Ten years and one title for Meadville. As a tournament organizer Meadville head coach Jamie Plunkett sees that as something to be proud of, as the Bulldogs head coach, though, not so much.

The 11th annual Bulldog Hockey Invitational begins at 5 p.m. today when St. Ignatius takes on Toledo St. Francis at the DeArment Ice Arena. Meadville starts its tournament at 6:30 p.m. today against LaSalle. In all, four games will be played Friday. The tournament resumes at 7:15 a.m. Saturday and continues Sunday with the semifinals set for 8 and 10 a.m. and the championship at 3 p.m.

Meadville, with seven state titles, is one of the most respected programs in the state, but the Bulldogs have won their own tournament just once, 2003.

In fact they have played in the tournament’s final game only three times in 10 years. That’s because Plunkett and the tournament committee routinely seek out some of the best scholastic teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania and the surrounding states. Four of the tournament’s 10 champions have gone on to win state titles the same year they won in Meadville (Mt. Lebanon, 2006; Malvern Prep, 2004; Meadville, 2003 and St. Ignatius, 2000) and St. Edward won the first two titles and finished as Ohio’s runner-up those years.

“We try to bring in the best competition available,” Plunkett said. “We have made three finals out of 10 ... some of that is attributed to the level of competition we have brought in. You have to play well for two days to get to Sunday.”

An early favorite to reach Sunday’s playoff round is LaSalle, Plunkett said.

The Explorers are making their eighth appearance in Meadville. Also making the trip to Meadville are St. Ignatius, which has appeared in the most tournament finals (six) and is second to Meadville with nine tournament appearances, St. Edward, which is playing in its fifth tournament and first since 2000; Toledo St. Francis, which is making its seventh trip to Meadville and fifth straight, Mt. Lebanon, the defending champion, and Sylvania Northview, a semifinalist last year.

The new face in this year’s tournament is Gilmour Academy. The Lancers are coached by John Malloy, who coached Cleveland Heights to an Ohio State championship in the 1980s and then moved to Gilmour Academy. With eight strong teams and the possibility of five games in three days, the tournament is as much a battle of attrition as it is a battle of skill.

“You test your depth. You play two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday, if you make the championship,” Plunkett said. “You find out about your toughness.”

Meadville, 3-3-1 in its last seven games, is hoping the tournament can help the team shake out of a midseason funk. The Bulldogs, who beat McDowell once in the preseason and once in the regular season, lost to the Trojans last Thursday, 3-1.

Some of the Bulldogs’ struggles are just, “part of the peaks and valleys every team has throughout the season,” senior defenseman Dan Allegretti said.

“Against McDowell we didn’t play well,” Allegretti said. “It was an off game. We just have to work through it and stay focused.”

Allegretti said the Invitational’s stacked field might just be the thing to break Meadville out of its doldrums.

“Playing good teams definitely motivates you,” he said.

There is no shortage of good teams. Sylvania Northview was the Ohio runner-up last year, LaSalle is ranked first in the state by the PA Hockey Web site and Toledo St. Francis has a 3-1-2 record against teams in the tournament.

“If you are fortunate enough to make it to Sunday, you will know where you will have to be to be successful (in the postseason),” Plunkett said.

Notes: Gilmour Academy’s noted alumnus include Douglas Kenney, who co-wrote the golf movie “Caddyshack.” ... Meadville’s Doug Torok is out indefinitely with a fractured clavicle. Sophomore Chip Ray has been called up from the junior varsity team to take Torok’s spot. ... Cambridge Springs resident and NHL forward Mike Rupp, who plays for the New Jersey Devils, played scholastic hockey for the St. Edward.



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