Preview: Dodge Holiday Classic

Dodge Holiday Classic
Minneapolis, Thursday-Friday, Dec. 29-30, 2005

Game 1: Canisius vs. Massachusetts-Lowell, 4:05 p.m. CT

Canisius Golden Griffins (5-10-1, 3-8-1 Atlantic Hockey)
Head coach: Dave Smith
Leading scorers: Jr. F Michael Cohen (5-10–15), So. F Joel Kitchen (5-10–15), Sr. D Brandon Irish-Baker (4-8–12)
Leading netminders: Fr. Ryan Hatch (3-1-0, 2.73, .904), Jr. Max Buetow (1-5-1, 4.02, .857)

Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks (5-10-0, 3-7-0 Hockey East)
Head coach: Blaise MacDonald
Leading scorers: Sr. F Bobby Robins (5-9–14), Sr. F Mark Pandolfo (8-3–11), Sr. F Elias Godoy (1-10–11)
Leading netminder: So. Peter Vetri (5-10-0, 3.64, .896)

Game 2: Union at No. 3 Minnesota, 7:05 p.m. CT

Union Dutchmen (9-7-2, 3-3-0 ECACHL)
Head coach: Nate Leaman
Leading scorers: So. F Josh Coyle (9-9–18), Jr. F Olivier Bouchard (8-7–15), Sr. F Scott Seney (3-11–14)
Leading netminder: Sr. Kris Mayotte (9-6-1, 2.70, .909)

Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-5-4, 8-4-2 WCHA)
Head coach: Don Lucia
Leading scorers: Jr. F Ryan Potulny (15-9–24), Fr. F Phil Kessel (9-13–22), So. D Alex Goligoski (2-12–14)
Leading netminder: Jr. Kellen Briggs (6-4-2, 2.58, .906)

Tournament outlook: Minnesota enters its own holiday tournament as the prohibitive favorite behind the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense. The Gophers endured a couple of surprising losses early in the season, but appear to have righted the ship despite the fact neither Kellen Briggs nor freshman Jeff Frazee has been in top form so far in 2005-06. Minnesota’s scoring rests foremost on the shoulders of Ryan Potulny and rookie phenom Phil Kessel, the Gophers’ leading goalscorer and assist-maker, respectively — though Kessel, along with Frazee and Blake Wheeler, will miss the tournament while at the World Juniors. Also contributing is the country’s sixth-ranked power play. Union, the hosts’ first-round opponent, has fared well so far with a .556 winning percentage, though five of the Dutchmen’s nine wins have come against opponents outside of the “Big Four” conferences. Nate Leaman’s squad has gotten steady goaltending from Kris Mayotte, as well as balanced scoring (six players in double digits in points).

The tournament’s other semifinal features two teams looking for better results than they got in the season’s first half. Massachusetts-Lowell has just three Hockey East wins to this point, and the offense has not fully recovered from the early departure of Ben Walter to the pro ranks last offseason. The River Hawks, picked in a tie for third in the coaches’ preseason Hockey East poll, have scored two goals or fewer in nine of their 15 games coming into the holidays. Canisius, meanwhile, is a disappointing 3-8-1 in Atlantic Hockey play with a three-goaltender rotation, though Brandon Irish-Baker has dramatically stepped up his production from the blueline with 12 points thus far.