RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament Preview

By DJ Powers

When: November 25th and 26th
Host School: RPI
Other participating schools: College of the Holy Cross, University of Nebraska-Omaha and Providence College
Where: Houston Fieldhouse (on the campus of RPI)
Number of NHL prospects to be showcased: 6

College Hockey’s oldest holiday tournament, the 55th annual RPI/Bank of America Holiday Hockey Tournament, drops the puck on Thanksgiving weekend.

Host RPI will welcome Holy Cross, the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Providence College to the Houston Fieldhouse for this year’s tournament. The Engineers will seek to lay claim to the tournament championship this season. The Air Force Academy won last year’s tournament defeating RPI 1-0 in the title game. The Engineers last won their tournament back in 2001.

This year’s tournament marks Providence College’s ninth appearance, having won the tournament in 1999. Holy Cross makes its third appearance and will seek their first tournament victory. This year marks the debut of Nebraska-Omaha in this tournament. After winning their own season opening Maverick Stampede tournament last month, the Mavericks will look to add another tournament victory this season.

The first match features the only teams in the tournament with NHL prospects on their rosters as Providence College faces off against Nebraska-Omaha. This is only the second time that the teams have ever met one another in their programs’ history. The last meeting between the Friars and Mavericks took place back in October 2001. The two teams have a combined total of six NHL prospects on their rosters.

The Friars are coming off a 2-2 tie versus Boston University back on October 18th and currently sit atop the Hockey East standings with a 6-2-1 record in league play and 6-4-1 mark overall. Providence can attribute much of their success to sophomore goaltender Tyler Sims, who has been nothing short of sensational between the pipes thus far. Sims sports a 6-3-1 record that includes two shutouts, both against UMass-Lowell. In his six wins and one tie, the Forth Worth, Texas native has not allowed more than two goals.

Senior Torry Gajda leads the Friars in scoring with 12 points (five goals, seven assists). He and junior Chase Watson co-lead the team with seven assists apiece.

Two Friars defensemen getting offensive early in the season are senior James Pemberton (FLA) and freshman Cody Wild. Pemberton, in 11 games thus far, has already matched his goal scoring output from last season with three. He, along with Wild co-lead the team in scoring among defensemen with five points (three goals, two assists) each. Wild, a candidate for the 2006 NHL Draft, had one of his best performances back on November 15th with the game-winning, power play tally over Northeastern.

The Mavericks are coming off a disappointing 6-3 home loss to their WCHA counterparts from Minnesota State-Mankato on Tuesday night in the first game of the two-game set for the “Spirit of the Mavericks” Trophy. The two teams meet again in Mankato in early January.

The streaky Mavericks have lost their last two games and won two before that coming into this weekend. One consistency for UNO this season has been the excellent play of junior Scott Parse (LA). Parse currently leads the Mavericks in scoring with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) and is tied for second in the nation in points per game with 1.73. He has notched at least one point in all 11 UNO games thus far this season (a school record) and has put together multi-point games in nearly half of them. Parse and linemate sophomore Bill Thomas co-lead the team with seven goals apiece.

In addition to being new to this tournament, Nebraska-Omaha has never faced either team that they could face on Saturday. RPI, who did participate in the Mavericks Stampede last season, did not face the Mavericks in the early season tournament. Nebraska-Omaha and Holy Cross have also never met in their respective programs’ history.

The second match features host RPI facing off against Holy Cross. The Engineers and the Crusaders have met five times in their respective program history, the most recent being this past February at the Houston Fieldhouse.

Host RPI is coming off of two impressive 1-1 ties at Colgate and at Cornell respectively last weekend. The significantly improved Engineers can attribute much of their early season success to the outstanding performance of freshman goaltender Mathias Lange. The Klagenfurt, Austria native has racked up a 5-2-3 record in 11 appearances that includes one shutout. In the Colgate/Cornell weekend series, Lange stopped 62 of 64 shots to preserve the ties for RPI and has already earned three ECACHL Rookie of the Week honors thus far this season.

Senior Kevin Croxton and junior Oren Eizenman co-lead the Engineers in scoring with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) apiece. Sophomore Jonathan Ornelas leads the team with nine goals. The trio also makes up RPI’s top line, which account for 46 percent of the Engineers total point production thus far.

One noticeably absent presence in the Engineers lineup is senior forward Kirk MacDonald. The Victoria, BC native, who led the Engineers in scoring last season, was diagnosed with testicular cancer last April. MacDonald recently returned to the Troy, NY campus and has applied for a medical redshirt. He hopes to return to the RPI lineup next season.

Holy Cross is coming off a three-point home-and-home set versus AIC last weekend. The Crusaders bring one of the nation’s top defenses to the tournament this weekend. Holy Cross is currently ranked seventh in the nation in team defense, allowing an average of two goals per game. In five of their nine games played thus far, Holy Cross allowed two or less goals against. Senior goaltender Tony Quesada is off to an outstanding start, posting a 4-1-1 record that includes one shutout. His 1.82 goals against average currently rank eighth in the nation while his .937 save percentage ranks seventh. Quesada is just three wins away from setting a new school record for career wins.

Offensively, the Crusaders are led by a trio of seniors in co-captains Tyler McGregor and Pierre Napert-Frenette along with Blair Bartlett. McGregor leads the team with 14 points (nine goals, five assists). The Ajax, Ontario native holds the distinction of being the lone player in the Atlantic Hockey conference that has notched a hat trick thus far this season. In addition to points, McGregor also leads the team with five power play tallies. Napert-Frenette and Bartlett both co-lead the team lead with eight assists each.

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