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 Champlin Park’s teams are heading:
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.”