Let's first talk about the teams that made it to the Frozen Four:
Boston College Eagles - The Eagles made the Frozen Four by defeating Denver and UMass-Lowell in the first round and second round. They are a traditional power in Eastern College Hockey representing the Hockey East Conference. Led, by Johnny Gaudreau, sometimes referred to as "Johnny Hockey", the Eagles won the Hockey East regular season championship. Aided in large part to Johnny Hockey's 31 game point streak. Johnny Hockey won the Hobey Baker for the most outstanding player in the nation. The Hobey Baker award is hockey's Heisman Trophy. The Eagles finished with a record of 28-7-4 and 16-2-2 in the conference.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - The Gophers made the Frozen Four by beating Robert Morris senseless in the first round, and had a spirited bout with in-state rival St. Cloud State to reach the Final Four. Minnesota is one of the most storied programs in the nation. They feature legends of the sport, like Coach Herb Brooks, the man that led the USA over the Russians in 1980. The Gophers were members of the WCHA until this year with the formation of the Big Ten Conference. The Gophers were the regular season Big Ten Conference champions this year. The Gophers are led on offensive by Kyle Rau and goal-tender, Hobey Baker finalist Adam Wilcox in goal. The Gophers were ranked #1 most of the season finished with an overall record of 27-6-6 and 14-3-3 in the Big Ten.
North Dakota - Formally known as the Fighting Sioux, North Dakota is on NCAA probation until 2015 before they can name a new mascot. North Dakota defeated Wisconsin in the first round and had a brilliant win in double OT against Ferris State to reach the Final Four. They are also a storied program in college hockey with over 20 Frozen Fours to their credit. North Dakota features some legendary Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews and goalie Ed Belfour. Currently, North Dakota is led by Captain Dillon Simpson. They have a Patrick Kane like forward in Rocco Grimaldi, who is listed at 5'6 but flies around the ice like he is much bigger. North Dakota was one of the last teams in, and really took advantage of the opportunity. They play in the NCHC conference, and finished with an overall record of 25-13-3 and 15-9 inside the conference.
Union Dutchmen - A relatively new-comer to the Frozen Four, the Dutchmen defeated Vermont and Providence on their way to Philly. The school enrolls 2,200 students very small compared to the teams they faced off against in the Frozen Four. Another fact about Union is that they do not give out scholarships, it is all based on financial aid. The Dutchmen enter the Frozen Four riding a 10 game winning streak and they are unbeaten in 15 games (14-0-1). The Dutchmen are led by their seniors, on offense, assistant captain, Daniel Carr and on defense, Mat Bodie, the captain. Carr and Bodie are also aided by a junior and rising star on defense, the other assistant captain, Shayne Gostisbehere aka the Ghost. Union was the ECAC regular season champions with an overall record of 30-6-4. The Dutchmen were 18-3-1 in the ECAC, winning the conference by 8 points.
I think if I don't give you some idea about the teams that were in the Frozen Four, it's kind of like starting in the middle of the story. Now that you have the back story, let's focus in first on Thursday's two national semifinal games, Boston College vs. Union and Minnesota vs North Dakota.
Boston College vs Union - It was the opening game in which you have Boston College on one side the storied franchise and on the other you have Union, a relative new-comer as I said before. Union was riding a 15 game unbeaten streak. So it was not as much David vs. Goliath as it might appear on the surface.
1st Period - Boston College wasted little time opening the scoring at 2:08 into the 1st period. It was Johnny Hockey, right as BC probably drew it up in their locker room before the game. The Eagles had a couple of chances early in the first period that went off the posts. It could have been 2-0 or 3-0 for Boston College, because they really carried the play thru the first 10 minutes. Towards the end of the period you could that Union was starting to get their legs under them. Boston College 1 - Union 0
2nd Period - Union started the 2nd period much like Boston College started the first, they got their first goal from Mat Bodie at 2:39. It would remain that way until 10:45 into the period when Union struck again, this time it was forward Daniel Ciampini getting his first goal of the game. Play would go back and forth for the next 5 minutes or so, then Steve Santini would get the equalizing goal for the Boston College Eagles at 15:53. Boston College 2 - Union 2
3rd Period - Union would get the 3rd period scoring underway with a Power Play goal from Daniel Ciampini at 6:31. It was Ciampini's second goal on the night making it 3-2 Dutchmen. A huge play in the 3rd was a 5 minute major and a 10 minute game misconduct on Union's Matt Hatch. Boston College failed to score on the 5 minute major and what made matters worse was moments after returning to full strength Union scored again. This time it was Mike Vecchione at 11:53 into the 3rd. It stayed that way until the Eagles pulled their goalie and scored at 18:15 into the 3rd (Ryan Fitzgerald). Ciampini would complete his hat trick with an empty netter making it 5-3. BC would not go away, scoring again with 3.2 seconds left in the 3rd (Patrick Brown). The Eagles won the face-off and got a shot on goal but it was saved by Union, game over. Union 5 - Boston College 4
Minnesota vs North Dakota - In terms of College Hockey this is like Michigan vs Ohio or Auburn vs Alabama. It's a border war and there is no love loss between the two sides. It's cliche but throw out the records it, doesn't matter that Minnesota's the #1 team and North Dakota barely made it. As we would see later this would be one for the ages.
