‘Pot Postgame Wrap Up – NCAA Regional Weekend; Epic Frozen Four Battle – BC/Minnesota

 ‘Pot Post Game Wrap Up

An exciting weekend of regional NCAA puck action is now in the books – BC, Minnesota, Union and Ferris State have all advanced to the Frozen Four in Tampa. If there was every any question about the parity and relative balance in college hockey this year, that notion is certainly out the window now. For the first time since 1993, each major conference will be represented at the Frozen Four, with BC saving face for HEA in the final game of the weekend last night in Worcester.

With all the grandstanding back and forth between the media of each conference deeming their conference “the best” in all of the land, parity proved paramount. The competitive nature of the national landscape showed us all that there is not ONE dominant league this year…as much as it pains the local ‘homers’ to admit to this fact.

To continue with the ‘balanced’ theme … The Frozen Four will also have representation from each of the four ‘power’ states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and New York) for the first time since 1954. Will it be the “Spirit of America”, “Empire State”, “Land of 10,000 Lakes” or “The Great Lakes State” who will earn college hockey’s ultimate bragging rights?

The Forum Frenzy – What I gleaned from Regional weekend

Johnny Be Good

Johnny Gaudreau (Carneys Point, NJ) took the national stage for the first time in his collegiate career as BC knocked off Air Force and Minnesota Duluth. Since his mid season stagnation, the frosh has went on a tear of epic proportions – registering 22 points in his last 15 games and claiming some substantial hardware in the process (Beanpot and Hockey East Tourney MVP Awards). As a Chicago Blackhawks season ticket holder I must admit that the slick puck moving Gaudreau seems to remind me more and more of another American born phenom – Patrick Kane. Both have an innate playmaking sense that hypnotizes defenders and have a knack for creating passing lanes that to the naked eye, do not even exist. Watching Gaudreau play invokes the same “edge of your seat” feeling that only Patrick Kane and a handful of others are capable of.

Woe is Mi-ami!!!

 It looks like the Boston curse that has plagued Miami of Ohio is pervasive enough by nature to matriculate to the downtrodden community of Lowell, MA.  Despite mounting one of the most ferocious one period attacks I can recall in recent memory, Miami couldn’t overcome their slow start and fell to Lowell 4-3 in OT.

As is the case seemingly every year, Miami had the elite talent and NHL prospects but they seem to act as shrinking violets on the ultimate stage. The talented Reilly Smith was shut down completely by a Lowell team that, for the first two periods, played about as well defensively – gap control and limiting Miami’s offense to the perimeter – as one could imagine. Austin Czarnik, Chris Wideman and Alden Hirschfeld showed their true talents in the 3rd (Miami outshot Lowell 18-8) as Czarnik and Hirschfeld tallied once each and Wideman assisted on another 3rd period goal. As was evident in previous NCAA affairs for the Red Hawks, it was a case of a non 60 minute effort that plagued the team.

For Lowell, despite the fact that they would lose to Union in the Regional Final, once the emotional disappointment wears off, the River Hawk faithful will be able to look back on this season and truly appreciate the seemingly impossible strides the team made. As is often the case with young, up and coming teams, they are streaky at times and can falter on the big stage because of a lack of experience. Much of the credit goes to Norm Bazin (recently named CHN coach of the year) as well as some veteran leadership from the likes of senior, Matt Ferreira and David Vallorani. To transition from a 5 win doormat to a 23-12-1, NCAA Regional final squad is something to be proud of.

Bazin had this to say in a recent CHN article compiled by Steve McLaughlin:

 “I was very fortunate that I have a very strong group of seniors that were able to have an influence on buying in,” Bazin said. “I think everybody followed. It’s guys like Matt Ferreira that I’m gonna miss dearly. He’s a battler, he’s a warrior and he’s a good two-way player. I think Michael Budd and David Vallorani did an admirable job, and certainly Timmy Corcoran was very good also. All four seniors were real catalysts in starting that trend.”

 The leadership is in place..Norm Bazin will continue to scour both traditional New England and non traditional markets for prospects.. the fanbase is back in full effect as over 5,ooo fans packed the Tsongas Center each and every night (Lowell had been void of an NCAA berth since 1996)…the program reached its nadir point in 2010-2011 and all signs point to a consistent rise moving forward.

