over Boston College at Conte Forum. Lundin, a 2006 NHL draft eligible goaltender, has posted a 5-1-0 record that includes two shutouts in his seven starts. He currently leads the nation with a .957 save percentage and a 0.96 goals against average.

The Black Bears have one of the best line combinations coming out of Hockey East. The trio of sophomore Billy Ryan (NYR) and the Hopson Brothers (senior John and sophomore Keenan) have been wreaking havoc on the opposition since being put together back in mid-October. The line accounts for 41 points (11 goals, 33 assists).

Ryan isn’t the only New York Rangers prospect on the Maine roster enjoying a stellar season thus far. Senior and team captain Greg Moore currently leads the team with ten goals and has 14 points overall. Moore, who has become known for his ability to score timely goals, has four power play goals and four game-winners.

Facing off against the Black Bears will be the Bulldogs of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. UMD is coming off of a disappointing series sweep at the hands of defending national champion Denver this past weekend. The Bulldogs come into the Florida College Hockey Classic having posted just one win in their last five games (1-3-1).

One area that UMD hopes to remedy is their slumping power play. In the last five games, the Bulldogs have managed to score a grand total of one power play goal, which came in the 2-7 loss to Colorado College back on December 9th.

Two players to keep an eye on for Minnesota-Duluth in this tournament are linemates, freshman Mason Raymond (VAN) and sophomore Matt McKnight (DAL). Raymond currently leads UMD in scoring with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists). He enjoyed one of his best outings back on December 10th when he posted three points (one goal, two assists) to help guide the Bulldogs to a 4-3 win at Colorado College. Equally stellar has been the play of McKnight. He ranks behind Raymond in team scoring with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists). McKnight’s clutch scoring has been evident throughout the season thus far. Of his seven goals, three have come on the power play and one has come short-handed. In the series versus Minnesota State-Mankato back on December 2nd and 3rd, McKnight notched the game-winner in overtime in the first game and the game-tying goal in the 2-2 final in the second.

With freshmen defensemen Matt Niskanen (DAL) playing for Team USA at the WJC and Josh Meyers (LA) out with an injury, the Bulldogs will be relying more heavily on senior goaltender Isaac Reithmuth to solidify the defense. Reichmuth has been brilliant in goal for UMD thus far. One of his best outings came back on November 5th when he went the distance to post a 37-save win over Minnesota.

Great Lakes Invitational (December 29th and 30th)

Host schools: University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Michigan Tech University
Other participating school: Colorado College
Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Number of NHL Prospects to be showcased: 21
TV: FoxSports Net Detroit

One of the best and must-see holiday tournaments gets underway on December 29th when the 41st annual Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) drops the puck at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Defending tournament champion Michigan State will look to successfully defend its title in this year’s tournament that also features regulars Michigan and Michigan Tech and invite Colorado College.

The Spartans will face off against Michigan Tech in the first match of the opening series. MSU is coming off a win and tie over CCHA rival Alaska-Fairbanks back on December 10th.

Michigan State has been ravaged by injuries and illness this season. Coming into the GLI, the Spartans have a total of 59 man-games lost due to either injury or illness. Freshman Tim Kennedy (BUF), who has seen action in only three thus far, is not expected to be back in the lineup for the GLI. He has battled through both an injury and illness.

While the Spartans have had to deal with health and performance consistency issues, everything is not all gloom and doom for MSU. Two players that have been giving Spartans fans something to cheer about of late are sophomore Bryan Lerg and junior goaltender Dominic Vicari. Lerg has been on a hot streak of late, scoring four goals in his last four games. He currently leads the Spartans in scoring with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists). Vicari looks to returning to top form coming into the GLI. In his three starts in the month of December, Vicari has posted two shutout wins and a loss. He sports a 6-5-2 record and currently leads the nation with four shutouts.

One player who has dominating a dominating force for MSU this season is sophomore Jim McKenzie (OTT). The imposing Ottawa Senators prospect has posted at least one point in 11 of 18 appearances this season. He has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) on the season and leads the Spartans with 49 penalty minutes.

