The Southern Oregon Spartans hockey team will open pool play today at the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship in Rochester, Minn., against the New Jersey Rockets.

The Southern Oregon Spartans hockey team will open pool play today at the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship in Rochester, Minn., against the New Jersey Rockets.

The 12-team tournament ends on Tuesday with the championship game. Semifinals are on Monday.

The 16th-ranked Spartans are in Pool C with the 60th-ranked Rockets, the seventh-ranked Rochester Ice Hawks (the No. 2 team from the Minnesota Junior Hockey League with a 39-16 record) and the 10th-ranked Missoula Maulers (the No. 2 team from the American West Hockey League with a 46-10 record).

Team rankings can be found on myhockeyrankings.com.

The team with the best record in each of the three pools, along with one wild card, will advance to the semifinals. Matches will be played at the Graham Arena Complex and the Rochester Recreation Center.

Southern Oregon, making its first appearance at nationals, will begin its title quest by taking on New Jersey at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. They'll play the Ice Hawks at 5 p.m. Saturday and the Maulers at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

All games will be aired on www.fasthockey.com.

New Jersey (22-29-2) plays in the South Division of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. The Rockets played their home games at the Prudential Center, which is also home to the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and New Jersey Nets of the NBA. Jeremy Roenick once played for the Rockets.

"They are a younger team," Southern Oregon head coach Mike Stanaway said of New Jersey. "I think we can use our physical presence and scoring to hopefully get off to a fast start."

The Spartans will counter with a roster overflowing with talent.

Forward Tim Talty recorded a team-best 83 points (50 assists and 33 goals) this season for the Spartans, who captured the franchise's first Northern Pacific Hockey League championship in dominant fashion by sweeping Seattle. The squad went 34-8 during the regular season and is 40-9 after a 6-1 playoff run.

Talty was named the NORPAC player of the year for Southern Oregon, which averaged the highest attendance in the league with an average of 546 spectators per game.

Joey White was second on the team and fourth in the NORPAC in scoring with 75 points (49 assists, 26 goals). Additionally, he had five goals and eight assists in the playoffs. Mike Leskun had four goals and eight assists in the postseason and finished with 62 points (35 goals, 27 assists) during the regular season.

Luke Nickels was the NORPAC defensive player of the year.

In addition to being the most important event in Tier III junior hockey, the tournament also provides players a chance to be seen by college and professional coaches. Last year, around 40 different universities were represented.

"One of the things, on top of having a national champion crowned, is we also recruit heavily to get college coaches and next-level coaches to come to town," said Ed Hruska, the tournament director. "It's not only a great experience, but a neat opportunity to do something to further their careers."

Rochester, Minn., is hosting the tourney for the second straight year.

Included in the national field is top-ranked Helena, which is 43-12, and the eighth-ranked Seattle Totems (38-11). The Totems will play in Pool B.

"There's some good competition," Talty said. "It will be some different hockey."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com