Part II: Holiday Tournament Previews
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
Part II of our holiday tournament previews. See Part I here.
Dodge Holiday Classic (Minneapolis, MN)
Northern Michigan (7-8-4, 5-6-3-0 CCHA) vs. Clarkson (4-10-2, 1-5-2 ECAC)
Bowling Green (2-14-2, 2-10-2-2 CCHA) vs. Minnesota (8-9-1, 6-7-1 WCHA)
The Dodge Holiday Classic this year seems to be more of a snoozer – the only tournament of the holiday season in which all four teams come in below the .500 mark.
This tournament is usually set up to benefit the host Gophers fairly well, and it shows in the recent results – Minnesota has won their own tournament 9 of the last 10 years, the only loss coming in the 2007-08 season as the Gophers fell to RIT in the first round. This year, although Minnesota has struggled mightily during the first half of the season, they figure to be the favorites yet again despite the absence of sophomore forward Jordan Schroeder.
Northern Michigan had pre-season aspirations to be in a better position than it currently finds itself in. The Wildcats had some decent wins and some rough losses, but given the quality of this tournament, they’ve got a fighting chance.
Given the atrocious seasons that Bowling Green and Clarkson are putting forward, they are clear underdogs in their first round game. Expect a championship game showdown between Northern Michigan and Minnesota, a game which could catapult one of these two underachieving teams into the second half with a little momentum, and a consolation game pitting Clarkson and head coach George Roll against his alma mater, Bowling Green.
Prediction: The Gophers haven’t lost in the championship game since the 1997-98 season. I’ll go with Minnesota, given the home ice advantage, over the Wildcats.
Badger Showdown (Madison, WI)
Ferris State (13-3-2, 8-2-2-2 CCHA) vs. Yale (7-3-2, 4-1-2 ECAC)
Merrimack (7-8-0, 4-6-0, HE) at Wisconsin (11-5-2, 8-4-2 WCHA)
In contrast to the Dodge Classic, the Badger Showdown is perhaps the most well-rounded tournament of the bunch.
The host Badgers are the likely favorites, but they are hurt more than any other team by the World Junior Championships, as they will be without three key personnel for the duration of the tournament: defensemen Jake Gardiner and John Ramage, and forward Derek Stepan, the team’s second leading scorer.
The Warriors are a tale of two teams – practically unstoppable at home, miserable on the road. Merrimack is in the midst of one of its better seasons of late, but have lost all seven contests that it's played away from Lawler Arena. Despite being relatively competitive in Hockey East, the Warriors will be heavy underdogs against the Badgers.
The Ferris State/Yale game is right there with UMass/Union and CC/Cornell in terms of first round intrigue. The battle of the Bulldogs features a Yale team that has largely lived up to its preseason hype as one of the best teams in the ECAC, while Ferris State has been a pleasant surprise in the CCHA, coming in with a 10-game unbeaten streak, the longest in the nation. Both teams seem well on their way to one of the best seasons in their histories. Expect a great game in the early matchup, and expect the winner to have a solid game with the Badgers for the title.
Prediction: I’ll be bold here. Yale has yet to get into a rhythm, while Ferris State has their aforementioned streak, but I’ll take Yale to not only end that streak, but to take the tournament itself with an upset over the homestanding Badgers.
Ledyard Bank Tournament (Hanover, NH)
Mass.-Lowell (10-6-1, 5-4-1 HE) vs. Holy Cross (4-9-4, 4-6-3 AH)
Northeastern (6-8-1, 4-7-1 HE) at Dartmouth (3-8-0, 1-6-0 ECAC)
The River Hawks are far and away the favorites in this tournament despite their struggles since Thanksgiving. Lowell holds an impressive recent victory over Massachusetts, but they’ve lost four of their last six.
Fortunately for Lowell, the rest of the tournament is fairly unimpressive. Hosts Dartmouth have only a few wins over mostly dreadful teams and are languishing in last place in the ECAC. Holy Cross is in the bottom half of Atlantic Hockey, and Northeastern is struggling to get into tempo.
There’s no blatantly obvious favorite in the Northeastern/Dartmouth matchup which could provide some intrigue, but this is absolutely Lowell’s tournament to lose.
Prediction: The River Hawks for the win over Northeastern in the championship game, with Dartmouth taking down Holy Cross for 3rd.
Catamount Cup (Burlington, VT)
Mercyhurst (9-9-2, 9-5-2 AH) vs. Minnesota-Duluth (11-6-1, 8-5-1 WCHA)
Alabama-Huntsville (4-9-1, 1-4-1 CHA) at Vermont (8-6-2, 4-5-2 HE)
Mercyhurst is on a roll, unbeaten in eight straight games (7-0-1) after starting the season off 2-9-1, including 4 losses outside of Atlantic Hockey. The Lakers haven’t won outside the conference in over a year, since knocking off Rensselaer and Princeton to claim the RPI Holiday Tournament crown last season.
Vermont hasn’t been spectacular, but hasn’t been bad either. The Catamounts got a few ugly one-sided losses, but they are to quality teams like BC and UMass, and they haven’t been swept in a weekend series. Throw in the home-ice advantage and a title wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility.
Minnesota-Duluth, on the other hand, is having a fine season. Other than a rough weekend in St. Cloud and a loss to Michigan Tech, there’s not too much to find fault with on the Bulldogs’ record thus far. Holding their own in the always difficult WCHA, the pickings in Burlington should be just to Duluth’s liking.
The Chargers, meanwhile, snapped an eight-game losing streak with a three-point weekend in Pittsburgh against Robert Morris the last time they were out, but they will have been off for almost a full month by the time they take on Vermont. Besides the RMU weekend, a feel-good non-conference win over Notre Dame and a weekend sweep at Air Force have been the only bright spots for UAH.
Prediction: Mercyhurst hasn’t faced a team like Duluth during their streak – the Bulldogs will end it and take the title over the Catamounts.
Shillelagh Tournament (Hoffman Estates, IL)
Niagara (3-10-2, 1-3-1 CHA) vs. North Dakota (9-6-3, 6-6-2 WCHA)
Colgate (7-6-4, 5-3-1 ECAC) vs. Notre Dame (8-8-4, 5-5-4-2 CCHA)
This is an intriguing tournament full of teams who are in dire need of a pick-me-up that a tournament title can provide.
Colgate got out of the box hot, winning its first three ECAC games and losing only one of its first seven league tilts. But the Raiders have stumbled lately, losing four of their last six.
The Fighting Irish have been up and down all year. They have yet to sweep a full weekend of games, and have some real stinkers on their record, including home losses to Alabama-Huntsville and Providence. Kyle Palmieri is in Saskatchewan, while the blue line is positively beat up – Sean Lorenz, Sam Calabrese, and Eric Ringel are all questionable for the tournament, although Ian Cole may be back.
North Dakota, on the other hand, is in an outright tailspin. Since opening the season 7-1-1, the Fighting Sioux have limped to a 2-5-2 record since the middle of November, with best player Chay Genoway out of the lineup. To make matters worse, UND’s top scorer, Danny Kristo, will be missing due to the World Junior Championship.
For Niagara, it’s been a tough go of things. It was the last non-Ivy to earn a victory this season, though it has picked up a few wins since. The Purple Eagles had a rough schedule, but it isn’t getting any easier in Illinois.
Prediction: It’s time for somebody to snap out of their funk, and it’s January – which during the Dave Hakstol era seems to always mean it’s time for the Fighting Sioux to start hulking up. I’ll go with UND (the Sioux version) over Colgate in the championship game, a minor upset for the Raiders. I’d like to take Notre Dame to reach the title tilt, but it’s missing too many guys.