December 26, 2002
Holiday Tournament Previews: Part II

By Mike Eidelbes, Nate Ewell and Jess Myers

 Holiday Tournaments

Merrimack's Joe Exter rides a hot streak into the oldest holiday tournament in college hockey, at Rensselaer.

Related Links

This week's schedule
TV schedule

Play INCH's Holiday Tournament Pick 'em Contest!

Wells Fargo Denver Cup
Dodge Holiday Classic
Subway Ice Classic
Ledyard National Bank Classic
Everblades College Classic
Great Lakes Invitational
Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament
Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown
UConn Classic

INCH Power Rankings

Dec. 28-29– Everblades College Classic – TECO Arena – Estero, Fla.

The Field: No. 12 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Massachusetts; No. 2 Cornell vs. No. 1 Maine

Last Year's Winner: Northern Michigan

Interesting Historical Fact: This is the third year of the Everblades College Classic, and Cornell, Maine and Ohio State have participated in all three. Maine captured first place in the inaugural tournament, while Northern Michigan won last year. You can bet Cornell will be invited back as long as Craig Brush is president and general manager of the East Coast Hockey League's Florida Everblades. Brush was a three-year letterwinner for the Big Red and a member of the school's undefeated 1970 NCAA championship team.

What to Watch For: Another tournament where the impact of the World Junior Championship is being felt in a big way. The biggest losses are between the pipes, where Maine will have to make do without freshman phenom Jim Howard and Cornell replaces standout sophomore Dave LeNeveu, one of two backstops on the Team Canada roster. The Black Bears have a capable substitute in Frank Doyle (4-0-2, 1.54 GAA, .938 save percentage). The Big Red, however, will rely on the untested duo of freshman Louis Chabot and junior Todd Marr, a transfer from Northeastern. Neither has seen game action this season. Ohio State has battle-tested junior Mike Betz between the pipes, while Massachusetts will turn to Gabe Winer, who has an 8-5-0 record for the surprising Minutemen but owns a less-than-desirable .877 save percentage. Offensively, all four teams rely on balanced attacks. Need proof? Maine has eight players with 10 or more points, Ohio State seven, and Cornell and Massachusetts six each.

How We See It: Cornell is clearly at a disadvantage without LeNeveu, while Doyle is a solid second option for Maine. That should make the difference in that game. Ohio State and Massachusetts have been two of the better teams in the nation in recent weeks – the Buckeyes are 9-2-0 in their last seven games, while the Minutemen have won eight of the last 10. While they can be inconsistent, OSU should have an advantage over UMass, especially on special teams, where the Bucks have converted on 20.7% of their power play chances and the Minutemen have a paltry 72.5% success rate on the penalty kill. It wouldn't be a surprise to see John Markell's team win this tournament, but the Black Bears always find a way. Maine hangs on to its top ranking behind the play of tournament MVP Doyle.

Dec. 28-29– Great Lakes Invitational – Joe Louis Arena – Detroit, Mich.

The Field: No. 14 Boston University vs. Michigan State; No. 8 Michigan vs. Michigan Tech

Last Year's Winner: North Dakota

Interesting Historical Fact: Facts, actually. Michigan Tech has played in all 38 Great Lakes Invitationals, but the Huskies haven't won it all since 1980. In fact, Tech has made one title game appearance since 1991. It's rare that someone other than Michigan, Michigan State or Michigan Tech wins the GLI – only eight teams outside of that triumvirate have taken the tournament's top honors and only once has it happened in consecutive years (1986-87, when Western Michigan and Wisconsin turned the trick). Boston University hopes to do the Hockey East proud in Detroit, but there's never been a champion from the conference. In fact, no Hockey East member has ever advanced to the GLI final.

What to Watch For: Given the lineups at some of the other holiday tournaments, the GLI seems to have lost some of its luster this year, and for good reason. Michigan Tech beat Northern Michigan prior to the Christmas break to snap a 10-game winless streak. Michigan State has posted its worst first-half record since the 1980-81 season, Ron Mason's second year in East Lansing. Boston U. is 4-5-0 in its last nine games. Michigan started the season with nine wins and a tie in its first 11 games, but is 2-3 in its last five contests. The Terriers and Wolverines each lost two players to the U.S. entry in the World Junior Championship – BU is without defenseman Ryan Whitney and forward Brian McConnell, while Michigan will make due sans forwards Dwight Helminen and Erik Nystrom.

How We See It: Michigan once owned this tournament – nine straight wins from 1988-96. Michigan State won four in a row starting in 1997, before North Dakota snapped the Spartans' run last year. For the first time in recent memory, the Wolverines' roster isn't completely decimated because of the WJC, and with the injury problems Red Berenson's team has dealt with this season, they won't have any trouble filling Helminen and Nystrom's skates for two games. McConnell's absence doesn't help the Terriers, but their balance should allow them to get past Michigan State. Michigan shuts down Boston U. to win its 12th GLI title.

Great Weekend Getaways
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Our take on the tourneys worth the trip this holiday season ...

1. Everblades College Classic
We just checked the roster of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades (it’s college-laden, by the way). Call us crazy, but all four of the teams in this tournament could give the ’Blades a run for their money.

2. Wells Fargo Denver Cup
A rarity: four good teams not hurt at all by the World Junior Championship.

3. Dodge Holiday Classic
Bowling Green
coach Scott Paluch, a former Boston College assistant, probably wishes he wasn’t such a good recruiter right about now.

4. Great Lakes Invitational
For a couple of days, the biggest attractions are on our side of the Detroit River. But you can still visit Windsor post-game.

5. Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown
This field would have made a great Frozen Four, circa 1988.

