For 35th time, hockey players battle for Crab Pot

This year, the Crab Pot hockey tournament is truly a Chesapeake Bay affair — all four teams are from Maryland.

The men's collegiate tournament — in its 35th year — is hosted by the U.S. Naval Academy and was intended to be a face-off among state teams, but has frequently been won over the years by schools from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Only in the past few seasons has the two-day event become Maryland-focused, bringing a new level of pride to the winners of the trophy, an enameled crab pot mounted on a tiered base.

"Recently they've been trying to keep it all Maryland teams," Lisa Fox, assistant head of operations of the Brigade Sports Complex in Annapolis, said Saturday. "They're trying to build it up like the Bean Pot," an annual college hockey tournament of Boston-based universities. But that's not always easy to schedule because there are only a handful of men's hockey teams in Maryland, she said.

Roy Evans of Essex had a prime spot in the stands of McMullen Ice Arena in the sports complex. "I'm just here to scope out the competition," he said.

Evans was rooting for Navy — apparent from his jacket, hat, and blanket, all decorated with mascot Bill the Goat — but arrived in advance of the 4 p.m. game between Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He's been to the tournament more than a dozen times over the years, he said, and planned to return for Sunday's consolation and championship games, regardless of who won Saturday.

Nick Azzaro, who is on active duty in the Navy and lives in Annapolis, had never been to the tournament but also arrived before the first puck dropped to ensure he got a decent seat for the 7:30 p.m. game between the academy and the University of Maryland, College Park.

He was smart to come early. By the end of the first period of the first game, with points already on the board for both Towson and UMBC, the stands were nearly filled, mostly with Navy boosters. The smell of crab soup, crab pretzels and crab cakes wafted over the ice.

"We pre-sold about 150 tickets for today's games," said Fox, who is married to Michael Fox, Navy's head hockey coach. More than 1,200 people attended last year's tournament, she said, and she hopes this year's turnout will be as good, though she fears the snowflakes and cold may keep people away. "Traditionally, advance ticket sales are better for Saturday's games than Sunday's."

In the past four years, each of the teams taking part in this weekend's contest has taken home the crab pot, except the Terps. It's UMBC's first time in the tournament since 2009, when it won the trophy. Navy won last year; Towson was the champion in 2008 and 2010.

On Saturday, UMBC beat Towson, 3-2, in overtime and Navy defeated Maryland, 11-2. Sunday's consolation game will start at noon, followed by the championship game between UMBC and Navy at 3:30 p.m.

"I'll be here," said Kathy Kocsan-Adams, whose son plays for Towson. "The Navy [organizers] are very supportive and encouraging. And the rink is wonderful. They need more rinks like this."

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