By Raymond Rolak
LAS VEGAS – The Vegas Golden Knights announced they will host the Fortress Invitational, a collegiate hockey tournament, at T-Mobile Arena January 3 & 4, 2020. The four-team tourney will feature the following schools: Army West Point, Cornell University, Ohio State University and Providence College.
“We are very excited to host the Vegas Golden Knights Fortress Invitational at T-Mobile Arena,” Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said. “The Fortress Invitational provides our fans an opportunity to see some of the best college hockey players in the country with the unique in-game experience they are accustomed to seeing at VGK home games. We look forward to this tournament becoming a college hockey tradition in Las Vegas for years to come.”
Puck drop for the first game of the tournament is slated for Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, with the Army Black Knights facing the Providence Friars at 5 p.m. PT, followed by the Cornell Big Red squaring off against the Ohio State Buckeyes at 8:30 p.m.
The Vegas Golden Knights will host the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to highlight a tripleheader of hockey on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday’s college games (Championship & Consolation) will begin at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets start as low as $30 and a two-day pass will also be available starting at $50. Fans will have the ability to secure a three-game package for January 4, including the Golden Knights game vs. the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues and both college games that evening.
The Army Black Knights finished the 2018-19 season with a 13-20-7 overall record and return four of their top-five leading scorers heading into this season, including senior Dominic Franco who finished with a team-high 14 goals with nine coming on the power play. The Cadets also return a pair of veteran goaltenders in Trevin Kozlowski and Matt Penta. Kozlowski finished last year with a 5-6-2 overall record to go with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage, while Penta finished with a 4-4-3 record to go with a 2.61 GAA and a .892 save percentage. The Cadets’ power play was sixth nationally last season with a .244 efficiency.
The Black Knights will have a strong rooting section as numerous underclassmen are expected to attend. The team is led by Coach Brian Riley, who is a three-time Atlantic Hockey Association Coach of the Year. Since 1950 a member of the Riley family has served as the bench boss for the Knights as Brian’s brother Rob coached the team from 1986-2004 and their father, Jack, recorded 542 victories in 36 years as Army’s coach from 1950-1986.
The Cornell Big Red cruised to a 21-11-4 record during the 2018-19 season and reached the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. Cornell ended the season ranked No. 8/10 in the nation. The Big Red finished second in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and reached the conference championship by way of a first-round triumph over Union College and a semifinal victory against Brown University. The Big Red were downed by the Clarkson Golden Knights in the ECAC championship game, 3-2, in overtime. After receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, Cornell earned a No. 3 seed in the East Regional and the No. 2 Northeastern, 5-1, in the first round. The team’s season came to an end in the second round as the Big Red fell to No. 4 Providence College, 4-0. Forward Morgan Barron returns for his junior year after leading Cornell in scoring during the 2018-19 campaign with 34 points (15 G, 19 A) in 36 games. Barron finished third in the nation in shots on goal (152). Defenseman Yanni Kaldis paced all Big Red blueliners with 28 points (4 G, 24 A) last season and will man Cornell’s defensive zone as a senior in 2019-20. Goaltender Matthew Galajda posted a 16-8-3 record between the pipes in 2018-19 with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Cornell is led by The Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Hockey Mike Schafer. Schafer, class of 1986, is the winningest coach in Cornell’s history with an overall record of 458-259-95 and is the two-time defending Ivy League Coach of the Year.
The Ohio State Buckeyes concluded the 2018-19 season with a 21-11-4 overall record and were ranked No. 12/11 overall by the season’s end. Throughout the season, they held a spot in the top 15 for 27 weeks. OSU captured the Big Ten regular season crown and earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament but were eliminated in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament by Penn State. The Buckeyes reached the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season but had their hopes of returning to the Frozen Four ended at the hands of the Denver Pioneers in the first round. Forward Tanner Laczynski is Ohio State’s highest-returning scorer as he posted 30 points (10 G, 20 A) during the 2018-19 season. Forward Gustaf Westlund, a 2019 VGK Development Camp invitee, was eighth on the team in scoring with 19 points (5 G, 14 A) in 25 games and was voted the team’s 2019 Freshman of the Year. The Buckeyes’ 2019-20 roster will include freshman Layton Ahac, who was drafted in the third round (86th overall) by the Golden Knights during the 2019 NHL Draft. Ohio State is led by Head Coach Steve Rohlik, the 2018 and 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year. Rohlik has been at the helm since 2013-14 season and has an all-time record of 113-84-28 as OSU’s bench boss.
The Providence Friars completed the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 24-12-6, finishing with the No. 4/4 ranking in the nation. The Friars tied for second in Hockey East and were awarded an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, where they earned the No. 4 seed in the East Regional. Their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance began with a 6-3 win against No. 3 overall seed Minnesota State followed by a shutout victory against No. 2 Cornell. Providence punched its ticket to its fifth Frozen Four in program history, but the Friars fell, 4-1, to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth. The Frozen Four appearance was Providence’s first since 2015 when the team captured its first national championship. The Friars return forward and Vegas Golden Knights 2017 NHL draft pick Jack Dugan (5th round, 142nd overall) who finished second in scoring among freshmen in the country with 39 points (10 G, 29 A). Dugan was named to the Hockey East Conference All-Rookie Team and was a finalist for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Providence will go through a changing of the guard in net during the 2019-20 season as four-year standout Hayden Hawkey departed after last season. The Friars are led by head coach Nate Leaman who enters his ninth season in 2019-20 with an overall record of 176-100-38 since taking over in 2011. During the 2017-18 season he became the fastest head coach to reach 100 wins in school history. He led Providence to its first title during his fourth season at the helm in 2015.