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HAT TRICK | Teams gaining tournament experience

One of the most important things a ranked hockey program can get is tournament experience. Midseason tournaments often prepare teams for bigger and better things, giving them a taste of elimination games and the pressure they bring.

It is a common theory that a team can reach a new level in a midseason tournament that makes them dangerous come March. Boston College head coach Jerry York famously prepares his Eagles for “trophy season” every year, which for BC begins in the first week of February.

With that in mind, the number of trophies handed out over the weekend have given a number of contenders a taste of success.
COLLEGE HOCKEY SAYS GOODBYE TO THE JOE
Few venues on any level of hockey have become as iconic as Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings have played for years.  It is the kind of venue that gets a farewell tour in its final year of existence.  This past weekend was no exception, as the Great Lakes Invitational came to “The Joe” for the final time.

The building famous for those post-Cold War Red Wings teams of Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman has hosted the GLI since it opened in 1979, is due to close its doors for good in April, to be replaced by the coming Little Caesars Arena.

Western Michigan came into the Invitational as the only ranked team, and the third place team in the NCHC. They are in the hunt for both their conference and a NCAA berth at this early point in the season, and a confidence-builder would be important.  In their opening round game against Michigan State, four power play goals propelled the Broncos to a 4-1 win over the Spartans.  They would take on Michigan Tech in Friday night’s final, Tech a 2-0 winner over defending champion Michigan.

The final round was quite a sendoff for Joe Louis Arena. First, the consolation game between Michigan and Michigan State went into overtime after the Spartans tallied three third period goals to tie it.  Michigan won 5-4 in overtime thanks to a Tony Calderone goal.  That game set the stage for a fantastic final dominated by defense, as Michigan Tech and Western Michigan went to overtime as well. Colt Conrad tallied the tournament-winning goal for Western Michigan, taking home the Jack Tompkins Trophy for the tournament’s MVP.

The experience will prove vital right away, as Western Michigan comes back on the 13th to take on second ranked Denver.
NORM BAZIN'S TROPHY SEASON BEGINS EARLY
Since taking over at UMass Lowell, coach Norm Bazin has insisted on the River Hawks playing a midseason tournament every year.  It makes sense, not only do teams need playoff experience but in Hockey East they’re all but guaranteed to play a team that has it. The Beanpot takes care of that.

This year, the River Hawks found themselves in the Ledyard Bank Classic, hosted by Dartmouth.  Adding to their sense of pressure, Lowell was far and away the favorite coming into the Classic, again the tournament’s only ranked team.  This fits the program just fine. Before Bazin they were seen as an underdog in a power conference, but in the last few years they’ve not only played like a team that belongs, they’ve played like juggernauts.

The River Hawks took a 3-0 lead early against Colgate in the first round, holding on for a 3-2 win after Colgate’s furious attempt at a comeback in the third period.  They then tallied seven goals against hosting Dartmouth in the final. As Lowell prepares for Hockey East play to resume next week, they have tallied another tournament win and built some confidence.  The River Hawks will have to be dealt with for anyone who wants to win Hockey East.

Lowell plays again on Tuesday at RPI then plays at New Hampshire Friday on ASN.
A BIG WIN FOR THE ATLANTIC
Atlantic Hockey often finds itself treated as an afterthought in the college hockey world.  It is college hockey’s answer to a mid-major, whose teams are almost always underdogs in inter-conference matchups.

Yet when it comes to the Three Rivers Classic, Atlantic Hockey contenders Robert Morris do not feel like bowing to the larger conferences.  For the second year in a row and the third time in five seasons, the Colonials have won the tournament they host at the middle of every season.

After RMU defeated Ferris State 1-0 on Thursday, they were scheduled to play a dangerous Quinnipiac team.  The Bobcats made the national final last season, and look like ECAC contenders once again, especially after dispatching Boston University in the first round of the Classic on a pair of third period power play goals.

Down 1-0 to Quinnipiac, the Colonials mounted a second period that would win just about any tournament hockey game.  They killed off two penalties early on in the period, keeping the deficit at just one goal until Alex Tonge lit the lamp to tie the game with a power play goal of his own.  Rob Mann added the go-ahead goal in the final minute of the period.  They would add three more in the third to take their tournament for the second straight year.

Robert Morris is back in action this weekend with a pair of home games against American International.   Quinnipiac has a game scheduled for Friday night at Harvard, a critical conference matchup for the Bobcats.



Above: Western Michigan's Great Lakes Invitational champions. (Courtesy Western Michigan Media Relations)

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