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January 2, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Second Servings: New Year's Tournament Previews

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

Happy New Year from CHN. 2009 kicks off with five more holiday tournaments, taking place across the country this Friday and Saturday.
Here are the previews:

Denver Cup

Boston University (11-4-1) vs. Rensselaer (3-13-1)
Holy Cross (5-11-1) at Denver (13-5-1)

The Denver Pioneers, who won their final seven games before the holiday break, host the Wells Fargo Denver Cup this weekend. But
they will have to continue their 2008-09 campaign without sophomore standout forward Tyler Bozak, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Bozak is currently second on the team in scoring, with 21 points in 18 games.

Still, Denver coach George Gwozdecky remains pleased with his team's position at the halfway point of the season.

"We had a good finish to the first half of our WCHA schedule and are in first place at the halfway point," said Gwozdecky. "For the second half, we want to continue to compete hard and show steady growth. We want to defend our Wells Fargo Denver Cup championship that we won last year and try to use our tournament play as a spring board for the challenging second half of the WCHA schedule."

The Pioneers' opponent on Friday night will be Holy Cross, a team that has struggled to a 5-11-1 record thus far this season. Still, facing a powerhouse WCHA team isn't necessarily anything new for the Crusaders program.

Explained Gwozdecky, "[Holy Cross coach] Paul Pearl and his staff have done a fabulous job of developing the Holy Cross hockey program. The Holy Cross Crusaders are annually one of the top teams in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Since 2003, they have won two regular season AHC titles and two conference AHC playoff titles. During the 2005-06 season the Crusaders shocked the college hockey world and gained instant credibility and respect with their monumental victory over the University of Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Regional Tournament. I know that they are a quality opponent, and I expect they will represent their conference well."

The respect appears mutual.

"Denver has an outstanding program and it's a great opportunity for us to play in their tournament," said Pearl. "We have been working really hard in practice to prepare for them.

"Our team is looking forward to the second half. Our league is balanced, home ice is still up for grabs, and we feel like our team is continuing to make strides."

In Friday's matinee faceoff, Boston University will take on Rensselaer in a matchup of teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. The Terriers are undefeated in their last five games, including a win and tie against defending national champion Boston College. The Engineers, on the other hand, have won just once in their last nine games. However, Rensselaer's first half schedule has been particularly challenging, including a pair of games against Miami and four contests against other Hockey East opponents (Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Northeastern).

Appert hopes his team's first-half schedule will leave them better prepared for a stretch run in the ECAC.

Said Appert, "With our tough schedule and struggle in the first half, I believe we have done the necessary work to be a good second half team regardless of this weekend's opportunity.

"Our opponent, BU, is one of the best teams in the country and certainly one of the toughest teams to play against. They have good
depth at forward and probably the best D-corps in college hockey."

Ohio Hockey Classic

Miami (12-3-3) vs. Clarkson (2-10-4)
Army (4-11-1) at Ohio State (11-6-1)

Miami, a year removed from falling an overtime goal shy of the Frozen Four, is on a roll — thanks in large part to two freshmen goaltenders, Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp, who have backstopped the Redhawks to their current eight game winning streak.

Over those eight games, Miami has outscored its opponents 33-10.

"They work hard during the week, watching video and making sure they're out there early for practice," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi last month following a weekend sweep of CCHA rival Michigan. "Then they stay late after practice. They really compete against each other. You put in the work, and you're going to reap the benefits."

Miami's opponent on Friday is Clarkson. Entering this season, both Miami and Clarkson faced a number of questions resulting from lost starpower — for Miami, Hobey finalist Ryan Jones and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, and for Clarkson, the likes of Nick Dodge and netminder David Leggio.

But the fates of each team have been decidedly different.

While Miami hasn't missed a beat, sitting just one point behind first-place Notre Dame in the CCHA, Clarkson is mired in a winless streak that has now reached 11 games — the longest such streak of coach George Roll's career and a a strange aberration for a program that reached the 20-win plateau each of the last two seasons and won the ECAC tournament championship in 2007.

Said a candid Roll, "Miami was in a similar situation as us in terms of losing key players, but obviously they have done an outstanding job where we have clearly struggled. To lose players of that caliber and be able to get off the start they have is a credit to their program.

"We need to be hungrier around the net and get in the areas where goals are scored. We are not worried about the big picture but rather taking the small steps necessary to get back our confidence."

The Friday night primetime matchup at Columbus's Value City Arena features Ohio State and Army. The Buckeyes enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak and as winners in nine of their last 10 games. In addition, John Markell's club has found success in the past in this tournament, losing just once in eight Ohio Hockey Classic games. The only loss came against Miami in the championship game a year ago.

This year's edition of the Buckeyes is exceptionally young — featuring only three seniors and two juniors. Army's class is similarly young, with 14 underclassmen.

Said Army coach Brian Riley, "We feel that playing in these tournaments will go a long ways to helping the development of our young team as we get ready for the second half of our league schedule. The first half has been a tough schedule...because of the fact that, after the [Ohio Hockey Classic], we will have played 11 straight road games and have had only 3 home games in our first 18 games.

"We are hopeful that this challenging schedule will have helped our team develop so that we will be playing our best hockey coming down the stretch when we will be fortunate enough to be playing most of our games at home."

Sheraton/TD Banknorth Catamount Cup

St. Lawrence (7-8-1) vs. Ferris State (9-8-3)
Colgate (5-7-4) at Vermont (9-4-2)

The matchup between St. Lawrence and Ferris State is the first college hockey game of 2009. The Saints enter the contest having won three of their last five and seem to have rallied around recent adversity to prepare themselves for the second half of the season.