6. Ledyard Bank Tournament
Corporate sponsorship changed the name of this tourney from the Auld Lang Syne Classic (although if it keeps you from singing, we don’t mind).

7. Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament
Now that the Rose Bowl has sold out to the BCS, we'll call this 52-year-old tournament the granddaddy of them all.

8. Subway Ice Classic
Famous dieter Jared faced a much bigger challenge than the Sioux will in the Subway Holiday Classic.

9. UConn Classic
And you thought the U.S. News rankings were the last time you’d see Alabama-Huntsville, Connecticut, Ferris State and Findlay mentioned in the same place.

Dec. 28-29– Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament – Houston Field House – Troy, N.Y.

The Field: Princeton vs. Wayne State; Rensselaer vs. Merrimack

Who Won Last Year: Rensselaer

Interesting Historical Fact: In its 52nd year, Rensselaer’s tournament is far and away the longest-running holiday affair in college hockey. Ned Harkness was the Engineers’ coach when the tournament began, in 1951-52, and he went on to lead Rensselaer and Cornell to NCAA titles. Princeton won the second Rensselaer Holiday Tournament, in 1952-53.

What to Watch For: On paper, the Engineers seem to take Bobby Knight’s Indiana Classic approach to scheduling their own tournament – don’t bring in anybody who might pose a threat to the home team. It almost backfired last year, when Rensselaer needed a combined three overtimes to beat Quinnipiac and Massachusetts for the title. Given the Engineers’ struggles this year, they’re probably in for another fight. Dan Fridgen’s young offense managed two or fewer goals six times in a nine-game stretch leading up to the break (3-5-1 in that span). They face a big challenge in the first round, as Merrimack’s Joe Exter has played as well as any goalie in the country lately. On the other side of the bracket, Wayne State looks to snap a four-game losing streak in which it has allowed six goals per game. The preseason favorites in the CHA, the Warriors would love to start fresh after a 5-10-0 first half (including a 2-9-0 record away from home). Princeton’s only win of the year came against Rensselaer, and the Sons of Hobey return from England – where they went to enjoy British food and weather, and just maybe find their game.

How We See It: Unless Fridgen sent Exter a half-dozen fruitcakes for the holidays – and the goalie ate them all – expect Merrimack to stifle the offenses in Troy this weekend and continue its surprising season with a tournament title. But regardless of anyone’s holiday diet, these figure to be hard-fought games – nobody’s head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Dec. 28-29 – Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown – Bradley Center – Milwaukee, Wis.

The Field: No. 16 Northern Michigan vs. No. 7 Harvard, Colgate vs. Wisconsin

Who Won Last Year: New Hampshire

Interesting Historical Fact: This tournament's second game, Colgate vs. Wisconsin, is a rematch of the 1990 NCAA championship game, won 7-3 by the Badgers. Wisconsin won the inaugural Badger Hockey Showdown earlier that season, beating Boston College 6-3 in the championship game.

What To Watch For: If this tournament were being played 11 years ago, it would feature the three most recent NCAA champs (Harvard in '89, Wisconsin in '90 and Northern Michigan in '91) and a recent NCAA runner-up (Colgate in '90). As it stands, well, let's say that there have been bigger collections of talent on the Bradley Center ice (the 1993 Maine vs. Lake Superior State NCAA title game comes to mind). Wisconsin is cold and getting colder. Colgate is currently ninth in the ECAC. Harvard is tops in that league, but is coming off a loss and a tie. And Northern Michigan is challenging for the lead in the CCHA, but is coming off an inexplicable home loss to Michigan Tech.

How We See It: Northern's defense tops Harvard's offense in the opener, sending the Wildcats to the title game. Wisconsin, inspired by the 9,000 people wearing red in the 17,000-seat arena, wins the nightcap. Harvard smokes Colgate for third place. Wisconsin's best hope in the title game is if Northern takes the Miller Brewing tour (three free beers at the end), then goes to Mader's (one of the finer German restaurants on this side of the Rhine) for a pregame meal featuring seven or eight types of sausage and some really heavy potato dumplings. Even then, remember that these boys are from the
sausage-intensive Upper Peninsula, and they can handle their wurst and brews. In other words, go with the Wildcats for the title.

Dec. 29-30 – UConn Classic – Connecticut Ice Arena – Storrs, Conn.

The Field: No. 9 Ferris State vs. Alabama-Huntsville; Connecticut vs. Findlay

Who Won Last Year: Air Force

Interesting Historical Fact: Five years ago, Connecticut played in an outdoor rink. Talk about Classic.

What to Watch For: Chris Kunitz. And Mike Brown. The Ferris State stars should be salivating at the chance to play these two games and get back to their early-season dominating form after the Bulldogs’ recent 4-3-0 run. Unlike Ferris, Alabama-Huntsville (3-0-2 in its last five) and Findlay (4-0-0 in four) enter on a roll. The Oilers boast an impressive offense (4.00 goals per game, 11th in the nation), led by their power play (26.2 percent, fifth in the nation). Alabama-Huntsville and Connecticut both have talented seniors leading their offensive attacks – Mike Funk (6-8—14) and Jason Hawes (3-10—13) for UAH and Kurt Kamienski (4-11—15) and D.J. Miller (8-2—10) for UConn.

How We See It: Alabama-Huntsville, Connecticut and Findlay have all shown that they can hang with the big boys at one point or another this season. None has proven that they can beat a team of Ferris State’s caliber, however, and chances are they won’t this weekend, either. (Side note: we just referred to Ferris State as one of the “big boys” of college hockey. If that’s not proof that anything can happen, we don’t know what is.)

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