BUILDING A NEW TRADITION WITH THE LIGHTNING COLLEGE HOCKEY CLASSIC
When the hockey teams for Notre Dame, Alabama-Huntsville, Army and Air Force travel to Tampa from October 27-28, it won't be for a sunny Florida vacation.
Instead, the four teams will journey to Tampa to take to the St. Pete Times Forum ice to participate in the two-day, four-game Lightning College Hockey Classic. When it comes to college hockey tournaments, the main thing that will be new about this one is that it will be held in Tampa.
Weekend tournaments are anything but a new occurrence for NCAA hockey, instead standing apart as a college hockey tradition. From the famed Beanpot Tournament in Boston to the Everblades College Classic in Estero, Florida, college hockey tournaments appear on schedules of teams of all levels throughout the season. Two players who know about the importance and tradition that college hockey tournaments carry are the Lightning's own Dan Boyle and Eric Perrin.
"Every time there's a chance to win some sort of trophy it's kind of like bragging rights," Perrin fondly recalled of his days at the University of Vermont. "It's not that you push yourself a little harder, but it makes it a little bit interesting in the middle of the season. With all the regular season stuff you're kind of taking a break from that and having a little tournament.
"It may be just two games, but still, it's something to compete for. We always thought it was exciting, and a better atmosphere with the people."
As a University of Vermont Catamount, Perrin could always expect one of those breaks, one of those opportunities to compete for bragging rights, in the middle of the season. In a tradition that started back in 1978, Vermont would face off against their rivals at Dartmouth once a year in what was known as the Auld Lang Syne Tournament.
Originally hosted by Dartmouth, the two teams eventually started alternating the hosting responsibilities from year to year. Although the tournament is now known as the Sheraton/TD Banknorth Catamount Cup and is hosted by Vermont, Dartmouth still hosts a holiday tournament every other year to keep with the original tradition.
Not every team has always had a regular tournament to attend, however. Boyle, who spent his college days at the University of Miami, Ohio, remembers playing in different tournaments from year to year.
"You usually go through two or three a year and you get to play teams that are usually not in your conference, so they're always fun," Boyle said of the tournaments. "I think some teams that have been there [in the NCAA] for a little bit longer, like the Boston teams, have a certain tournament they always go to. We didn't have that. We had one in California one year, and the one in Denver was pretty big, too."
For Boyle, it's understandable that the Denver Cup tournament that his team won in 1997 was pretty big. Aside from the fact that his team won, Boyle was awarded MVP honors at the tournament, one of the last of his senior year.
When discussing that his old school was participating in the newer Ohio Hockey Classic hosted by his old school's rival, Ohio State, Boyle seemed pleased at the potential for growing rivalries.
"They need to do that, like the Beanpot. Get some Ohio schools together," Boyle said. "In the Denver Cup, for example, we played New Hampshire and that was big because they were a ranked team and so were we. That helps because in college hockey the rankings are pretty major. Depending on where you're ranked that's where you go at the end of the year."
Perrin also acknowledged the importance of the tournaments building rivalries because they also help schools build tradition. For teams such as Vermont and Darthmouth, tradition and winning at tournaments grows beyond just rankings as it moves into heightened expectations.
The same way Florida State and University of Florida football fans eagerly await late-season meetings between their two teams, college hockey tournaments can set the stage for what might be crucial match-ups at the end of the season.
"[It] seemed like in the ECAC back then there were always two teams that followed each other and they always make it a big rivalry," said Perrin of his old school and their top rival, Dartmouth. "For the tournament it always made it special because we would start by not playing each other and everyone would hope that it would be a Dartmouth-Vermont final because we weren't far apart."
"It drew a lot of attention, so those tournaments were fun in that sense, when you have those rivalries involved."
By staging the Lightning College Hockey Classic, hosted by the University of Notre Dame, the Lightning organization hopes to accomplish just that. Looking at well-known tournaments such as the Badger Showdown in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, the goal is to get teams to Tampa every year to create new traditions and new rivalries.
Maybe after the games have been played and the battles have been left on the ice, the four participating teams can look into taking that nice, sunny Florida vacation.