Warrior Ice Breaker Preview
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
The Scotttrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, will host the Warrior Ice Breaker tournament this year, an annual event that is played in a traditional four-team tournament format. Friday's first semifinal pits Notre Dame against Holy Cross — an appropriate pairing to help christen the college hockey season — while the primetime semifinal features powerhouses Boston University and Wisconsin.
A championship game and a third-place game conclude the tournament on Sunday afternoon.
By the standard to which coach Jeff Jackson has held the Notre Dame hockey program during his tenure in South Bend, last season's 13-win campaign was thoroughly disappointing. After all, the Irish were victors 31 times the season before.
After the graduation of last season's captain Ryan Thang, as well as key defensemen Kyle Lawson, Brett Blatchford, Ian Cole, and Teddy Ruth, Jackson's 2010-11 team will, in many ways, start anew this fall.
Notre Dame's new-look roster features 12 freshmen and five sophomores.
"It's a matter of what guys are going to be able to step in and become a factor for our team," said Jackson. "That's probably something we'll discover over the first month."
That discovery process began last week, with Notre Dame beating the University of Guelph 5-3 in an exhibition contest. Rookies scored four of five Irish goals and tallied a total of nine points.
Freshman T.J. Tynan led the Irish in scoring with three assists, and classmates David Gerths, Mike Voran, Jeff Costello and Anders Lee added goals of their own.
Holy Cross, meanwhile, returns many of its veterans from a season ago. The Crusaders are looking to finish over .500 for the first time since 2006, the year which culminated in an NCAA tournament appearance that included a memorable overtime win over Minnesota in the first round.
"We need for our teams' strength to be our defensive corps," said head coach Paul Pearl. "We have everyone returning."
The Crusaders are also looking to start the season on a strong note. The last time Holy Cross won its season-opening contest was 2005.
Said Paul, "We are looking to play a fast, disciplined game. It is important that we don't turn the puck over and that we create some offense off the rush."
Saturday's evening matchup features a pair of recent national championship winners in Boston University (2008) and Wisconsin (2006). The Terriers slumped during last season's title defense, falling short of the NCAA tournament altogether.
The Badgers, meanwhile, fell in last season's national championship game to the Terriers' archrival Boston College. That was nearly six months ago to the day now, and many on the current Badger roster weren't even there to see it.
Much like Notre Dame, Wisconsin features a young team with many new faces. Long gone are standout defenseman Brendan Smith and Hobey finalist Blake Geoffrion.
Seven seniors left, four underclassmen left early to sign professional contracts, and two assistant coaches took new jobs. Only two of the Badgers' top six scorers from last year's Frozen Four squad return.
Then again, Wisconsin won the 2006 national title after losing 10 players from the 2004-05 squad.
But with early season games against Minnesota, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan, and Michigan State all looming, the Ice Breaker becomes all the more important for Wisconsin, which boasts a 30-16-1 record in season openers since 1963.
"We go in there with our eyes going to be wide open," said Badgers coach Mike Eaves in his first news conference of the year on Monday. "BU is a good team. All the teams are good. They're older than us, that's for sure. And I think being on the road and being able to take everybody on this trip because it's a tournament is huge.
"A lot of times, it helps the growth of a team coming together by being on the road. So that will be good. And we'll give kids an exercise or an opportunity to play, change the lineup from night to night probably."
While Eaves prepares his team for this weekend's Ice Breaker, 65-year old Boston University head coach Jack Parker — winner of over 800 games in his 37-year coaching career — is recovering from coronary bypass surgery as the Terriers' season gets underway this week. Associate head coach Mike Bavis will coach the team this weekend, as Parker is not yet cleared to return to the bench.
And continuing the theme of this year's Ice Breaker event, BU features a young team after losing the likes of Nick Bonino, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen.
"We have 17 freshmen and sophomores, and only one senior," Parker said on Hockey East media day. "So I would say this has to be — I'd have to go back and look at it — in all probability, the youngest team I've ever had.
"And I haven't been here that long."