Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On to the Frozen Four

Tomorrow morning, I’m headed to my second Frozen Four. Two years ago, a friend and I made the trip to Washington DC for what turned out to be some great hockey, despite the Badgers not being in attendance. Two years later, I’m still a little shocked that Boston U scored two goals w/ less than a minute to play in regulation and then had the fluke knuckle ball over the shoulder goal to win in OT. While the Badgers were playing for #7 last year, due to work demands and the games being played in a football stadium, I didn’t make the trip. W/ the Frozen Four so close this year, couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It sure will be warm in Tampa Bay this time next year when the Frozen Four visits there.

One of my favorite parts of the Frozen Four in DC was the wide spectrum of fan bases in attendance. Of the 58 DI schools, I’m guessing 2/3 of them had someone w/ their jersey on in attendance. It’s just not an event for the schools competing for the National Championship, but for all those who love College Hockey. I think I even saw a Colorado College jersey, I didn’t know they had fans. There will be a lot of Badgers in the crowd this weekend, and while Bucky won’t be on the ice, I think there is still plenty to cheer about.

Love them or hate them, two long time WCHA foes are alive on opposite sides of the bracket. Neither of them have easy games, but an all WCHA final is a real possibility, and being at the Xcel Energy Center, in St Paul, in the heart of current WCHA country will made for one rocking arena this weekend.

Generally, I hate North Dakota. They have players I despise like Brett Hextall, but it will be pretty easy for me to cheer for them tomorrow afternoon when they face off against Michigan. I’m not a big proponent of Big 10 hockey, and I’m not looking forward to the day when Michigan replaces North Dakota on the conference schedule. To me this matchup is one of two of the most underachieving teams in NCAA hockey (in regards to national championships) over the last decade. Every year both North Dakota and Michigan load up on the top recruits. North Dakota from anywhere and everywhere (I have to give Hasktol credit, because what 18 to 20 year old wants to come to Grand Forks?), and Michigan getting regular commitments from the NTDP, which regularly features the best US born talent in the country. Every year North Dakota and Michigan are fighting for their respective conference championships and high in the rankings. They have combined for 12 Frozen Fours since 2001, counting this season. North Dakota’s bane has been drunken land mower throwing and elevator incidents, and Hockey East schools, especially Boston College. Luckily, CC knocked BC out of the tourney right away. Michigan might lead in National Championships, but have only won a few of those in the modern era, and I’m sick of hearing about how great their program is because of trophies so dusty you can’t tell if it is for hockey or NCAA bowling. Wow six of those titles between 1948 and 1956, will anyone at the Frozen Four other than Red Berenson be old enough to remember those titles? My loyalties lie w/ the WCHA and I will be cheering for the team that hates the gophers almost as much as the Badgers do from North Dakota.

The other semi-final is the anti-thesis when talking about national championship tradition. Notre Dame is making their second Frozen Four after falling short of their first title against Boston College back in 2008 in Denver. Duluth has been to the Frozen Four three previous times, losing to Bowling Green in 1984 in the championship game. The 80s were a crazy time if Bowling Green and Lake State were good teams. Again, I’ll be cheering for UW’s WCHA foe Minnesota-Duluth in this matchup. Admittedly, they have an exciting team w/ a great 1st line and PP, and if they get hot and Reiter can play well in net again this weekend, they might win their first National Championship. FINALLY they will have a banner worthy of raising in the new DECC instead of all those 5th place WCHA banners, and illegally begotten Women’s Championships by their counterpart the Duluth Foreign Legion. Plus I hate Notre Dame in virtually every sport. Overall, is any other school as pompous as the Fighting Irish (other than the gophers)? Maybe my strong disdain carries over from football, but it will be easy to cheer for Duluth tomorrow night.

Based on a little banter I’ve seen, I think the Badger fans in attendance will be cheering for Duluth to bring home their first National Championship. I’m probably hovering near that bandwagon. Overall, I just want to watch some good hockey like I did in Washington DC and would prefer an all WCHA championship game. The Xcel Energy Center is the best hockey facility I’ve ever been in, truly one place where there might not be a bad seat in the house. I sat on the top row for the 2009 Final Five and still felt like I was sitting right on top the ice. Minnesota as a state doesn’t do much worth applauding, but the X deserves high regard.

Two last comments, for Badger fans watching the games at home, I’m truly sorry you will have to listen to Barry Melrose. I don’t doubt his hockey knowledge, but ESPN ignores college hockey (especially non-east coast hockey) all year long, then Melrose shows up and pretends to be a College Hockey expert for three days while he mispronounces half the names and generally sounds like a moron. I won’t miss that, nor will I miss the wanton panhandling while walking around Washington DC (I can get that on State Street), but the trade off is that there really isn’t much to do and see in St Paul, at least not for me. Friday in DC was fun day of sightseeing, but this is minnesota’s capital in early April we are talking about here; I’m sure there will be beer somewhere though.