As condensed as the playing schedule has been this year with Thanksgiving coming in the very last weekend of the month, the regular season league play gave way to some of the traditional and new holiday tournaments featuring some of the regions best teams from all leagues playing against each other for bragging rights and some early hardware in the 08-09 season.
Seven tournaments featured area teams against some strong competition with some great hockey on display for fans that hadnâ€™t succumbed to a tryptophan-induced coma.
At the Rutland Herald Invitational in Vermont, host Castleton beat Brockport while Neumann, the defending tournament champion, earned their way into the final with a win over Becker. In the final, Castleton couldnâ€™t wrestle the trophy away from Neumann as the Knights repeated as champs with a 5-1 win.
At the Babson Invitational tournament, the host school lost in the opening round to a very physical United States Under-18 team while Manhattanville knocked off Southern Maine. The final was tightly played and the U.S. Under-18 team leveraged a second period goal and a shorthanded third period tally for a 2-0 win and the title.
The Skidmore Invitational tournament brought together Suffolk, Potsdam and Williams with the host school in a very exciting tournament. The final pitted Williams against Skidmore where the Thoroughbreds breaking open a 2-1 game early in the third period with three goals in the first five minutes of the final stanza to claim victory in their tournament.
The Bowdoin/Colby Faceoff represented a round robin at both schools alternating opponents which this year included Salve Regina and UMass-Dartmouth from the ECAC Northeast. Bowdoin was the official winner posting two wins over the weekend including a 4-2 win over the Corsairs that was only decided with a late empty net goal by the Polar Bears.
The Doug Roberts Tournament hosted by Connecticut College rotates the host role every year among the participating teams, including Amherst, Trinity and Wesleyan in this all NESCAC affair. It follows an opening weekend where Amherst has already seen both Wesleyan and Trinity in regular season play. Connecticut College left no doubt in the final against Trinity by scoring five first period goals on their way to a 6-3 win and the host team the tournament title.
Five tourneys down, two to go. And the remaining pair certainly brought a high level of excitement to both days of the tournament and great games throughout.
Panthers Pounce on Primelink Title
In the 11th version of the Primelink Tournament, Middlebury hosted two other nationally ranked teams in Norwich and Plattsburgh along with Western power St. Thomas in one of the marquee gatherings in the country.
â€œThis may have been the best of all of the Primelink tournaments to date,â€ commented Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney. â€œYou really couldnâ€™t ask for a more competitive field of teams. All four teams will be legitimate contenders for NCAA competition.â€
The games included an overtime tie settled by a shootout in the opening round with Norwich moving on over Plattsburgh. Two close games ultimately settled by empty-net goals against St. Thomas with Middlebury prevailing in the first round and Plattsburgh winning the consolation game by the same 5-3 score. And a final between old rivals –Middlebury and Norwich — that saw the winning goal scored with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
â€œIt was a real treat for the fans,â€ said Beaney. â€œWe played as good a game of hockey as Iâ€™ve seen in some time. We were solid in all areas including special teams and goaltending and really played a great sixty minutes against Norwich. You know we are very young with six or seven freshman playing every night so it was a little surprising that we sustained such a high level of play for two nights against strong competition. No doubt this was a confidence builder for the kids.â€
The Panthers were led offensively by junior forward John Sullivan (3 goals, one assist, four points) and senior Jamie McKenna (2-2-4) during the two game tournament while senior Doug Raeder backstopped both Panther wins. Raeder is off to a solid start in the season posting a 1.67 GAA and .921 save percentage while going 3-0 in the first two weekends.
Winning with timely offense and solid goaltending is not new for the Panthers but this year does find coach Beaneyâ€™s team with stylistic changes from past teams. Middlebury has been renowned for a 3-back or 3-2 setup that this year has been changed to the more traditional three forward, two defense set.
â€œWe will play sometimes with the 3-2 and sometimes with the 2-3,â€ noted Beaney. â€œOver the past years we have been more challenged scoring goals so the switch is certainly looking to provide more offense but it is really being driven by different personnel and fit to the system. I still believe the three-back is the way to play and if I see we can play it effectively with our personnel we will use it more.â€
Apparently the system doesnâ€™t matter much for these young Panthers who answered some early questions about their make-up at home in the first two weeks of the season. This weekendâ€™s upcoming road trip against the always tough,Salem State and Southern Maine, who has won the last two regular season meetings, will showcase how strong this yearâ€™s team may be heading into the semester break.
Beacons Bounce Tufts in PAL Tournament
Very quietly, UMass-Boston head coach Peter Belisle has been building up the Beacon program into a contender.
Following the opening weekend of the regular season that saw them lose a close 3-2 decision at Colby and post a 3-3 tie at Bowdoin, the team focused on building some momentum at the PAL/Stovepipe Tournament that followed a 9-1 win over Framingham State.
Surviving a first period blitz by Southern New Hampshire, the Beacons fed off the strong goaltending supplied by junior Ryan Donovan and scored four goals of their own on the way to a 6-3 win.
The final saw a match-up of Boston area schools that was tight all of the way.
Tufts held a 3-1 lead with under eight minutes to play when the Beacons came back. Freshman Chris Wyman scored with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period to make the game 3-2 and then the captain took over. Junior captain Kris Kranzky (2-3-5) assisted by sophomore Vinnie Jacona scored the game-tying goal with under three minutes to play and then the pair hooked up again with just two seconds in regulation to secure the 4-3 win and the PAL Cup.
â€œKris really leads by example,â€ said Belisle. â€œWe had to juggle some lines due to some injuries to some guys who had been playing well and Vinnie and Kris stepped up at the end. It was a great win and we now just want to focus on building some momentum into the break. We have three big games coming up with Wesleyan, Trinity and Babson so we would look to put a strong stamp on the first part of the season.â€
The Beacons have added talent and depth to their squad under Belisle, who enters his third year behind the bench. All-league goaltender Ryan Donovan has been the constant in supporting the Beacons for the past two years and now faces a different challenge with this yearâ€™s team.
â€œI have talked with Ryan about focus and concentration and things being different for him this year than in the past,â€ said his head coach. â€œWe were constantly getting outshot in the past and in some games by wide margins but this yearâ€™s team has a goal to limit the offensive opportunities by the other team and has much more talent to sustain pressure in the offensive end than where we have been in the past. Maybe with fewer shots Ryan will be fresher later in the year and that canâ€™t be a bad thing.
â€œWe are also looking to build on a reputation of being tough to play against, especially at home. Last year we beat Middlebury, had an OT loss to Norwich and tied Babson at home so we know we can play the best tough in our building and want to keep that moving in a positive direction.â€
This weekend brings the battle of the roommates with UConn alum and current Wesleyan head coach Chris Potter playing against his former college roommate and teammate in Peter Belisle. The ledger is all square at a game apiece in the head-to-head series so someone will be looking for bragging rights this weekend.
On the first road trip of the season, Belisle showed a newly released video called Ice Kings on the trip to Maine. The movie is an independent movie produced in Rhode Island that chronicles the Mount St. Charles High School hockey program which has dominated the state tournament for years under the tutelage of Peterâ€™s dad, the original coach Belisle.
â€œNow the kids know where I get some of my stuff,â€ laughed the younger Belisle. â€œFor anyone who loves the game, the movie is a must see. The traditions and passion about the storied program is both exciting and compelling when heard from past players coaches and competitors.â€
Peter Belisle clearly comes from great stock and if genetics has anything to do with success, the Beacons will compete among the leagueâ€™s best.