Thursday, November 26, 2009

Subway Holiday Classic Preview

What: Subway Holiday Classic
Who: #1 Miami/Ohio State vs. #6 Bemidji State/#4 North Dakota
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
When: Friday November 27 and Saturday November 28 (5pm and 8:30pm each night)

TV: Both games featuring North Dakota will be televised at 8:30pm EST on FCS-Atlantic

Complete Weekend Schedule:

#1 Miami (9-1-4) v. #6 Bemidji State (10-1-1) - 5pm
Ohio State (5-8-1) v. #4 North Dakota (7-4-1) - 8:30pm

Ohio State v. #6 Bemidji State - 5pm
#1 Miami v. #4 North Dakota - 8:30pm

When the Subway Holiday Classic was announced last summer, several things stuck out immediately.

  • The Ohio Hockey Classic was to be no more. With Ohio State hosting, the event had been held annually since 2004 with Miami also participating in each one.
  • Therefore, both squads would need to find another tournament, or series, to fill out their non-conference schedules.
  • Though Miami and Ohio State both made the NCAA tournament as at-large teams last season, both had room to improve their strength of schedule to help improve their chances of getting into the dance. As a result, both teams drew #4 seeds (the lowest in the 16-team tournament) and Ohio State was the final at-large team selected.
Not only that, but the date of the new event was scheduled the same weekend as the long-running College Hockey Showcase featuring four of the five hockey-playing schools of the Big Ten. The College Hockey Showcase has always been a fly in the ointment for Ohio State because as the fifth hockey-playing member of the Big Ten, they have always been excluded from this opportunity. As a result, Ohio State faces Wisconsin and Minnesota (of the WCHA) much less frequently than their CCHA conference mates Michigan and Michigan State. As a result, the Buckeyes have been looking for an opportunity to stick it to the other Big Ten schools for some time. The Ohio Hockey Classic was developed by OSU to host their own holiday tournament that could rival the Showcase. But due to scheduling issues, it never worked out that the tournament featured highly regarded programs aside from Miami. In fact, last year's OHC featured Army and Clarkson, not exactly a packed field and past juggernauts included Holy Cross and RPI. As a result, attendance suffered and though they never said it publicly, it was clear Miami wanted out. Frankly, the also defunct Lefty McFadden Invitational had arguably better fields including North Dakota, BU, Wisconsin and Denver but it too failed due to flagging attendance despite the good draws. And, Miami had been rumored for the past few years to be working to schedule a series with North Dakota. In fact, the Sioux were the last team from the WCHA to defeat Miami when they beat them 3-0 at the 2005 Lefty McFadden in Dayton.

Simply put, the Subway Hockey Classic will help all four teams as the winners will have quality victories on their resumes come tournament selection time but the losers will gain strength-of-schedule points and valuable experience. Not only that, but this event has significantly more buzz than the College Hockey Showcase considering that both Michigan and Minnesota are currently under .500 and unranked and Wisconsin and Michigan State are both recovering from subpar seasons that saw both programs miss the NCAA tournament. In fact, only Michigan made the dance last season whereas all four participants in Grand Forks made the tournament including two who went all the way to the Frozen Four.

Friday's first game between #1 Miami and #6 Bemidji State is a rematch of April's national semifinal where the RedHawks outhit, outclassed and outscored the upstart Beavers winning 4-1 in a game that really wasn't as close as the score might suggest. The Beavers, who play in College Hockey America, will be moving to the WCHA next season at the conclusion of the CHA's run. The conference will fold after this year so while they do not get a chance to play their soon-to-be conference partner North Dakota this weekend, they are firmly securing their place at the table with larger, more established D-1 hockey schools with games against two upper-tier CCHA programs. While a relative newcomer to Division 1, BSU has experienced success at the Division 2 and 3 levels winning national championships on each stage. It should come as no surprise that a program with a tradition of winning would begin to establish themselves on the D-1 level as their trip to the 2009 Frozen Four would suggest.

Bemidji State is coached by Tom Serratore (BSU '87) who has compiled a 150-119-30 record in nine seasons at his alma mater. Serratore prefers a fast-paced game where speed and puck pressure is a point of emphasis. In their NCAA tournament wins over Notre Dame and Cornell, the Beavers skated both squads out of the rink and made the most of their opportunities. However, when they faced Miami, they faced a team with NHL size who could skate and hit, the Beavers were clearly overmatched. Miami's puck possession style effectively negated the Beavers ability to isolate puck carriers and they were unable force poor decisions and turnovers. The point of Serratore's system is to create turnovers and enable the Beavers to use their speed in counter-attacks and odd-man rushes. In the national semifinal, current Miami captain Tommy Wingels (Wilmette, Ill.) scored twice and assisted on another goal helping Miami completely dominate Bemidji State. The RedHawks set the tone early with their physical size and strength by throwing crushing checks all over the ice. I suspect Miami coach Rico Blasi (Miami '94) will attempt to duplicate that effort tonight in Grand Forks.

