Preview: Shillelagh Tournament

Site: Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 2-3, 2009
Participants: Massachusetts-Lowell, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Notre Dame

Game 1: Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Minnesota Duluth, 5:05 p.m. ET Friday

Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks (8-8-0, 5-6-0 Hockey East)
Head coach: Blaise MacDonald
Leading scorers: Jr. Kory Falite (10-5–15), Fr. David Vallorani (4-10–14)
Leading netminder: Jr. Nevin Hamilton (5-4-0, 2.20 GAA, .925 SV%)

Minnesota Duluth (8-4-6, 5-4-5 WCHA)
Head coach: Scott Sandelin
Leading scorers: So. Justin Fontaine (9-16–25), Sr. MacGregor Sharp (9-10–19), Sr. Josh Meyers (6-11–17)
Leading netminder: Jr. Alex Stalock (8-4-6, 2.15 GAA, .921 SV%)

Game 2: Union vs. Notre Dame, 8:05 p.m. ET Friday

Union Skating Dutchmen (8-7-1, 2-4-0 ECAC)
Head coach: Nate Leaman
Leading scorers: So. Adam Presizniuk (8-8–16), So. Stephane Boileau (5-9–14)
Leading netminders: So. Corey Milan (8-7-1, 2.80 GAA, .904 SV%)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-3-2, 10-2-2-2 CCHA)
Head coach: Jeff Jackson
Leading scorers: Sr. Christian Hanson (13-10–23), So. Calle Ridderwall (9-12–21), Jr. Kevin Deeth (3-14–17)
Leading netminder: Sr. Jordan Pearce (13-3-2, 1.70 GAA, .934 SV%)

Tournament Outlook

The Shillelagh Tournament is the successor to the former Lightning Classic, held under the auspices of the NHL’s Tampa Bay franchise. When that team changed ownership and abruptly withdrew as tournament sponsor after a two-year run, Notre Dame took over hosting duties and moved the event to the Sears Centre in suburban Hoffman Estates, Ill., where the Fighting Irish will welcome Minnesota Duluth, Union and Massachusetts-Lowell for the weekend.

The first game of the tourney matches Minnesota Duluth against Massachusetts-Lowell, with UML hoping to replicate the success of its sister campus in Amherst; Massachusetts won the Lightning Classic title over Colorado College last season. The River Hawks had a decent first half in Hockey East, but enter the New Year on a three-game skid (though the losses were against New Hampshire and Boston University). UML is a healthy 11th nationally in scoring margin thanks to ranking in the top third of the country in both offense and defense, but is only .500 overall thanks to the fact that of its eight losses, five have been by one goal, a sixth was a two-goal loss including an empty-netter, and a seventh became a 6-4 final against Boston University when Chris Higgins scored with one second left. Suffice it to say that UML, which has played three goaltenders this season with Nevin Hamilton chalking up the most minutes, knows how to hang close.

The River Hawks’ Friday opponent, Minnesota Duluth, put together a successful first half that has the Bulldogs in fifth place in the WCHA, but just four points behind league-leading Denver in that tightly-packed conference. This is UMD’s second tournament of the season, after winning the Superior Cup for the second straight year back in October. The Bulldogs head to Illinois on a six-game unbeaten streak that came just in time to balance out a five-game winless streak through most of November; goaltender Alex Stalock, who has played all but one period this season, has given up more than one goal just once during the past six games. UMD’s offense is spearheaded by scoring leader and sophomore Justin Fontaine, stepping into a major role after a modest season as a freshman.

Friday’s second semifinal pits Union against national No. 1 Notre Dame, and luckily for the Dutchmen, they have plenty of recent experience in this format. This is Union’s third tournament of the season, after playing in the Maverick Stampede, where the Dutchmen came in second to host Nebraska-Omaha, and the Governor’s Cup the following week, which Union won by toppling Colgate 4-2 in the final. Union’s last action was less successful, dropping a pair to Maine in the second week of December. Netminder Corey Milan has performed capably as the main man in goal after splitting time in his freshman year last season, and Union has been able to pot goals as well, led by sophomore Adam Presizniuk on the scoresheet.

Finally, Notre Dame comes into the weekend on a nation-best 14-game unbeaten streak, just one short of tying the school record set back in 1983-84, but like several other top teams, the Fighting Irish will be without some of its best talent thanks to the World Junior Championship. In ND’s case, that means no Ian Cole or Teddy Ruth, both sophomore defensemen. Fortunately for the Irish, they have plenty of scoring (the team is third-ranked nationally in goals per game), with eight double-digit scorers led by senior Christian Hanson, to make up for any lack on the blueline. For that matter, there’s senior netminder Jordan Pearce, who has improved on an already-solid junior season and now sports the nation’s eighth-best goals against and 10th-best save percentage. Overall, ND is fifth nationally in scoring defense and second behind Air Force in scoring margin.


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