Dodge Holiday Classic Preview

Site: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis

Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 29-30, 2007

Participants: Air Force, Boston College, RIT, Minnesota

Game 1: Air Force vs. Boston College, 4:05 p.m. CT

Air Force Falcons (9-4-3, 7-4-3 Atlantic Hockey)

Head coach: Frank Serratore

Leading scorers: Sr. Eric Ehn (6-15 — 21), Jr. Brent Olson (7-8 — 15)

Leading netminder: So. Andrew Volkening (9-3-3, 2.36 GAA, .896 SV%)

Boston College Eagles (6-4-5, 4-3-4 Hockey East)

Head coach: Jerry York

Leading scorers: Jr. Nathan Gerbe (13-8 — 21), Fr. Joe Whitney (3-16 — 19), So. Ben Smith (10-8 — 18)

Leading netminder: Fr. Joe Muse (6-4-5, 2.32 GAA, .931 SV%)

Game 2: RIT at Minnesota, 7:05 p.m. CT

RIT Tigers (6-6-3, 5-4-3 Atlantic Hockey)

Head coach: Wayne Wilson

Leading scorers: Sr. Simon Lambert (8-11 — 19), Sr. Matt Smith (8-7 — 15), So. Matt Crowell (8-6 — 14)

Leading netminder: So. Louis Menard (6-5-3, 2.66 GAA, .909 SV%)

Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-8-1, 5-7-0 WCHA)

Head coach: Don Lucia

Leading scorers: Jr. Blake Wheeler (8-7 — 15), Sr. Ben Gordon (5-9 — 14)

Leading netminders: Fr. Alex Kangas (3-2-1, 2.63 GAA, .907 SV%), Jr. Jeff Frazee (6-6-0, 2.84 GAA, .893 SV%)

Tournament Outlook

The defending Atlantic Hockey Association tournament champion and last year’s regular-season AHA title winner and the NCAA national tournament runner-up join the Golden Gophers in Minnesota for this year’s Dodge Holiday Classic field. In the first game, Air Force — the AHA tournament champs — take on Boston College, who lost to Michigan State in last season’s NCAA championship game. The Falcons feature Eric Ehn, a Hobey Hat Trick finalist from last season. Ehn is 12th this season nationally in points per game. Air Force is undefeated in its last six games (3-0-3) and is off to its best start in school history. The Falcons finished the first half of the season with a pair of 3-3 ties at home against Canisius. The team has nine players hailing from Minnesota.

The No. 13 Boston College Eagles bring a three-game win streak into the Dodge Classic. BC finished the first half with a home-and-home sweep of arch-rival Boston University Nov. 30-Dec. 1 and a 7-2 win over Harvard Dec. 12, but the streak that preceded that was uncharacteristic; from Nov. 2-23, the Eagles were winless, going 0-3-3 against Hockey East opponents. Nathan Gerbe leads BC in scoring and is second in the country. The Eagles’ top three scorers — Gerbe, Joe Whitney and Ben Smith — are among the top 20 players in points per game nationally. Gerbe is also third in goals per game, tied for sixth nationally in power-play goals (six) is tied for first in shorthanders (three). Whitney is first among D-I players in assists and is second in the country among rookies in points per game. BC has the seventh-best scoring offense in the country and the 17th-best defense. The Eagles’ power play is second nationally (26.8), but their penalty kill is 23rd (85.2). BC is 4-0-0 against Air Force all-time, last having beaten the Falcons in the 1993 Denver Cup.

The second game sees the RIT Tigers take on the No. 11 host Minnesota Golden Gophers. This is RIT’s third year as a Division-I program, and the Tiger senior class played its first year of hockey at the D-III level. In 2006-07, RIT captured the regular-season AHA title but was ineligible to compete in postseason play. The Tigers are fourth in the AHA at midseason, with just one loss (3-1-3) in their last seven games. RIT has defeated a ranked team ineach of its three seasons in D-I: St. Lawrence (2005-06), Quinnipiac (2006-07) and Cornell earlier this season. RIT head coach Wayne Wilson and associate head coach Brian Hills both played for Boston College head coach Jerry York at Bowling Green, and Wilson captained the 1984 national championship team. The Tigers have never faced either the Eagles or the Gophers.

No. 11 Minnesota ended the first half of the season with a split in North Dakota (Dec. 7-8) but the Gophers are 3-4-1 in their last eight. UMN will be without four key first-half players for this tournament. Kyle Okposo, the team’s third-leading scorer through the first 18 games, has left the team permanently for the professional ranks but is in Europe for the IIHF World Junior Championship, as are three of his soon-to-be-former teammates: defenseman Cade Fairchild and forwards Mike Carman and Ryan Flynn. Okposo, Fairchild and Flynn had 12 of Minnesota’s 46 overall goals this season; Carman sat out his first semester at UMN. The Gophers are the defending Dodge Classic champions and have won the last eight tournaments in a row (11 of 18 overall). Minnesota is 35 in the nation offensively and tied for 34th defensively and 14 of the Gophers’ 18 games have been decided by two or fewer goals. Minnesota is 4-1-1 in nonconference play this season.