Ned Harkness, the hockey coach at RPI, created the RPI Invitation Tournament (of its many names) in 1951, to fill the gap in the schedule around the holidays. The first tournament was ambitious and featured eight teams in a single-elimination format. It was a success and continued for fifty-nine more years. The format changed for the second edition, which featured four teams playing a round-robin schedule without overtime. In 1981 it changed to a four-team single-elimination format for the rest of its existence. All games were played at the Houston Field House, known as the RPI Field House prior to 1978.
The tournament was originally played after Christmas and, depending on the calendar, some editions were entirely after the new year. It shifted to the weekend after Thanksgiving in 1985, then back to late December in 1988. 2004 saw a return to the November time frame for the remainder of its run.
Many names were used to describe this tournament, such as:
- RPI Invitational Tournament
- Rensselaer Invitational Tournament
- RPI Invitational Christmas Tournament
- RPI Christmas Tournament
- Rensselaer Holiday Tournament (the final name)
When the tournament received corporate sponsorship, the names were:
- Rensselaer/Marine Midland Bank Holiday Tournament (#45-48)
- Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament (#49-53)
- Rensselaer/Bank of America Holiday Tournament (#54-56)
The RPI Invitation Tournament lost popularity over time. While prominent hockey programs appeared in the early decades, that was rare in the later years. Looking at the high-profile non-New York programs of the time (Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin), those schools made a combined seven appearances, with the last being Boston University in 1973. Boston College and Denver never appeared. The problem was apparent by the 1980s, when the tournament first shifted to November. The 1987 edition featured Holy Cross (then a Division 3 program), U.S. International (a short-lived Division 1 program) and McGill (from Canada). Competition for schools grew over time. The Great Lakes Invitational shifted into the same time frame in 1970, removed the Michigan schools from consideration. Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin all had their own end-of-year tournaments by the early 1990s, in bigger arenas with larger crowds. The tournament shifted back to November in 2004 to make scheduling easier, but it would only survive a few more years.
RPI won the sixtieth tournament in 2010, but most present did not know it would be the final tournament. It died a quiet death in the offseason, when the 2011-12 RPI schedule was revealed and the tournament was gone. There was little reaction, most people felt the tournament had seen its better days much earlier. There appears to be no desire or discussion for its return.
|1951-52||Tournament began with eight teams in a single-elimination format. Brown won the first tournament.|
|1952-53||Tournament changed to a four-team round-robin format without overtime.|
|1957-58||RPI won their own tournament for this first time.|
|1970-71||Final tournament with games played after New Year's Day.|
|1981-82||Tournament changed to a four-team single-elimination format with unlimited overtime (except for the third-place game).|
|1985-86||Tournament moved to the weekend after Thanksgiving in November.|
|1988-89||Tournament returned to December.|
|2004-05||Final shift of the tournament to November.|
|2005-06||Unlimited overtime is removed, all games tied after five minutes go to a shootout. This did not affect any games this season but would come into play in the next tournament.|
|2010-11||Sixtieth and final tournament, won by RPI.|