MSU will face MTU in their opening match. The Huskies are coming off just their fourth win of the season last Saturday over Minnesota State-Mankato. MTU is hoping to post their first back-to-back wins of the season versus the Spartans. While the Huskies have few wins thus far this season, their victories have come against quality opponents including a stunning 4-2 upset of top-ranked Wisconsin back on December 9th.

Two problems that continue to plague the Huskies is lack of offense and scoring depth. Coming into the GLI, MTU has been outscored by a margin of 41-87 this season. Senior Chris Conner, who leads the team in scoring with 20 points, accounts for nearly 30 percent of the team’s goal scoring alone. Conner is one of only five players on the roster to have notched three or more goals this season.

Junior defenseman Lars Helminen looks to be hitting his stride at just the right time. He currently leads all Huskies defensemen in scoring with 11 points (one goal, 10 assists). His first goal of the season came last weekend on December 16th versus Minnesota State-Mankato. Helminen has tallied three points (one goal, two assists) in his last four games.

The second game of the opening series features #6 Michigan facing off against #7 Colorado College in a rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final where the Tigers roared back from a three-goal deficit to advance to the Frozen Four with a 4-3 win. The contest features two of the nation’s top offensive teams going head-to-head.

The Wolverines are coming off of a sweep of CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha back on December 10th. Michigan will be without the services of four of their top players due to the WJC in defensemen Jack Johnson (CAR) and Mark Mitera and forwards Andrew Cogliano (EDM) and Kevin Porter (PHO). In addition, junior David Rohlfs (EDM) will be serving a one-game suspension due to a fight he was involved in with Nebraska-Omaha’s Dan Knapp in Michigan’s last game on December 10th.

With forwards Cogliano and Porter out of the lineup and Michigan’s depth, the Wolverines should have little trouble with offensive production. Players such as junior T. J. Hensick (COL) and senior Andrew Ebbett, who have been consistent contributors for Michigan, will continue to be relied upon to help lead the Wolverines attack.

Replacing a depleted defense however could be a different matter. With three of their top six blueliners out against Colorado College, the Wolverines will be relying more heavily on defensemen such as juniors Matt Hunwick (BOS), Tim Cook (OTT) and Jason Dest.

Goaltending will also be key in solidifying the temporarily depleted Wolverines defense. Senior Noah Ruden, who has been brilliant in past GLIs, could be getting the start over freshman Billy Sauer.

Like Michigan State, Colorado College is another team who has dealt with a rash of injuries this season. However, the Tigers look to be finally getting healthy, particularly with the return of seniors Aaron Slattengren and defenseman Weston Tardy.

Colorado College is coming off of a sweep of Alaska-Anchorage up at Sullivan Arena last weekend.

The story at Colorado College continues to be the spectacular season that the Tigers’ dynamic duo of seniors and top Hobey Baker candidates, Brett Sterling (ATL) and Marty Sertich are having. Sterling leads the nation in scoring with 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists). Of his nation-leading 19 goals, nine have come on the power play. He is currently tied for first in the nation in that category as well. Sterling’s former linemate Sertich is ranked second on the team and tied for third in the nation in scoring with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists).

Sterling isn’t the only Californian on the Tigers roster enjoying a great season. Junior Brian Salcido (ANA) continues to rack up the points and ranks among the top scoring defensemen in the nation. Salcido leads all Tigers defensemen in scoring with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists). His 20 assists also lead the team. Salcido currently ranks fourth in the nation in scoring among defensemen and seventh in points per game. Nowhere has Salcido been a more a valuable commodity to the team than on the power play.

One player who has benefited greatly playing alongside Sterling this season is senior Joey Crabb (NYR). Since the beginning of December, Crabb has posted seven points (one goal, six assists). Overall he has tallied 17 points (five goals, 12 assists). Four of his five goals have come on the power play.

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