HOUGHTON - The three Copper Country teams are looking to take the MacInnes Holiday Classic championship back in the 39th edition of the late-December fixture, which begins Friday night at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
The field is the same, with defending champion Sault Ste. Marie joining Houghton, Hancock and Calumet.
Hancock and Calumet will open the tournament Friday night at 6, with Houghton and Sault reprising a Division 3 state quarterfinal from March in the second semifinal, slated to begin at 8 p.m.
Hancock’s Alex Hill and Sault Ste. Marie’s Abby Roque face off in a semifinal of the 2012 MacInnes Holiday Classic. This year’s tournament begins Friday night, with Hancock playing Calumet in the 6 p.m. game and Houghton meeting Sault High at 8. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Once again, the field features multiple contenders for the Division 3 state title.
In the U.S. High School Hockey Online computer rankings, most recently generated on Monday, Houghton is ranked second in Division 3, Sault fifth and Hancock seventh.
In the rankings irrespective of division, Houghton is fifth, Sault High is 13th and Hancock 29th.
The MiHockey Hub rankings in Division 3 include Houghton second, Sault fourth and Hancock seventh.
The defending champion Blue Devils are off to a solid 8-1 start to their season.
They come into the tournament off their only loss of the season, a 2-0 defeat to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett at Liggett's own tournament last Saturday.
Before that, Sault claimed wins over Escanaba, Marquette (twice) and five downstate schools.
Their opponents Friday, Houghton, are 9-1 with their only loss coming to Cranbrook in a game at Dee Stadium Dec. 6.
Ray Brice leads the way with 15 goals, including nine in his last four games, which puts him even with Chuck Lower for the school scoring record. Brice already owns the school records for single-season goals (38) and points (66) and is 21 points behind Lower for the HHS all-time record in that category.
But it hasn't been a one-man show: Connor Hannon has 11-14-25 to lead Houghton in points, while Reid Pietila, Jed Kallio, Jon Bostwick and Casey Markham already have 10 points with 10 of Houghton's 25 games in the books.
Defensively, Houghton has been shorthanded with injuries to the likes of Tristan Foltz and Riley McKay causing them to miss time, but Houghton has been getting solid goaltending, with both Jayson Wiitala and Marcus Gloss posting save percentages well over .900 and goals-against averages well under 2 per game.
In the other semi, Hancock has put up a strong start in its own right, reaching this weekend's tournament with a 5-1-1 mark.
The wins have included 6-0 and 7-0 decisions in the Copper Island Classic to give Hancock the John A. Sherf Trophy for the first time since 2008.
Hancock also has wins over L'Anse and both Traverse City schools.
The Bulldogs' only loss came in what was their last contest, a 3-0 defeat at Escanaba nearly two weeks ago on Dec. 14.
The tournament begins a busy stretch for the Bulldogs, who play 10 times in January and begin a five games in 12 days stretch Friday.
The Bulldogs have been getting scoring up and down their lineup, as seven players have at least three goals, led by Wade Hanke's team-leading six.
Hunter Kero has five goals and Tanner Kearly four, with Brett Lepisto adding three goals to his team-leading 10 assists and Alex Hill kicking in seven assists with his three goals.
William Lucier, who was the first goalie to post back-to-back shutouts in the Copper Island Classic, has a GAA of 1.00 and save percentage of .959 through four appearances, while Jacob Givens has a pair of wins in the games over T.C. Central and L'Anse.
Calumet (1-6-1) has found the early going tough with an inexperienced team, but after starting the season with four straight defeats, got on the board for its first win of the season Dec. 10 vs. Marquette and grabbed a point in a wild 6-6 tie with Farmington Hills Unified Dec. 14.
Offense has been a challenge, with Eric Mattila's three goals constituting the team lead. He and Robert Erkkila share the team lead in points with five apiece.
Matthew Prouty, Tyler Loukus, Travis Porter and Braden Anderson all have two goals apiece.
Ian Carroll has played all eight games for Calumet, averaging 35 saves a game in heavy traffic. He has a 5.50 GAA and .864 save percentage.
The winners of Friday's games will play Saturday at 8 p.m. for the championship, with the consolation game beforehand at 6. Tickets are $5 both nights.