Joe Marsh's squad was an NCAA tournament participant just two years ago, and his veteran-laden team surely knows what it takes to get back there. Nine of the Saints' top 10 scorers are juniors or seniors.

On the opposite bench from Marsh and the Saints will be Bob Daniels and his Ferris State Bulldogs, who sit in seventh place in the CCHA standings.

"I do not know much about St Lawrence," admitted Daniels, who is in his 17th year behind the bench at Ferris State. "From speaking with other coaches who have played them, my impression is that they are an aggressive puck pursuit team, and they like to play a physical game. They appear to have a number of defensemen who can generate offense and complement a deep group of forwards.

"Over the years, I have been more concerned with getting our team back on track after the holiday break and spent less time emphasizing a game plan tailored for a specific opponent."

Following the game between the Saints and Bulldogs will be Colgate and Vermont, two programs who know each other well from the Catamounts' recent days in the ECAC. Vermont has specialized in close games this season, as all nine of its wins have been by a margin of two goals or less — something that may benefit the Catamounts in a tough second half stretch run that includes a home series against Boston College, a road series at Northeastern, and three games against New Hampshire.

Despite Vermont already sitting in second place in the Hockey East standings, coach Kevin Sneddon suggests the best from his team may still be yet to come.

Said Sneddon,"We want to get our team back to game shape as quickly as possible and feel good about how we are playing going into our Hockey East schedule. I really like our team, and I'm excited by the fact that we really haven't tapped into our true potential yet. We've played very well at times, and also played poorly at others. To get where we want to go, it will require our team maintaining a high level of confidence, and to sustain that, we will need to stay focused every day in the second half."

For now, though, Vermont's focus is on hosting the Catamount Cup and facing off against an old foe on Friday night — a Colgate team that will likely be in better game shape than Vermont after playing just last weekend.

"Colgate is coming off of a great weekend of play with a win and a tie over strong opponents, Maine and Cornell," said Sneddon. "So they are playing well right now. [Colgate coach] Don [Vaughan's] teams always play well defensively, and they possess a lot of skill up front. This game will be a great challenge for our team coming off of a lengthy break."

Indeed, as alluded to by Sneddon, Colgate is coming off a weekend that included a last-second (literally) overtime win against Maine at the Florida College Classic, before tying Cornell in the championship game (technically losing the tournament in a shootout). Those impressive performances rewarded a hard-working Raiders team that saw many strong efforts in November turn into ties or losses.

Shillelagh Tournament

Mass.-Lowell (8-8-0) vs. Minnesota-Duluth (8-4-6)
Union (8-7-1) vs. Notre Dame (14-3-2)

The top-ranked and first-place Notre Dame Fighting Irish host the first-ever Shillelagh Tournament this weekend, taking place at the Sears Centre at Hoffman Estates, Ill. The tournament features teams from the CCHA, WCHA, ECAC, and Hockey East, and as part of the weekend festivities, all four teams attended the NHL's Winter Classic game on New Year's Day between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, won by Detroit at the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.

The Irish are 12-0-2 in their last 14 contests and look to be on a mission to return to the NCAA Frozen Four, where last year they fell to Boston College in the national championship game. Friday, Jeff Jackson's squad takes on Union. Last season, the Dutchmen had their first winning season since 1997, and they finished the first half of this season a game over .500.

Still, a game against Notre Dame should serve as a measuring stick for the Dutchmen.

Said Union coach Nate Leaman, "We play the No. 1 team in the country Notre Dame, so we view it as a great opportunity to measure where we are at with the best. After this tournament, we have 16 straight league games to end the season, so we are looking for this to prepare us for the remainder of the season."

Friday's other matchup features Minnesota-Duluth and Mass.-Lowell. The Bulldogs surged to a strong finish to 2008, thanks in large part to sophomore forward Justin Fontaine, who is currently tied for fifth in scoring in the country (25 points in 18 games). Scott Sandelin's team is riding a seven-game unbeaten streak that includes a three point road weekend at Colorado College.

Mass.-Lowell, on the other hand, lost all three of its December games. But the Riverhawks are looking to return to their strong play in November, when they put up strong offensive numbers that stemmed from a balanced attack. Seven players have scored at least 10 points this season.

Dodge Holiday Classic

Western Michigan (3-11-4) vs. Northeastern (11-3-2)
Brown (1-8-2) at Minnesota (8-3-5)

No disrespect intended to Western Michigan or Brown, but this tournament features the possibility of an intriguing Saturday night matchup between Northeastern and Minnesota. The Huskies have excelled this season but have played in only one game since Nov. 29. Meanwhile, Minnesota started the season strong but struggled in its final few games before the holiday break.

The Gophers are led by junior Ryan Stoa, who is having a strong comeback season after missing all but two games last season due to injury. Stoa is currently eighth in the nation in scoring, tallying almost 1.40 points per game so far this season.

It remains to be seen how the Gophers react to the jarring news that their coach, Don Lucia, will miss the game — and probably the tournament — while undergoing tests for an undisclosed illness.

Opposing Minnesota on Friday is a struggling Brown team that isn't even on pace to match its win total of six games from a year ago. One bright spot has been the play of Matt Vokes, the team's leading scorer with 13 points in 11 games.

Northeastern, currently in first-place in Hockey East, will begin its second half against Western Michigan. The Huskies are currently ranked second in the Pairwise, having finally emerged under coach Greg Cronin after steady improvement over the last three years.

The current senior class for Northeastern won just three games as freshmen and now have themselves in position for potential success not just in this weekend's tournament, but in the looming Beanpot tournament as well.

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