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by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning
tbl.commentator: Trevor Van Knotsenburg

History will be made October 27-28 when a four-team NCAA Division I tournament, The Lightning College Hockey Classic, visits the St. Pete Times Forum. Notre Dame, Army, Air Force, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville will compete in the inaugural tournament when the puck drops on Friday evening starting at 5 p.m. Tampa has been a growing hockey market since the Lightning joined the National Hockey League in 1992, and in 2012, the NCAA Frozen Four will be held at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Embassy Suites Hotel Tampa-Downtown is serving as the official presenting sponsor of the Lightning College Hockey Classic.

"As we prepare to host the NCAA Frozen Four in 2012, we look forward to establishing a regular college hockey presence in Tampa Bay," Lightning and St. Pete Times Forum President Ron Campbell said. "Ideally we will host the College Hockey Classic each year during the holiday season but I would like to thank Notre Dame, Army, Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville, host institution for our Frozen Four, for joining us this October."

The first games are set for Friday, October 27 when the University of Alabama-Huntsville will meet Air Force at 5 p.m. followed by a tilt between Notre Dame and Army at 8 p.m. On Saturday, October 28 at 5 p.m., the two losing teams from Friday night will play each other and the two winning teams will compete for the Lightning Hockey Classic championship at 8 p.m.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Army Black Knights

Friday, October 27, 8 p.m.

Both teams exhibit the ability to keep the puck out of their own net with a strong defensive style of play combined with solid goaltending. Last season, the Fighting Irish allowed only 98 goals and had a goals-against average of 2.70. However, the Irish had a difficult time finding the back of the net on offense, scoring 89 times with 42.6% (38) of those goals coming on the man-advantage. The Fighting Irish had the deadliest power play attack in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association a season ago, scoring at a clip of 19.5% (33 for 169).

Army's goaltending has been a strong point in the early part of the season. Sophomore goalie Josh Kassel earned Army Athletic Association's Athlete of the Week for his shutout performance against the Ryerson Rams. In his next start, Kessel recorded his second consecutive shutout, making 21 saves against American International College. Junior Luke Flicek has been the go-to forward for the Black Knights early in the season with four goals and an assist to lead his team in points after four games.

The Irish have four of their top scorers back this as they try to improve on their offensive totals from last season. Leading the charge is 2005-06 CCHA All-Rookie Team selection, Erik Condra, who netted six goals and 28 assists for a team-high 34 points. Senior Josh Sciba returns and will try to improve on his team-best 17 goals a year ago. Goaltender David Brown, a senior, is back protecting the net for Notre Dame and is coming off a hot season. Brown posted a solid 2.47 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

Air Force Falcons vs. Alabama-Huntsville Chargers

Friday, October 27, 5 p.m.

This will be the second meeting for these two this season, as the Falcons knocked off UAH, 4-3, in a game played in Colorado on October 8. Air Force junior Eric Ehn led the charge with two goals in the win. Air Force and UAH both have the ability to score. Ehn, last season's team MVP, and Andrew Ramsey combined for 58 points for the Falcons.

"Andrew [Ramsey] is undersized but very strong on his skates and is a very good college hockey player," Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said. "Eric is a very clever and crafty player who has the slippery ability to make people miss."

The Chargers want revenge for the loss earlier this month. UAH had to kill off 16 short-handed minutes against Air Force after scoring three times in the game's first four minutes. The key for Alabama-Huntsville will be to stay out of the penalty box and play a solid defensive game. Sophomore goalie Jordan Erickson has been strong early in the season, earning College Hockey America Defensive Player of the Week honors earlier this month. Offensively, senior Bret McConnachie leads the Chargers into the 2006-07 season. He is Alabama-Huntsville's top returning scorer from a season ago with 10 goals and 10 assists.

Any time college athletics is involved excitement is sure to follow, and with college hockey coming to Tampa, the St. Pete Times Forum will be the place to be on October 27 and 28. Tampa Bay hockey fans living in the will have their first glimpse of what to expect for the Frozen Four that is coming in 2012.

Tickets are on sale at the McDonalds Box Office at the St. Pete Times Forum for all four games, including the championship game on Saturday night at 8 p.m.
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