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January 01. 2013 10:56PM

Mark Quirk's H.S. Hockey: Experience gained from tournaments

While the Tuscan Kitchen Blue Devil Classic didn't offer a trophy to a champion, what it did offer is invaluable to teams at this point in the season.

Teams at the annual tournament in Salem, held at the Icenter, got a lot of opportunity to play some quality competition. Squads typically play three to four games at the four-day tournament against teams from all over New England.

This year it featured a total of 15 teams, including Granite State heavy hitters such as Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Londonderry and Salem, as well as out-of-state powers such as Lewiston, Maine, and Central Catholic of Lawrence, Mass.

The Lancers went 3-0-1 in the tournament. They beat Pinkerton, Greely of Cumberland, Maine, and Lewiston. Their only blemish was a tie against Coventry, R.I.

"I was able to play all of our young players," Londonderry coach Peter Bedford said. "It's just a good experience for our guys to play at a higher speed."

Brian Paul, who was the tournament director, said Salem High School ran the tournament for the first 12 years and then the staff at the Icenter jumped on board to help out this year. He said they went out and recruited teams, some of which they got from a tournament in Portland, Maine, that folded.

Once word got out that teams like Lewiston, a perennial contender in Maine's Class A, and Coventry, the reigning Rhode Island Division II champ, were going to be in it, other local squads were on board.

"Everybody knew this was going to be a high-end tournament," Paul said.

There was no tournament format. It was more of a jamboree where some teams played more than one game in a day.

There aren't many holiday tournaments where a team is guaranteed four games. That's a lot of time to use for different things and not have to worry about winning all the time.

It also affords the local teams to go up against some squads they typically wouldn't face. Getting to take the ice against a team like Central Catholic or Coventry is another draw and could also provide some new insight to different situations.

If you see different teams play you might learn something new, and that could be advantageous during the regular season.

"To me it's really nice to play somebody you don't see on a regular basis," Bedford said. "It's a good tournament to be involved with."

Paul said most of the teams in the tournament this year have already committed for next year and they are working on a few new schools as well. One new school that has already committed is Newington, Conn.

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IT WAS HARD NOT TO NOTICE something about the Central hockey team in its championship game against Trinity of Manchester at the Bauer Christmas Hockey Classic.

Two players were standing on the bench, both with their right arms in a sling. They were team captain Mitchel Fortin and Andrew Kehas, both forwards who get a lot of ice time for the Little Green.

Fortin broke his arm earlier in the tournament and Kehas was ailing from a sprain in his shoulder. Through three regular-season games, Fortin was tied for the team lead in points with six and Kehas had two.

"We lose a captain," Central coach Brian Stone said. "(Kehas) moved up from third (line) to second (line). He was playing really well."

Stone said Kehas could be back in about a week to a week and a half and Fortin could be out "for a while."

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THE BAUER CLASSIC served as a trial by fire for some young members of the champion Pioneer squad. Their last two games in the tournament were against Manchester Memorial and Central, two very physical teams that welcomed some of the Trinity youth to Division I.

Players such as freshman forward Drew Merrick and sophomore forward Mitch Myers took their licks, but helped the Pioneers to a title.

"Our young guys, they're maturing," Trinity coach Mike Connell said. "They got a lesson in a little intra-city rivalry there. That's good, it's going to help them along the way."

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I WOULD LIKE TO express my gratitude to the staff at JFK Coliseum who helped make everything go smoothly this week at the Bauer Classic. Jay High runs a good show and people such as Dave Elliott, Marty Myers and Butch Joseph are crucial to the end product.

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Before its game on Saturday against Lebanon at the Sullivan Arena, the Bedford team will host a meet and greet. The meet and greet starts at 1:30 p.m. and the game is at 3 p.m. Admission is free and players will be handing out autographed pucks.

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The two Nashua public schools went at it in the championship of the Conway Holiday Hockey Classic on Monday and it was Nashua South that took the title with a 1-0 win over Nashua North. Alex Radin scored the only goal of the game.

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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 mquirk@unionleader.com.

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