Mark Quirk's High School Hockey: Top teams set to skate in Manchester event
Eight teams will compete, including Manchester Memorial, Manchester Central, Trinity of Manchester, Goffstown, Bedford, Merrimack, Hanover and Spaulding of Rochester. The tournament begins on Wednesday, and the championship game will be played on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The eight teams have a combined record of 25-7-1, and only one has a losing record at this point, Hanover, which is 1-2-1.
Three of the teams are undefeated. Merrimack and Spaulding are both 4-0 in Div. II, and Central is 3-0 in Division I. Preseason favorites Memorial (Div. I) and Bedford (Div. II) are both coming off their first losses of the season.
The tournament kicks off on Wednesday at 2 p.m. with Hanover taking on Spaulding. Trinity will play Goffstown at 4 p.m., Memorial will take on defending champ Merrimack at 6 p.m., and Bedford will face Central at 8 p.m.
Each team is guaranteed three games, one each on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The teams are broken up into to groups of four. One group is made up of Memorial, Trinity, Goffstown and Merrimack. The other group consists of Central, Hanover, Goffstown and Bedford.
The top team from each group will play in the championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. and a consolation game will precede that at 6 p.m.
Probably the most interesting matchup of the first day is Merrimack against the Crusaders.
The Tomahawks have torched the Div. II competition so far, outscoring their competition 19-2 while compiling a record of 4-0. Goalie Brett Glendye has two shutouts and hasn't let in more than a goal in any game this season.
The Crusaders were wasting the competition in Div. I until Saturday, when they lost to Londonderry, 5-4, in overtime. They have outscored their competition 26-9 and scored at least four goals in each game.
But these tournaments aren't all about the wins. The regular season is more important and this week gives coaches and teams opportunities to work out some line combinations, give some younger players ice time and try out some different systems.
After all, win or lose, it won't affect the standings come the new year.
"It's a little bit of everything," Bedford coach Marty Myers said. "We try to go in there and we try to experiment with some lines. We'll give some of our younger players more ice time than they would normally see."
In Day 2 of the tournament, Merrimack and Trinity play at 2 p.m., Spaulding and Bedford mix it up at 4 p.m., Hanover and Central play at 6 p.m. and Memorial takes on Goffstown at 8 p.m. The games for Day 3 are Spaulding against Central at 2 p.m., Merrimack against Goffstown at 4 p.m., Hanover against Bedford at 6 p.m. and Trinity vs. Memorial at 8 p.m.
Goffstown coach Paul Roy probably wishes his team could continue with the regular season this week. His Grizzlies are coming off a 2-1 upset of defending champion Bedford and riding a huge wave of momentum.
"You wish it wasn't the holiday break now," Roy said. "We've got some good momentum, the kids are happy."
And the Grizzlies are fighting the injury bug now, so this "break" is best for them as they try to get healthy and get some of their backups good experience in case they're needed.
"We trying to overcome some injuries," Roy said. "We're working in a lot of younger kids and giving them an opportunity."
There will be a huge group of teams from across New England playing in the 13th Annual Tuscan Kitchen Blue Devil Classic at the Salem Icenter from Dec. 27-30.
The teams listed to play are Belmont, Mass., Londonderry, Lebanon, Berlin, Westfield, Mass., Concord, Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Keene, Salem, Coventry, R.I., Timberlane, Greely of Cumberland, Maine, Central Catholic of Lawrence, Mass., and two teams from Lewiston, Maine.
And over on the Seacoast the Whittemore Center in Durham will host the Heuchling & Swift Memorial featuring Bow, Dover, Kennett of North Conway, Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Oyster River of Durham and Windham-Pelham. That tournament runs from Dec. 27-30.
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HOME SWEET HOME From Dec. 19 to Jan. 19, the Berlin boys' squad plays seven of its eight games at home. The Mountaineers, who are in their first season in Div. III, are already 2-0 over that stretch with wins over Kennett of North Conway and Manchester West. The only game they play on the road over that time is at Portsmouth on Jan. 5.
Berlin plays four of its last six games on the road.
"I'd sure rather play them at home early on," Berlin coach Mike Poulin said.
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HEAVY IS THE CROWN: It was a bad week for the defending champions in the three boys' leagues. Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Bedford and Kennet of North Conway all lost. The Astros and Eagles both lost on Wednesday, and the Bulldogs lost on Saturday. It was Memorial that downed Pinkerton, 6-1, in a rematch of last year's title game. Division III newcomer Berlin beat Kennett ,4-0 ,and Goffstown upset Bedford, 2-1.
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Mark Quirk covers high school hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.