In addition to the rematch angle, this game features the top two defensive teams in college hockey. The Beavers lead the nation by allowing just 1.67 goals per game while Miami is second at 1.71. Both likely starting netminders have been superb. BSU's sophomore Dan Bakala (Calgary, Alberta) is 7-1-1 with a 1.64 goal against average and 93.8 save percentage while Miami's Cody Reichard (Celina, Ohio) has been even better at 8-0-2, 1.44 and 93.6, respectively.

The Beavers are led by sophomore defenseman Brad Hunt (Ridge Meadows, B.C.) and junior forward Matt Read (Ilderton, Ont.). In last weekend's sweep of CHA foe Alabama-Huntsville, Hunt registered a hat trick and four points on Saturday night demonstrating his ability to create and score from the blue line. In the national semifinal, Read scored the Beavers' lone goal on the powerplay making a nifty move in front of Miami goaltender Cody Reichard to deke the defense and deposited the puck in the net. Miami will have their hands full with the two of them and will have to deal with the Beavers speed. The key will be if Miami can effectively control the flow and pace using their size advantage as they did in D.C. to punish the Beavers every time they have the chance. Miami leads the all-time series with BSU 3-0 with Rico Blasi at the helm for each game.

Last weekend, Miami won and tied at Western Michigan with Cody Reichard earning a 3-0 shutout in net on Friday and Connor Knapp (York, N.Y.) surrendering just one goal in earning a 2-1 shootout win which is viewed as a tie nationally.

In the nightcap, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on tournament host and seven-time NCAA champion #4 North Dakota. The Sioux are the second WCHA team the Buckeyes have faced this season. Earlier, OSU split a home weekend series with Denver and are 0-2 all-time against the Fighting Sioux with both prior games coming in Grand Forks - in 1979. So, you can probably throw out any meaning to those games on tonight's match.

North Dakota is coached by Dave Hakstol (UND '92) who has compiled a 137-75-20 record in six seasons. While the overall record might not look that impressive, Hakstol has guided the Sioux to five Frozen Four appearances in his six seasons with last year's first round loss to New Hampshire the only blemish in the tournament's first weekend. Yet Hakstol is still searching for his first national title at North Dakota, something the school has not won since 2000. With a $135 million arena and a large, passionate fan base, Hakstol probably needs to win a title to cement his place at the school. It's not unreasonable to believe the school will move on should he be unable to get the program back on top within a year or two. Hockey is to North Dakota as football is to Ohio State, so you get the idea.

The Sioux are loaded with NHL draft picks including senior captain Chris VandeVelde (Moorhead, Minn.) who leads the team with 12 points on four goals. VandeVelde made the decision to return to school after last season's NCAA tournament loss which was quite a relief to Sioux fans who had to lament over the loss of former Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Duncan and his skill and speed. However, senior defenseman Chay Genoway (Morden, Manitoba) who has 10 points in nine games was injured two weeks ago and missed North Dakota's series at Denver where the Sioux were swept 1-0 and 3-2 by the Pioneers. While he might be a small defenseman, Genoway does a lot to control the game by moving the puck out of the defensive zone, and obviously, he chips in on the scoresheet as well. Currently, Genoway is not expected to play this weekend which is a blow knowing the offensive talent the Buckeyes and RedHawks possess. However, sophomore goaltender Brad Eidsness (Chestermere, Alberta) has been solid stopping nearly 93% of shots on goal while allowing just 1.69 goals per game. Whatever the Sioux lose defensively by not having Genoway is more than made up for by the presence of Eidsness who is building on his stellar freshman campaign and showing no signs of a "sophomore slump."

The Buckeyes are coming off a rough weekend at Big Rapids, Mich. where they were swept in CCHA play by upstart Ferris State 8-1 and 6-5. On Friday, the Bulldogs simply overwhelmed the Buckeyes, and to add insult to injury, inserted their third goaltender who had never before played a game at the Division 1 level to play the entire third period. Ohio State was not so certain as they rotated both starter junior Dustin Carlson (Forest Lake, Minn.) and sophomore Cal Heeter (St. Louis, Mo.) to no avail. And, on Saturday, the Buckeyes blew leads of 3-0 and 5-2 eventually falling in overtime to the Bulldogs. As a result, Ohio State took no league points as overtime losses do not earn a point as in the NHL (and that's the way it should be).

Saturday's meeting between Ohio State and Bemidji State will be the first ever between the two schools. And, Miami and North Dakota will meet for just the third time overall and the first time since 2005 with the Sioux holding a 2-0 advantage.

Fearless predictions -

Regardless of who wins this weekend, goals will be earned, not given.

Friday -
Miami 3, Bemidji State 1

North Dakota 4, Ohio State 1

Saturday -
Bemidji State 4, Ohio State 3

Miami 3, North Dakota 2


  1. 2010 will be the final year for the College Hockey Showcase:

  2. Who would have ever thought that the Hawks and Sioux would end in a 5-5 tie? I have read this blog before but I didn't realize it was yours.