The holiday tournament season has always provided an interesting dichotomy for college hockey teams and fans.
On the one hand, these events are simply fun, a timeout from the regular schedule, getting some games in -- at neutral locations in many cases -- against teams which don't normally play each other. Top teams are often missing key players because they are with Team USA at the annual World Junior Tournament. Minnesota, for example, is missing four players for its own Dodge Holiday Classic.
At the same time, these games are enormously important because of the way college hockey selects its field for the NCAA tournament. For the majority of teams, these are the last non-league games, and because there are relatively few non-league games overall the non-league games take on enormous significance.
For teams such as Michigan, who will participate in the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, a holiday tournament coinciding with the World Junior Tournament is a blessing and a curse.
"It's a tribute to Michigan that our players are being chosen," Michigan coach
Aside from the classic tournaments in usual places, this year brings not one, but two tournaments in Florida. The Florida College Classic was started by
The schedule has been light the last two weeks, but we'll go with Miami, which came off an idle week to pound Rensselaer twice on the road, 7-3 and 5-1, to regain its No. 1 ranking. Miami played without star
But Okposo has not been the same since last year's World Junior tournament. He started out his college career like a house of fire. In fact, he was the Gophers' most valuable player last year during the first half, when Minnesota looked unbeatable. But after a less-than-stellar World Juniors, he came back and his production tailed off dramatically.
This year, with so many players having left Minnesota, and
No one is quite sure why Okposo, the No. 7 overall pick by the Islanders in 2006, returned to Minnesota in the first place, given how much he seemed to long for the pros. But since he did, his midseason departure is unseemly.
"There's a character issue involved," said one NHL agent. "Why would the Islanders want to encourage a player from skipping out on his team like that in the middle of the year?"
There are certainly questions to be answered.
The WCHA recently had to send a letter of apology to St. Cloud State after a referee blew a call that helped lead to the Huskies' loss to Denver. Denver's
The Great Lakes Invitational is a storied holiday tournament, but this year's has a little more juice than usual. The games are Dec. 28-29 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Michigan, which hasn't won the tournament in 10 years, is flying high at 16-2. Michigan State is the defending NCAA and GLI champs and is 12-3-2. Michigan Tech, doormats in this tournament is recent years (the last GLI tournament win was 1980), is playing as well as it has in more than a decade, despite a recent slump. Providence is the token outsider, and comes in having won three straight games, although the Friars have been idle since Dec. 7.
"We feel like we've had a good first half," Berenson said. "We've answered a lot of questions and our record is a lot better than most people would've expected, me included. The GLI has been a big a challenge. We won in 10 years in a row and haven't been able to win it since.
"It's a tournament environment in an NHL rink. It's something you expect in the NCAAs. ... So you've got to be ready."