Update 1/2/2013: The men’s ice hockey team was the runner-up in the 20th UConn Hockey Classic, after a hard-fought game against No. 18 Minnesota State at Freitas Ice Forum on Sunday. The Huskies defeated American International College 7-1 in the opening game on Saturday, but fell 3-1 to Minnesota State in the championship game. Forward Brant Harris ’14 (CLAS) and defenseman Jacob Poe ’15 (CLAS) were named to the All-Tournament Team.
The men’s hockey team returns to the ice at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum this weekend, Dec. 29-30, for a unique event in college hockey, the 2012 UConn Hockey Classic. Not only is it unusual to host a holiday season tournament, it is rare that the level of competition in the tournament is not scheduled in favor of the home team and includes a conference opponent.
On Saturday, the Huskies (4-7-2) will face American International College (4-8-3), an Atlantic Hockey Conference matchup, at 7:15 p.m. In the early game at 4:05 p.m., No. 18 Minnesota State-Mankato (10-6-2) of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will play Brown (3-5-4) of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. The tournament consolation game will be on Sunday at 4:05 p.m., with the championship game at 7 p.m.
“It is a unique tournament in the sense that we always play a league opponent in the first game,” says Huskies assistant head coach Dave Berard. “It’s two points on the line. You come back from having a week off for exams and another week off. Those points are really important in the standings. We talk to the guys about making sure they take advantage of the time they have to get rest, reconnect with their families. But they also have to do their part to keep skating and work out.”
The UConn Hockey Classic began in 1993 and has attracted 33 different teams over the years, with most returning several times to play. The events surrounding the tournament include a banquet dinner and selection of an all-tournament team. Last year Rene Rancourt, who has sung the U.S. and Canadian national anthems before Boston Bruin games for 35 years, sang in Storrs.
“A lot of teams have come back time and time again because they like the quality of the competition and the way they’ve been treated,” Berard says. “That’s going to help us prepare for our season down the road when we’re playing good quality competition.”
In last year’s tournament, for example, the Huskies advanced to the title game against nationally-ranked UMass-Lowell and took the team to overtime. UMass later advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have won the tournament three times – 1995, 1999, and 2003 – and finished runner-up 10 times. Nationally ranked teams who have won in the past include No. 20 Colgate in 2006, No. 19 Ferris State in 2007, and No. 9 Quinnipiac in 2008. Quinnipiac will return to the tournament next season.
“It’s an opportunity to see different teams that you don’t see all the time,” says Dan Naurato ’11 (CLAS), who will participate in his fifth Hockey Classic this year as a volunteer assistant coach. “It’s pretty cool as a player; a lot of times you know other kids on the other teams. This year with a team from the WCHA, arguably one of the best leagues in the country, and Brown in the ECAC, it’s definitely good competition and a good test for us.”
Senior goalkeeper Garrett Bartus ’13 (ED), says, “It’s always one of our goals that it’s going to be our year to win it. We’ve always had really good teams playing here. UMass Lowell was here last year and we had a really good game against them. They were a goal away from going to the Final Four.”
The Hockey Classic arrives at a time of the season when the student-athletes are between academic semesters and can focus on their sport and recall their junior hockey experiences.
“This time of year everyone always talks about this as juniors again,” says senior co-captain Sean Ambrosie ’13 (BUS), the Huskies’ leading scorer. “You can spend all your time with the guys. It’s great for team building.”
Ambrosie says with the Huskies’ young squad this year – 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores – the team knew it would need time to develop through the year. “We’ve progressed as a team,” he says. “We’re really excited about the second half of the season.”
With the move in 2014 to the Hockey East Association, the elite conference that has produced four of the last five NCAA champions, the Huskies say the Hockey Classic will continue to grow. In fact, the 2014 tournament will include Providence College as the conference game the Huskies will play.
“I think we’ll attract even stronger teams when we’re in Hockey East, and the tournament will shift a little,” Berard says, noting that the conference games will be played at the XL Center in Hartford.
To purchase tickets, go to the men’s ice hockey website.