1st Period - The game started and had a very choppy pace which favored North Dakota in my mind. North Dakota could not afford to get into a track meet with the Gophers, just due to the fact that Minnesota was more talented on paper. There were no goals in the first period and the shots were 12-9 in favor of North Dakota. If you were a North Dakota fan, you had to be feeling pretty good about things. Minnesota 0 - North Dakota 0
2nd Period - It was more of the same from the 1st period, grid it out. North Dakota was playing their style and Minnesota really was not forcing them out of it. Though Minnesota looked much better in the 2nd period than in the 1st. Both teams had a shot on the Power Play to score a goal but both failed. Again, like the 1st period there were no goals and the shots were even at 12. Minnesota 0 - North Dakota 0
3rd Period - As the clock ticked down in the 3rd period, I started thinking wow maybe this is going to end 1-0, a real nail-biter. Then, 10:51 into the 3rd Sam Warning, top line for Minnesota, found the back of the net. I honestly thought this might lead to more goals for Minnesota but on the very next shift North Dakota got the equalizer. Officially, at 11:23 into the 3rd Connor Gaarder, a walk-on, got the goal for North Dakota. He came down the left side, from where I was sitting, and shot the puck, Wilcox made the first save but Gaarder put in the rebound on the near post. The game remained this way until North Dakota got a huge break at 18:21 into the 3rd with a holding penalty on Conner Reilly of Minnesota. As the period drew to a close Minnesota won a face-off and came down short-handed, Rau took a shot but it was blocked. The puck bounced onto the stick of Justin Holl, and he put it into the back of the net with just .6 left in the 3rd. There was absolute shock into the Wells Fargo Center. Minnesota 2 - North Dakota 1
So it was set for Saturday night, the Frozen Four Final Minnesota vs. Union. On Friday, I woke up and went over to the Wells Fargo Center for practices and a press conference. Union was up first for practice:
Minnesota was up second:
The press conference was to announce the winner of the inaugural Mike Richter Award, given out to the most outstanding goalie. Mike Richter was a long time goalie for the New York Rangers and helped them win the cup in 1994. Bernie Parent was also along for the presentation of the Mike Richter Award. Parent was a long time Philadelphia Flyers goalie, the Flyers retired his number, it now flies in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center. The winner of the Mike Richter Award was Connor Hellebuyck of UMass-Lowell. Hellebuyck's career save percentage is .946 which is the best in college hockey history. He is a great choice for the inaugural Mike Richter Award.
Onward to the title game, Saturday Night, it was Union vs. Minnesota. Minnesota was going for yet another title and Union was looking for number 17 in a row for their unbeaten streak. The game was almost a sellout they announced over 18,000 had shown up for the title bout. Even fans from teams that were ousted on Thursday were still there. There was a section of North Dakota fans that only added support to the Union section that was right below the press area.
1st period - Minnesota did not waste any time getting on the board first. Officially 2:37 into the game Justin Kloos made it 1-0 Gophers. The equalizer came about 7 minutes later, 9:26 officially, off the stick of Shayne Gostisbehere aka the Ghost. A minute later, Sam Warning put one in from an impossible angle to give the Gophers the lead. Then, Union took over scoring at 15:09, 16:06 and 17:03; in the end it was 3 goals in less than 2 minutes. Goals were from Mike Vecchione, Eli Lichtenwald and Daniel Ciampini respectively. I called it first period "sieve city," you usually do not see 6 goals in a period in a hockey game. Union 4 - Minnesota 2
2nd Period - Things seemed to calm down in the 2nd period after an action packed first. After being out shot 20-15 in the 1st period Minnesota came back and out shot Union 18-14 in the 2nd. The only goal in the period came at the 1:13 mark, and it was from Minnesota's Taylor Cammarata. Taylor was a freshman at Minnesota, and this last year 40% of Minnesota's goals had come from their freshmen. Union 4 -Minnesota 3
3rd Period - The scoring in the 3rd period started with Union's Max Novak at 5:31 making it 5-3 Union. Union had 2 Power Plays to extend the lead but failed to do so. Union finished the game 0 for 7 on the Power Play. Minnesota got a late Power Play when Charlie Vasaturo was called for roughing. Minnesota's Hudson Fasching made the most of the Power Play when he scored at the 16:20 mark to make the score 5-4. Kevin Sullivan of Union got a late goal for Union almost making the win certain. The icing on the cake came at the 19:15 mark, when captain Mat Bodie scored an empty netter. Union 7 - Minnesota 4
I thought during the 2nd and 3rd period that if Kyle Rau does not score Minnesota would have a hard time winning the game. Clearly, he did not score and Minnesota did not win. It was Union's first team sport title since a 1929 lacrosse title. Union's impressive 17 game unbeaten streak will live on until next year. Minnesota had a great crop of freshmen this year, like I said scoring 40% of the goals, they will be back next year and tougher than ever, so Gophers do not hang your heads too low.
It was a great game for the title, Union played very well in the tournament and was rewarded at the end of the day. I do not know if there are enough words to express what a great time the Frozen Four in Philly was. It is a great town and they did a beautiful job hosting the Frozen Four. Next year, the Frozen Four will be at the TD Gardens in Boston. I definitely hope that I will get a chance to go. Have a great night!