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Faceoff: Heads up, the junior nationals are in town

PHERSY:Hey Feldy, I'm not sure if you've heard, but the USA Hockey Junior A, Tier III National Tournament is in town Friday through Tuesday. Feldy you'll be covering the action over at Graham Arena, while I'm watching your Rochester Ice Hawks at the Recreation Center. So why should the average hockey rube be excited about this event?

FELDY: Have we had anything in the paper about this yet? Why shouldn'tlocal hockey rubes be excited about this? We might see a future Division I player or two and it's a great opportunity to see some good hockey players and different styles of play from all over the country. … Phersy, one of the top Junior A, Tier III leagues in the country, the EJHL, packed up its pucks and stayed home this year. How will the absence of those teams impact this tournament?

PHERSY:It won't. Let the cry-babies stay home. The reality is the EJHL shouldn't be classified as a Tier III league. For example, the top team in the North American Hockey League, a Tier II league, had seven players receive Division I scholarships last season. This year in the EJHL, the Junior Bruins have 14 Division I commits and the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs have 17! Yeah, and that's a Tier III league? The EJHL's refusal to join the rest of Tier III in Rochester will hopefully push USA Hockey to reclassify it as a Tier II league. ... Feldy, you're covering the rest of the tournament, while I focus on the Ice Hawks. Do you have any story lines that could keep area fans entertained?

FELDY: MnJHL champion Granite City plays the game immediately preceding the Hawks twice, (Friday and Sunday), so cheer them on, or boo them if you must (rivalries die hard, especially this time of year). The Lumberjacks have two of the best d-men in the tourney, Bobby Chayka and Mike Wolter. They also have a local connection, Byron's DJ Vold (a former Ice Hawk), who has four points in the postseason. A couple of former NHL players will coach in the tourney, too: Walpole's Mark Kumpel (Winnipeg, Detroit, Quebec) and Don Biggs (North Stars, Flyers) of Queen City. … Phersy, back to the Hawks, have they once again run Rochester retail stores out of blond hair dye? And can coach Fatis even get that red hair to turn colors?

PHERSY:Well, a few of the players informed me Fatis has promised to go blond if the Hawks are playing for a national title. That won't be a pretty sight, but it will be worth if they can keep that hardware at the Rec Center. I'm truly excited to see how supportive Rochester will be this weekend. This Ice Hawks team has a chance to do something very special, despite some late-season struggles. They went 6-7 in their last 13 games, and yet here they are, preparing for another run. It's going to be tough, but with some fan support, the Hawks have can skate with anyone. ... Feldy, it's prediction time. Let's say we can't go the homer route and take the Hawks. Who are you picking to win it all?

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FELDY: Helena has just two losses in 63 games, while Idaho has lost just five of 52 games, but it's hard to argue with the success the teams from out east have had in this tournament. That leads me to think that Walpole and the Northern Cyclones will be right in the mix. And Walpole's record (42-4-0-3) speaks for itself. I'll take the Express to ride off with the hardware on Tuesday. Your turn.

PHERSY: Ugh. OK, if you really won't let me pick the Ice Hawks, it's going to be tough. The Granite City Lumberjacks might be the most talented team in the tournament, but I have a feeling the Lumberjacks' physical style will be squelched at nationals. I like the Express, too, but I never enjoy agreeing with you Feldy, so I'll go with the Bighorns.

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