Site: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 2-3, 2009
Participants: Western Michigan, Northeastern, Brown, Minnesota
Game 1: Western Michigan vs. Northeastern, 4:05 p.m. CT Friday
Western Michigan Broncos (3-11-4, 2-8-4-1 CCHA)
Head coach: Jim Culhane
Leading scorers: Sr. Patrick Galivan (6-9–15), So. Max Campbell (8-3–11), Jr. Tyler Ludwig (4-7–11)
Leading netminder: Jr. Riley Gill (3-5-1, 3.19 GAA, .897 SV%)
Northeastern Huskies (11-3-2, 8-2-1 Hockey East)
Head coach: Greg Cronin
Leading scorers: Sr. Ryan Ginand (10-4–14), So. Wade MacLeod (5-8–13), Fr. Alex Tuckerman (5-8–13)
Leading netminder: Jr. Brad Thiessen (11-3-2, 1.98 GAA, .938 SV%)
Game 2: Brown at Minnesota, 7:05 p.m. CT Friday
Brown Bears (1-8-2, 1-4-2 ECAC)
Head coach: Roger Grillo
Leading scorers: Sr. Matt Vokes (5-8–13), Jr. Devin Timberlake (3-4–7)
Leading netminder: Jr. Dan Rosen (1-6-2, 3.66 GAA, .902 SV%)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-3-5, 7-2-3 WCHA)
Head coach: Don Lucia
Leading scorers: Jr. Ryan Stoa (11-11–22), Fr. Jordan Schroeder (7-14–21), So. Cade Fairchild (3-11–14)
Leading netminders: So. Alex Kangas (8-3-5, 2.22 GAA, 922 SV%)
Four conferences are represented in this year’s field, with Northeastern the most formidable competitor to host Minnesota for the tournament title. The schedule is set up to permit a Gophers-Huskies championship game assuming both teams do the expected and win their first-round contests, against sub-.500 Brown and Western Michigan, respectively. Each of the three visitors has been here before, with Northeastern and Brown appearing in 1997, a year in which Northeastern won the title. Western Michigan will play in the tournament for the third time, after coming to the Twin Cities in 1994 and 2001.
Game 1 features WMU against Northeastern in a case of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Huskies have been one of the best stories of the season, standing atop Hockey East and ranked sixth nationally in head coach Greg Cronin’s fourth year behind the bench. Northeastern has been more than solid on both ends of the ice, with junior Brad Thiessen the rock in net. Thiessen is 13th nationally in goals against average and fifth in save percentage while playing every minute this season. Up front, NU has a balanced offense, with seven players in double digits in scoring but none averaging more than a point per game.
Western Michigan, meanwhile, is en route to its seventh straight non-winning season, with just three overall wins so far. Unlike most teams playing in holiday tournaments, though, WMU hasn’t had much of a layoff, playing as recently as Dec. 20 — a win against a solid Alaska squad that broke a six-game winless streak. Western Michigan’s hasn’t had a lot to cheer for on offense, but it’s been defense as much as scoring that has limited the Broncos’ opportunities to win. Junior Riley Gill has shared time in net with sophomore Jerry Kuhn, but both have goals against averages over three and save percentages under .900 on the season.
Minnesota’s semifinal opponent, Brown, has a story much like the Broncos’, having won no more than 11 games in any of the past three season and boasting just one win in 2008-09. The Bears’ best chance of an upset is netminder Dan Rosen, whose outstanding freshman year has not been matched over the subsequent season and a half, but may be Brown’s key player nonetheless. The Bears rank 45th nationally in scoring offense and 55th (fourth from last) in scoring defense. They lost their last outing, a 4-3 defeat to Providence on Dec. 9 in the Mayor’s Cup.
Finally, the No. 4 Gophers own a 26-8 all-time record in the event, but will be looking to erase bad memories from last season, in which they lost to RIT in the first round before tying rising Air Force in the consolation (though Minnesota won the shootout for tournament placement purposes). Minnesota has won 11 Dodge Classic titles, but will be without Jordan Schroeder, Mike Hoeffel and Cade Fairchild, who are with the U.S. World Junior team in Ottawa, Ont. With those three gone, it falls to junior Ryan Stoa to key an offense which is substantially improved from last season’s low-scoring squad, and to sophomore netminder Alex Kangas to keep the puck out of the Minnesota net. The Gophers’ special teams will likely be critical, as they have been all year — Minnesota is fourth nationally in power-play conversion rate at 22.8% and second in penalty-killing at 93.8%.