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High school powers will battle

Malvern Prep vs. La Salle: Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 5 p.m. Hill School vs. Lawrenceville School: Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 2 p.m.

Malvern Prep and La Salle, two of the area's perennial ice hockey powers, are primed to renew an intense rivalry on the biggest stage imaginable.

On Wednesday, as part of the NHL's fifth annual Winter Classic festivities, the Friars and Explorers will battle under the lights at Citizens Bank Park. The 5 p.m. contest has been billed as the High School Holiday Classic.

On Dec. 29, a second high school game was added, between archrivals Hill School of Pottstown, Pa., and the Lawrenceville (N.J.) School. It will start at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"We're real excited to be part of this," said Wally Muehlbronner, La Salle's 13th-year coach. "Actually, we're ecstatic about the opportunity."

Said Steve Mackell, Malvern Prep's third-year boss: "It's going to be special. It's a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. And it's going to give youth hockey more exposure."

Soon after it was announced that the Winter Classic was coming to Philadelphia, Mackell, 49, contacted Peter Luukko, a close friend and president of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, to inquire about a possible game involving the Friars.

"And I thought Malvern-La Salle would be a perfect fit," Mackell said. "This is a natural rivalry. Peter was all for it. He's a huge proponent of youth hockey."

It didn't hurt that Luukko's son, Max, plays for the Friars. He is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore defenseman.

Mackell's son, Brett, is a forward at The Gunnery, a private prep school in Connecticut. Luukko's son, Nick, a defenseman who was drafted by the Flyers in the sixth round of the 2010 amateur draft and is now at the University of Vermont, is a 2010 Gunnery product.

Steve Mackell has another connection to the Flyers. In the early 1990s, he assisted Jim McCrossin, now the Flyers' trainer and strength-and-conditioning coach, in coaching Malvern Prep for three seasons.

Malvern Prep vs. La Salle is a rematch of last season's Flyers Cup Class AAA championship, won by La Salle, 3-2, in overtime. Nick Master's improbable winning shot, almost a duplicate of Patrick Kane's 2010 Stanley Cup clincher for Chicago against the Flyers, was the difference.

The Friars (eight in Class AAA) and the Explorers (five in AAA, one in AA) have combined for 14 Flyers Cup titles.

For winning last year's Flyers Cup, 25 of La Salle's players will be part of the pregame festivities Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Council Rock South (Class AA champ) and Springfield-Delco (Class A victor) will also be represented. Muehlbronner, 43, will serve as a chaperone.

In addition to Max Luukko, a young Malvern Prep squad is led by senior defensemen Cameron Donovan and Tony Nichols, senior forward Eric Robinson, and sophomore forward Kevin McGeary.

La Salle, with considerable depth and speed, is paced by Master, a junior center; senior winger Nick Popoff; junior winger Ron Greco; and senior center Matt Williams. Senior Andrew King and sophomore Nick DeSimone share the goaltending duties.

"I'm not sure the kids realize yet what kind of experience this is going to be," said Mackell, of Phoenixville. "That won't happen until they're out on the ice. That's when it will hit them. It's going to be spectacular."

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019,, or @ozoneinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "The O'Zone," at