Holiday tourney preview: A/C Holiday Classic turning into must-see hockey

Armstrong/Cooper goaltender Ashley Ritten and her teammates will help host the Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic Dec. 27-29 at the New Hope Ice Arena. (Photo by Rich Moll – Sports Photos Now)

Armstrong/Cooper goaltender Ashley Ritten and her teammates will help host the Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic Dec. 27-29 at the New Hope Ice Arena. (Photo by Rich Moll – Sports Photos Now)

The girls hockey tournament held inside the New Hope Ice Arena each holiday season has been upgraded.

The improvements however have little do with a change in participants, primarily because there have been none.

Rather, the eight teams will skate in this year’s Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic Dec. 27-29 are in the midst some of their most successful seasons ever.

Take Red Wing for example. Winners of a 12 of their first 13 games, the Wingers will take the state’s No. 2 ranking in Class A girls hockey with them to New Hope.

Buffalo (8-2) was ranked No. 12 in Class AA last week, and that was before the Bison handed No. 4 Wayzata a 3-2 defeat Dec. 18.

Defending champion Champlin Park has been riddled with injuries but still entered the break with a 7-5 record, and the tournament hosts (Armstrong/Cooper) are off to a program best 10-4 start that included a 4-3 victory over No. 16 Blaine just last week.

“Holy cow, yes,” said Champlin Park head coach when asked if repeating this year will be more difficult than winning last year’s tournament was. “Just look at what some of these team’s have done. It’s going to be a heck of a three days.”

That was the hope Armstrong/Cooper head coach Kevin Gray took into this year’s set-up.

Much of what each of the team’s accomplished to this point was out of his control, but he wanted to make sure this was more than just your ordinary holiday tournament.

“When you start putting these things together, all you can really do is hope you have three good days of hockey for the fans to come out and watch,” said Gray. “This year, that won’t be difficult. This thing is loaded.”

The tournament is scheduled to begin with Mahtomedi (7-5-3) playing Champlin Park at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27 on the New Hope Ice Arena’s north rink.

Red Wing and Rogers (2-7-2) face-off at 5:15 p.m. on the south rink. Totino-Grace (5-4-2) takes on Armstrong/Cooper at 7 p.m. on the north rink, and Woodbury and Buffalo close out the Dec. 27 quarterfinals by playing at 7:15 p.m. on the south rink.

The likelihood is that the final four should consist of semifinal match-ups pitting Champlin Park against Buffalo (7 p.m. on the north rink) and Red Wing against Armstrong/Cooper (7:15 p.m. on the south rink).

Combined, if they each win Dec. 27, those teams would enter the day with a 41-12 record on the year.

“If that happens, I can’t imagine a much better semifinal round in any tournament,” said Gray. “That would make for some great hockey.”

The championship game is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 on the north rink, and it will follow the 5 p.m. third place game.

The consolation semifinals will be held at 5 and 5:15 p.m. Friday. The seventh-place game starts at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, and the consolation final begins immediately after.

“We want to be playing in that last game again this year,” said Koltes. “Winning this thing last year as a huge boost for us heading into the second half of the season. Considering what the competition is this time, I imagine it would be an even bigger deal if we were to win it again.”

The Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic will be just one of the holiday tournaments contested this week, as teams scatter across the state to get in some games.

Here’s a look at where each area school is sending their clubs.

Champlin Park

While the girls hockey team is testing itself in that Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic field, the Champlin Park boys hockey team and boys basketball team will also be in action

The boys hockey team will play in the Schwan Cup Bronze tournament Dec. 26-28.

The Rebels opened up against Blake at 5 p.m. Dec. 26 on rink #1 at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine.

St. Paul Academy, Orono, Cretin-Derham Hall, Rogers, Mounds View and Forest Lake are also in the Bronze Division.

The entire tournament will be played at the Schwan Rink expect for the championship game, which is scheduled to be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28 at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Champlin Park boys basketball team will also take to a college campus this week, as the Rebels get in two games at Bethel University Dec. 29 and 31.

Champlin Park will play Minnehaha Academy at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 29, before facing either Bloomington Jefferson or Minneapolis Roosevelt on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s always a fun test to play a couple teams you don’t see very often,” said head coach Mark Tuchscherer. “We’re looking forward to it. We’d like to win a couple games down there.”

Park Center

The Park Center girls basketball team is heading into uncharted territory for its holiday tournament.

The Pirates will venture into Alexandria for a four-team event that left head coach Patty Sorensen scrambling for information even as late last week.

Park Center plays host Alexandria to open the tournament Dec. 28, and Sorensen said she new nothing of her opponent.

“I don’t even know how big their kids are,” she said. “But I don’t mind that as much. That allows us to go focus on ourselves, which is always good.”

Moorhead and Armstrong also play, and Park Center will face one of those two teams Dec. 29.

The Pirates beat Armstrong 77-38 back on Dec. 11.

