New Year and SO much to talk about…

It’s been a while since I’ve had things to write about here, but after a wild week of holiday tournament action, some incredible play by the U.S. at the World Junior Championships and even some off-ice mischief, I return well armed with fodder.

Holiday Tournament Madness

The annual scrum of holiday tournaments certainly brought out a few surprises along the way. There were more than the fair share of upsets and at the end of the day, I think it’s fair to say that in what’s probably the last substantial meeting of the east and the west until the NCAA tournament, it was proven that the eastern schools can certainly hang with those out west.

Saturday night was a perfect example. And Hockey East was an explosive starting point. The league went a collective 5-1-1 that evening. The only loss was Maine’s loss to UMass-Lowell in the finals of the Florida College Classic. The tie was between Holy Cross and Vermont and the Catamounts won the shootout to advance to the finals.

On the evening, Hockey East captured three tournament titles – the Badger Showdown (Northeastern), the Dodge Holiday Classic (Boston College) and the Florida College Classic (UMass-Lowell). In addition, Providence rebounded from a tough 6-0 loss to Michigan on Friday to upset defending national champion Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI. On night later, UMass took home the title in the Lightning Classic with a victory over Colorado College in the championship game.

But it wasn’t just Hockey East teams representing the east well. Quinnipiac knocked off Vermont in the finals of the Catamount Cup and RIT upset host Minnesota in the opening game of the Dodge Holiday Classic.

When all the dust settled, here’s the recap of tourney champs:

Tournament – Winner

Great Lakes Invitational – Michigan

Badger Showdown – Northeastern

Florida College Classic – UMass-Lowell

Denver Cup – Denver

Dodge Holiday Classic – Boston College

Catamount Cup – Quinnipiac

UConn Holiday Classic – Ferris State

Lightning Classic – UMass

Ohio Hockey Classic – Miami

So league-by-league totals:

Hockey East – 4

CCHA – 3

ECAC – 1

WCHA – 1

Atlantic Hockey – 0

CHA – N/A (no members participated)

Certainly that’s only a 5-4 split between the east and west, but I’m sure I’m not the only one that is shocked that the WCHA, which hosts three tournaments themselves, took home just one title total. It sure could make for an interesting March and April.

U.S. at Top of WJC Pool

Simply put, the US World Junior Team has been impressive in their quest for just their second title ever. A 4-0-0 record in pool play allowed the US to take first place in Pool B and a bye to the semifinal round.

What’s unfortunate, though, is that the US squad must now face Canada, a 4-2 winner over Finland in the quarterfinal, in Friday’s semifinals. In an average year, a 4-0-0 mark for the US in pool play would generally match that of Canada and set up a title game between these two clubs. This year, though, a loss in pool play for Canada to Sweden dropped the perrenial powers to a lower seed, thus forcing the US to face Canada one round early. The winner will play either Russia or Sweden in the title game.

Good news for the US, though, has been the solid play of collegiate players. New Hampshire freshman James van Riemsdyk leads all tournament scorers with 10 points in four games, inlcuding four goals and two power play tallies. Boston University’s Colin Wilson is second on the leaderboar with seven points and is tied for the tournament lead in goals scored with six.

Friday will certainly be a tough test for the Americans, but as in most year, if gold is to be had, the path to that medal goes through Canada.

The Okposo Aftermath

For those of you who have kept up with hockey news over the holiday break, you know that Minnesota’s Kyle Okposo won’t be returning to the Gophers lineup after he finishes at the World Junior Tournament. Okposo signed a contract with the New York Islanders last month and will report to either Long Island or Bridgeport instead of Minneapolis next week.

Though it’s a strange departure midseason, its not completely unprecedented. Players leave college programs every year in the middle of the year. Most, though, are not of the caliber of player as Okposo.

What struck me as strange, though, have been the comments made by Islanders General Manager Garth Snow about Okposo’s progress at Minnesota. Snow told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Gophers coach Don Lucia had not been effectively developing his players and thus he (Snow) felt it was in Kyle’s best interest to leave school now.

Anyone who knows Don Lucia or the history of the Minnesota program knows these comments are ludicrious. More so, coming from Garth Snow, a goaltender who had to develop in a two-goalie system at the University of Maine (with Mike Dunham), these comments almost seem out of place.

Why and where they came from is beyond knowledge. Okposo likely won’t validate or deny Snow’s claims and it’s likely the story will lose luster (if it hasn’t already) very quickly.

But it certainly leaves many in the college hockey game scratching their heads.

More Off-Ice Hi-Jinx

The expression is something like “Boys will be boys.” For college hockey coaches this year, though, that’s one that they’d prefer not be uttered.

After two Boston College players were dismissed from the team earlier this season and four Boston University players were suspended for four weeks in December, more off-ice mischief has surfaced after last weekend’s North Dakota/New Hampshire series in Grand Forks.

New Hampshire forward Mike Radja and North Dakota forward T.J. Oshie were both arrested on Sunday morning at 2:28 a.m. for disorderly conduct. It sounds like the opposing players were celebrating together after Saturday night’s 7-4 UNH victory when mischief found its way into the evening (well, morning). The Sioux have announced that Oshie will be suspended for one game. UNH has yet to announce discipline for Radja.

It’s not the first time that Oshie has been in trouble. Last season, Oshie was arrested for underage drinking at Judy’s Tavern in Grand Forks. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one years probation and ordered to pay a fine. This isn’t exactly Paris Hilton driving without a license for the 100th time, but it does lead you to worry if a second arrest for Oshie could land him with a stiffer sentence this time.