Beholden to Ben Holden

 As I was entrenched in ESPNU’s coverage of the four regions, the glaring difference in the quality and knowledge base of the pxp announcers ESPN assigned to cover the NCAA Hockey Tournament was disparate to say the least. In listening to Barry Melrose and Anson Carter refer to Lowell as UMass on several occasions – amongst several other gaffes; it was obvious that ESPN just

Ben Holden - NCAA Hockey Announcer Extraordinaire

Ben Holden - NCAA Hockey Announcer Extraordinaire

threw a rag tag bunch together who seemed as if they had yet to watch a college game all year. Can you imagine Bill Raftery or Jay Bilas calling the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, “Wisconsin” or the University of Texas-Arlington “Texas”? Preposterous…wouldn’t happen because they are experts in their given field. It is sad that college hockey is lumped into the macro TV contact ESPN has with the NCAA because the sport would be better served on a network like NBC Sports – which understands the game and actually covers it throughout the regular season.

I could go on and on about the poor coverage offered by the mothership, but I digress. My unabashed criticism of ESPN’s coverage comes to an abrupt halt as I turn my attention to the pxp voice of the Midwest region this past weekend in Green Bay. Although I have listened to the esteemed, veteran announcer, Ben Holden sparingly over the past several years, I really took notice of his work over the weekend. I overheard someone refer to him as the Verne Lundquist of college hockey and I couldn’t agree more. Holden has a wealth of knowledge, mostly stemming from his in depth work with the CCHA(CCHA Now host) -also affiliated with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters – and possesses a distinct, excitable voice that seems to be synonymous with the palpable, NCAA hockey action much like Mike Emrick personifies NHL playoff hockey. You can tell that Holden is a man that studies the game and is explicitly involved with the college hockey scene 365 days a year; just the resume one should expect from its NCAA pxp folks.

Despite my harsh criticism of Melrose and the ESPN ad hoc in studio crew, I must give credit where credit is due. Barry Melrose in his glib, off the cuff fashion, predicted a BC/Union final that was scoffed at by many experts, including myself (damn right I am calling myself an expert). Melrose looks like a clairvoyant of sorts as we sit here today…we will see how things shale out in the Frozen Four semis before we further applaud his prognostication skills.

 Hand out the Trophy after the Minnesota/BC game

Ostensibly, the Final game of the Frozen Four will be played on Saturday April 7th in Tampa, FL..but truthfully, the game between BC and Minnesota should be deemed the championship. In watching both teams play over the weekend, it was evidently clear to me that BC and Minnesota have swarms of talent that distance themselves considerably from the rest of the pack. No offense to Ferris St. and Union, but the game to watch this weekend is the Eagle/Gopher matchup. This tilt has the cache, the historical relevance and features a wealth of NHL caliber talent that make this one of the most highly anticipated matchups in recent Frozen Four memory.

Because I thoroughly enjoy throwing out endless analogies, I will compare this BC/Minny semifinal game to the Patriots/Colts AFC final back in 2006 when the winner of that heavyweight matchup was awarded a chance to take on the Rex Grossman lead Chicago Bears in the Superbowl..everyone and their mother was keenly aware that whomever won that AFC Title game could’ve been handed the Lombardi Trophy right on the spot in Indianapolis…I feel much the same about this Eagle/Gopher match up.

The USCHO’s Todd Milewski touched on this very subject in his article yesterday, referring appropriately to Ferris and Union as neophytes. Minnesota and Boston College are veterans of the stage and their traditions date back generations – BC actually participated in the original Frozen Four back in 1948.

Milewski’s article spoke to the experience level both Minnesota and BC have in the NCAA’s:

“Boston College is a Frozen Four original: It was part of the first event in 1948 along with Michigan, Colorado College and Dartmouth. This is its 23rd trip to the national semifinals — second all-time to Michigan’s 24 — and fifth in the last seven seasons.”

“Minnesota is making its 20th Frozen Four appearance, with five NCAA championship banners (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003) in the Mariucci Arena rafters.”

Minnesota won the first ever matchup between the two schools, 14-1, but BC holds the current bragging rights having beaten Minnesota in the 2008 Northeast Regional, 5-2, in BC’s home away from home, the DCU Center in Wuuustahhh. BC is making its 10th appearance in the Frozen Four since 1997-1998 and will be looking to add some hardware to the already superfluous supply in the Conte Forum display. Boston College is 43-38 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 30-9 in the tournament under head coach Jerry York.

One final note, man was I wrong about Parker Milner – did not think he was a top notch tender (it’s in writing folks). I wrote my NCAA Tournament preview how I thought BC’s strong defensive corps would be so stout in front of Parker Milner, that he would only be relied on for key saves. Milner did more than just make routine, timely saves over the weekend; a number of his saves were of the stellar variety. Milner seems so poised and confident and is rarely out of place; his focus on, not the first, but second save is what has been most impressive. This is a scary ingredient for both Minnesota and whatever sacrificial lamb makes its way out of the Union/Ferris game.

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