“We’d like to go up there and play a team we don’t see in our conference, but so-be-it,” Sorensen said. “Like I said, if we go up there and focus on ourselves, that’s all I am looking for.”

Speaking of unfamiliar territory, the North Metro girls hockey team will be competing in the six-team White Division tournament of the Schwan Cup against five hockey teams the Stars would rarely otherwise play.

North Metro opens up against Eveleth-Gilbert at 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27 at the rink #5 at the Schwan Super Rink.

The rest of the tournament includes teams from Luverne, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Wadena-Deer Creek, Brookings S.D. and Moose Lake.

North Metro also plays Luverne at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28. The teams will seed themselves for the final day. The top-two seeds will meet at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

Osseo

One of the state’s marquee holiday season boys basketball tournament will feature the defending Class 4A state champions from Osseo.

The Orioles are heading to St. Cloud Apollo High School for the Granite City Classic, which this year will consist of 11 teams playing over the course of Dec. 28 and 29.

Osseo, Blake, Prior Lake and Apple Valley will represent the metro area. Becker, Delano Buffalo, Rocori, St. Michael-Albertville, St. Cloud Tech and St. Cloud Apollo are also in the tournament.

The Osseo girls basketball team is also in one of the holiday season spotlight events.

The Orioles will play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic at Hopkins High School Dec. 27-29.

Osseo plays Minnetonka at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, Eden Prairie at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28 and then Hopkins at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 in a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state championship game.

The Osseo boys hockey team is heading to the very northern tip of the state, otherwise known as Hockeytown U.S.A. for its holiday tournament stay.

The Hockeytown Classic will be held Dec. 27-29 at The Gardens Arena in Warroad.

Osseo opens the tournament by playing International Falls at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Orioles get Warroad at 7:30 p.m. Friday, before closing the tournament out by playing Grafton N.D. at noon Saturday.

“It’s a great chance for our kids to experience hockey in northern Minnesota,” said Osseo co-head coach Mark Phenow. “We get to play Warroad in Warroad on a Friday night in December. It doesn’t get much better than that in high school hockey.”

Brooklyn Center

Both of Brooklyn Center’s basketball teams will be in action over holiday break.

The boys will play in the Tri-Hawk Invitational in Trinity Dec. 27-29.

The Centaurs play host Trinity at 8 p.m. Thursday Dec. 27.

St. Agnes, St. Paul Humboldt, Bethlehem Academy, FAIR, St. Paul Harding and Simley are also in the field.

The Brooklyn Center girls basketball team will play in the Dec. 28-29 St. Agnes Holiday Tournament.

The Centaurs open against St. Paul Harding at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28. They’ll play either St. Agnes or Minneapolis Edison the following day.

Cooper

It takes a while to get there, but the drive to Silver Bay is worth it for the Cooper boys hockey team.

After all, the Hawks have a title to defend.

Cooper will head to the shores of Lake Superior once again this holiday season, where the Hawks will play in the North Shore Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-29 at the Rukavina Arena in Silver Bay.

Cooper opens this year’s tournament by playing Ely at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27. They play Moose Lake at 5 p.m. Friday, and then North Shore at 5 p.m. Saturday.

The Hawks beat the same three teams last year, which included a pair of overtime victories over Moose Lake and North Shore, to win the tournament championship.

“We always seem to play pretty well up there, and that was the case last year,” said head coach Bill Rooney. “It’s always a great time for the kids and the parents, and it obviously makes it better when you win. Hopefully we can go up there and do the same this year.”

The Cooper boys basketball team won’t have nearly the drive for its holiday tournament.

The Hawks will play in one three tournaments hosted by Bethel University Dec. 27 and 28.

Cooper plays Hutchinson at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, and then will get either Maple Grove or Mounds View the following day.

The Cooper girls basketball team will play in the Hill-Murray Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-29.

The Hawks face Cretin-Derham Hall at 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27 in the quarterfinals. Cooper will then play either Wayzata or Totino-Grace the next day, before finishing off the tournament Saturday, Dec. 29 against Mounds View, Centennial, Stillwater or Hill-Murray.

Armstrong

Both Armstrong High School basketball teams will be in action over their respective holiday breaks.

The boys will travel to Edina for a four-team event that will have them opening up against St. Thomas Academy at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27.

Edina and St. Louis Park will play immediately after, and the Falcons will face one of those two teams the following day.

“It’s a heck of a test,” said Armstrong head coach Greg Miller. “Everybody in this tournament can play, so no matter who we get, it will be a challenge, and we like it that way.”

The Armstrong girls basketball team will be traveling to Alexandria to play in another four-team tournament.

The Falcons open with Moorhead Friday, Dec. 28, and then play either Alexandria or Park Center the next day.

“We really like this tournament,” said head coach Antiwan Easley. “It give us a chance to see some different teams that play different styles, and that gets you ready for section time. The girls also really like going up there too. It’s a chance to them to bond some, plus get in some good basketball too.”

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