In-season college hockey holiday tournaments – still good for the game or somewhat passe?

 (Tim Brule)
Providence was crowned champions of the 2018 Ledyard Bank Classic (photo: USCHO.com)

Holiday tournaments.

At one point in the college hockey universe, an invitation was a sign of respect, or that the host team needed an easy opponent to beat so that they could guarantee themselves a spot in the championship game.

Nowadays, there is a level of neutral existence of why teams participate and what the purpose of the tournament is.

Certainly for the host, there is the hope to create some sort of excitement that nonconference games at a time students typically aren’t one campus wouldn’t typically create. For the participants, many holiday tournaments actually mimic things that might happen later in a season: a conference or regional tournament weekend.

During said events, your team might not have a typical 7 p.m. start time, thus your game-day routine is altered. Undoubtedly in a postseason tournament setting, it is a “survive and advance” mentality. Both are something that often are replicated in your in-season holiday tournaments.

Some tournament take the true “tournament” feel – two semifinals with winner advancing to a championship game – away, setting predetermined pairings on each night. The winner is determined first by record, but then by some pre-set method like largest margin of victory or most goals scored (nothing gives that holiday feel like “Let’s run up the score,” right?)

Over time, it also feels like holiday tournament have become somewhat passe. More and more coaches are opting to use the first game back out of break to play an exhibition game. Once reserved for the opening game way back in October, coaches understand that players are often more rusty returning after going home in December than they are coming out of training camp in early October.

And schools over time have ceased to host some tournaments.

The well-known Badger Showdown hosted by Wisconsin hasn’t been played since 2009. The Rensselaer Holiday Tournament which began in 1952 hasn’t been played since 2010. The Florida College Hockey Classic in Estero, Fla., a tournament that annually featured Maine and Cornell and was attractive because of the warm climate, hasn’t been played since 2016.

This year, the Mariucci Classic returns to Minnesota for the first time since 2016. The fact the host hasn’t won since 2012 might be a reason the tournament was put on hiatus.

Robert Morris’ Three Rivers Classic, though relatively new beginning in 2012, is on hiatus this season as well.

But then there are true traditions. The Ledyard Bank Classic (nee Old Lang Syne Classic) at Dartmouth has been in existence since 1978. Originally hosted by both Dartmouth and Vermont, the schools alternating which teams hosts each season, it has been played in Hanover, N.H., every year since 2008.

And there is the Grand Dame of holiday college hockey tournaments, the Great Lakes Invitational, known to most in the Midwest as the GLI. First played in 1965, and in a little known fact was first won by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, the tournament has been contested contiguously ever since.

Michigan Tech has been the host of the tournament since its inception and the event has been played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, Joe Louis Arena and, since 2017, at Little Caesars Arena, the home of the 2020 Frozen Four.

The field for that has been the most consistent over the years. Since 1979, Michigan Tech, Michigan and Michigan State have appeared in every tournament, with the fourth team rotating among an invited team, typically one from the Midwest. Last season, Lake Superior State, appearing in their first tournament since 1999, captured its first championship.

The newest of newcomers to holiday tournament is the Fortress Invitational. Played during the first weekend in January in Las Vegas, it was originally called the Ice Vegas Invitational and is hosted by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. In January 2018, Arizona State may have proven a harbinger of the future. The third-year varsity program bested a field that included Boston College, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan to take the inaugural title. A year later, the Sun Devils qualified for the NCAA tournament as an independent.

With the influence of Golden Knights general manager George McPhee, a Bowling Green graduate himself, this tournament continues to attract a high-end field. This year, it is the only field featuring multiple teams ranked in the USCHO poll with No. 3 Cornell, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 13 Providence participating alongside Atlantic Hockey’s top team, Army West Point.

2019 Holiday Tournament Quick Reference

LEDYARD BANK CLASSIC
Host: Dartmouth College
Dates: Dec. 28-29
Arena: Thompson Arena, Hanover, N.H.
Teams: Colorado College, Connecticut, Dartmouth, St. Lawrence
Format: Pre-determined pairings
Opening games: Connecticut vs. St. Lawrence; Colorado College vs. Dartmouth
Second night: St. Lawrence vs. Colorado College; Connecticut vs. Dartmouth

CATAMOUNT CUP
Host: Vermont
Dates: Dec. 28-29
Arena: Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
Teams: No. 13 Providence, Lake Superior, Union, Vermont
Format: Pre-determined pairings
Opening games: No. 13 Providence vs. Lake Superior; Union vs. Vermont
Second night: No. 13 Providence vs. Union; Lake Superior vs. Vermont

MARIUCCI CLASSIC
Host: Minnesota
Dates: Dec. 28-29
Arena: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, Minn.
Teams: No. 2 Minnesota State, Bemidji State, Minnesota, St. Cloud State
Format: Teams advance from semifinals
Opening games: No. 2 Minnesota State vs. St. Cloud State; Bemidji State vs. Minnesota
Second night: Host Minnesota plays late game (7 p.m. CT) regardless of whether championship or consolation game

GREAT LAKES INVITATIONAL
Hosts: Michigan Tech and Michigan, 313 Presents
Arena: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.
Dates: Dec. 30-31
Teams: No. 18 Michigan State, Ferris State, Michigan Tech, Michigan
Format: Teams advance from semifinals
Opening games: No. 18 Michigan State vs. Michigan Tech; Ferris State vs. Michigan
Second day: Consolation game – 11:30 a.m. ET; Championship game – 2:30 p.m. ET

FORTRESS INVITATIONAL
Host: Vegas Golden Knights
Arena: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Dates: Jan. 3-4
Teams: No. 3 Cornell, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Providence, Army West Point
Format: Teams advance from semifinals
Opening games: No. 13 Providence vs. Army West Point; No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Cornell
Second night: Consolation game – 5 p.m. PT; Championship game – 8:30 p.m. PT