Who: Minnesota, Northeastern, Niagara, Princeton
When: December 30/31
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
The once Mariucci then Dodge Holiday and now apparently once again Mariucci classic doesn’t usually feature the strongest fields amongst all the holiday tournaments, but in recent years the script has been flipped, with Minnesota owning just a 3-3-2 record over the past four Classics.
This year however the Gophers have started to turn some of that talent into wins (unlike the state’s NHL team, which has turned very little talent into wins) and own a 14-5-1 record and are tied atop the WCHA. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad is second in the nation in goals and Kyle Rau leads all Freshmen with 12 goals and is third in points per game. Kent Patterson has been great in net, with a .921 save percentage to lead the WCHA (and a .926 mark in conference play, which leads the league) and he leads the nation in shutouts with 6.
Princeton is the team in this field who has had the roughest go of it: the Tigers sit in a tie for 9th in ECAC Hockey in Bob Prier’s first year, but what makes it worse for them is they have played 11 conference games already, compared to the 6 or 7 that nearly everyone else has played. They seem to be locked into a bottom half finish in the league this year, a far cry from the 2009 team that won 20 games and almost an NCAA tournament game. The Tigers’ problems have mostly been defensively, as Sean Bonar and Mike Condon have put up .897 and .906 save percentages respectively. If you’re tuning in, make sure to watch for Andrew Calof, who has 4 goals and 10 points so far this year. The Sophomore led the team with 33 points as a Freshman last year and probably will again this season.
Former CHA power Niagara has found things a little bit tougher in Atlantic Hockey, and sit solidly in the middle of the pack so far this year. The one thing they do have going for them however is they seem to get better with the game on the line: They’ve scored 18 third period goals, second in the league, and their 12 third period goals allowed is the fewest in Atlantic Hockey. Atlantic Hockey has been a bit of a defensive league this year (case in point: goalie Cody Campbell has a .918 save percentage and it ranks 8th in the league) so the fact that they’re only scoring 2.62 goals per game doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t score. Scott Arnold has been their best forward, with 12 points in 16 games.
Like Princeton, Northeastern has fallen a bit from the 2009 season when they went to the NCAA Tournament and won the Beanpot. This year’s crew is led by Steve Quailer, who has 6 goals and 16 points in 14 games. Winnipeg prospect Vinny Saponari, who has seemingly committed and decommitted from every school in the Northeast, has put up 11 points in 16 games, and he’s also provided some good leadership for Northeastern, who are 7th in Hockey East with 10 points in 13 games.
Like years past, this tournament seems set up for a Minnesota victory. Whether they’ll take advantage of that favorite status, or cause Don Lucia to say that a shootout isn’t necessary, remains to be seen.