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Irish wins, good vibes mark first Classic
By IZZY GOULD
Published October 29, 2006
TAMPA - Air Force coach Frank Serratore stood beneath the stands of the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, a good neutral zone pass away from the ice.
His Falcons were tucked in a dressing room eagerly awaiting No. 11 Notre Dame to play for a tournament championship. The Fighting Irish were also fired up and ready.
But there was concern about a delayed start.
"We don't want anyone to get up and leave," Serratore said strongly into his cell phone as a Notre Dame assistant nodded in agreement. "If you don't start this thing at 8 p.m., it could happen."
The puck dropped roughly 15 minutes later than advertised, though the group of kids proudly wearing club hockey jerseys and the couple sharing a bucket of popcorn didn't seem to mind.
The fans still hanging around after the final horn seemed satisfied with the first Lightning College Hockey Classic and the result. Notre Dame claimed the inaugural trophy with a 2-0 victory over Air Force.
The celebration included individual awards, a trophy presentation and a banner, which was raised to the rafters that displayed Notre Dame's school logo and "2006 Champion." Alabama-Huntsville finished third after a 2-1 win against Army in the consolation game.
"This is a tournament where the people from the Lightning did a great job," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "There was a better crowd tonight, but I hope over the next few years it grows to where it's an exciting place to where people can come and watch a different style of hockey."
Delays in future tournaments might be of less concern, but those involved always want the first tournament to shine.
"This has been unbelievable," Army coach Brian Riley said. "It's something our guys will never forget. It's a first-class tournament. I would tell any college hockey coach if they have the opportunity to play here they can't turn it down."
Overall, there was no sense the announced attendance of 7,043 - a slight increase from Friday's crowd - favored any one program.
A few fans wore Fighting Irish football jerseys. There were some folks in the familiar gold, black and gray of Army. There was even some Air Force T-shirts in the stands.
If there was a good hit, a nice pass, a great goal, the arena horn blared as fans stood to cheer hockey.
Notre Dame (5-1-0) had some nice plays, particularly on its goals.
Forward Christian Hanson put the Irish up 1-0 after he followed his deflected slapshot to the boards, collected the puck then wrapped around Air Force goaltender Ian Harper, beating him to the far post to stuff the puck into the net.
The Irish padded their lead when forward Jason Paige received a pass standing all alone on the power play and flung a sharp wrister from 10 feet past Harper for a 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame validated its ranking with a pair of shutouts, outscoring opponents 21-2 since a 7-1 upset Oct. 20 of Boston College, then ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/American Hockey poll.
Meanwhile, Alabama-Huntsville hauled bags of sticks, pads and equipment out of the St. Pete Times Forum and stuffed them beneath a bus that would take them home on a 12-hour bus ride.
A come-from-behind victory certainly made for a more comfortable ride.
The Chargers (2-5-1), who host the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa, trailed 1-0 before scoring twice in the third. Tyler Hilbert stuffed in the winner, a shorthanded goal, on a pass from wing Josh Murray with 8 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. Murray also scored the tying goal.
Army (3-2-1), which received votes in various Top 25 polls for the first time in school history, lost its other game here Friday, 3-0 to Notre Dame.
Golden Knights defenseman Zach McKelive scored Army's goal with less than three minutes left in the second period. Looking past wins and losses, Army coach Brian Riley seemed enthusiastic when pondering the future of this tournament.
"We understood as far as attendance it was the first one," Riley said. "The whole idea of getting college hockey down here was important. So now for the people who were here to see the style of the game, hopefully they'll all come back. ... I have no doubt that they will fill this place someday for a college hockey tournament."