[nl]Connecticut Ice Arena, Storrs, Conn., Dec. 30-31
Merrimack (7-11-2, 1-8-1 Hockey East) vs. Brown (5-4-2, 4-3-2 ECAC), 1:30 p.m., Thursday
Holy Cross (6-5-4, 3-2-3 AH) at Connecticut (3-10-2, 2-4-1), 4:30 p.m., Thursday
Consolation/Championship: 1:30 p.m./4:30p.m., Friday
Players to watch: Bryan Schmidt, D (10-11-21); Jeff Caron, D (3-16-19); Brent Gough, F (2-2-4)
Notable: Merrimack is the only team to play in three tournaments this holiday season. They finished second in the Maverick Stampede and won the Dunkin Donuts’ Coffee Pot. They finished third in the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minnesota, losing to the host Gophers in the semifinals, 6-2, before returning to upset nationally-ranked Harvard the following afternoon, 6-4… The Dodge Holiday Classic marked the return of Brent Gough, who had missed 14 games this season with injury. Gough returned in style, scoring twice in the two games, including the sixth and final goal against Harvard… Merrimack leads the all-time series against all three teams in this tournament. It holds a 4-3-1 mark against Brown, a 26-8-1 mark against Holy Cross and a 17-0-0 record against Connecticut.
Players to watch: Brian Ihnacak, F (7-5-12); Les Haggett, F (5-5-10); Adam D’Alba, G (4-0-1, 1.35 GAA, .962 sv%)
Notable: Brown’s five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1) currently ties for third longest in the nation with Minnesota. Only Mass.-Lowell (six) and Denver (seven) have longer current streaks… Goaltender Adam D’Alba is as hot as any netminder can get. He currently leads the nation in goals against average (1.35) and save percentage (.962) and is second behind only Colorado College’s Curtis McElhinney for best record. He joins Boston College goaltender Cory Schneider, who is currently away at World Juniors, as the only two goaltenders undefeated… This is the third consecutive year that Brown will meet Merrimack in non-league play. Last season Brown defeated the Warriors, 6-2, at home… Brown has hosted UConn in each of the last two seasons, beating the Huskies, 2-0, last season, and tying, 1-1, two seasons ago.
Players to watch: Cole Koidahl, F (4-7-11); Tim Olsen, F (6-3-9); Scott Tomes, G (1-2-1, 2.83 GAA, .895 sv%)
Notable: The Huskies will look to defend their championship in the UConn Holiday Classic, after winning last year’s tournament with a shootout victory over Bentley in the semifinals and then a 1-0 win over Air Force in the championship game. UConn has never repeated as champs in the tournament since it began playing a full Division I schedule in 1998… Goaltender Scott Tomes returned to the lineup on November 20 after missing nearly a month-and-a-half with an injury. After falling in his first game back to Canisius, he allowed only one goal in a win against Army and stifled Holy Cross, UConn’s semifinal opponent, to earn a 2-2 tie.
Players to watch: Pierre Napert-Frenette, F (7-7-14); Tony Coskren, D (3-9-12); James Sixsmith, F (3-8-11)
Notable: The Crusaders carry a four-game unbeaten streak into the UConn Holiday Classic, their longest of the season… The opener of the tournament is the back end of a long-awaited home-and-home series with UConn. The Crusaders and the Huskies played the front end on December 8 to close out the first half of the season for each team. Making it even more of a “true” home-and-home is the fact that the UConn-Holy Cross semifinal is an official Atlantic Hockey league game, the only holiday tournament game this season that will count toward league standings… To say Holy Cross’ offense is down a bit would be an understatement. At this point last year, the Crusaders had scored 52 goals in 16 games, and average of 3.25 goals per game. This season, Holy Cross has scored just 36 goals in 15 games, a 2.40 goals per game average. The record is reflective of the drop in scoring. Last season, HC was 11-4-1 at the break, this year, the record is 6-5-4.
“Hopefully we can kind of pick up where we left off. We were playing some pretty good hockey. There are still some things we need to get better at so it’s nice to have a tournament with two games before we get back into league play again.” – Brown coach Roger Grillo on hoping to build on his team’s momentum from the first half
“We’re excited having a Hockey East team, an ECAC team and the defending champion from our own league. I’ve been building for this, to bring teams in here that bring with them some excitement and this year’s field does that.” – UConn coach Bruce Marshall on the improved strength of this year’s field
“We haven’t played a complete hockey game yet. There have been parts of games where we’ve been really good and there have been parts where we’ve been really poor. I think once we get everything combined, we’ll be a fairly good team. I just think we’ve been fairly inconsistent from game to game.” – Grillo on his team’s inconsistency
“It’s kind of a catch-22 where it’s a league game and there’s more meaning to it than getting to the championship game. There’s no momentum to factor into it, so it’s let see which team can get it done.” – Marshall on the fact that his club’s opener against Holy Cross counts towards the Atlantic Hockey standings
“I’ve been told from teams that have played in the tournament in the past, UConn does a tremendous job with it and it’s a first-class tournament. For us, it’s a nice change of pace. The last couple of breaks, our kids have had to fly back on Christmas Day. We haven’t been able to practice, we’ve had to jump right back into hockey with maybe a half day of practice. This year allows the guys to have a full Christmas at home. When they come back, it won’t be a sprint but more of a jog and then get into some hockey games. The fact that it’s only an hour away is a nice thing for us as well.” – Grillo on choosing to play in the UConn tournament.
Though both Holy Cross and UConn are strong for their leagues and both have beaten “Big Four” teams this year, I’d look for the winner of the Merrimack-Brown semifinal to take home the championship. Merrimack stunned many bouncing back from its loss to Minnesota to beat Harvard at the Dodge Classic, but Brown played extremely well down the stretch and D’Alba is the hottest goaltender in the country.