The buildup began today for the 2002 Frozen Four when coaches from the respective schools participated in a media conference call.
This year’s Frozen Four takes place April 4 and 6 in St. Paul, Minn., at the XCel Energy Center, home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, a stone’s throw from the University of Minnesota, one of the participating schools.
That makes Gophers coach Don Lucia a host of sorts, although, he said his team won’t have a large home-ice advantage.
“We’re not going to have the home-ice advantage we had in the WCHA tournament because tickets are far more spread out,” said Lucia, who makes his third trip to the Frozen Four after two appearances with Colorado College. “So I think it will be a great atmosphere.”
Minnesota hosted the Final Five, but after defeating St. Cloud in the semis, lost to Denver in the final. Denver faced a similar situation in the West Regional, facing host Michigan in the second round, but did not have the same success. As a result, Michigan is the only team in this year’s Frozen Four that returns from last year.
Michigan and Minnesota play in the late game on Thursday, April 4 (6:30 CT), while Maine and New Hampshire play the early game (12:30 CT).
“Minnesota put on a clinic against us [in the last meeting],” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, whose Wolverines lost to the Gophers, 5-2, in the College Hockey Showcase. “We’re going into their barn now and their territory. Don Lucia has done a great job with that team.”
Michigan and Minnesota are tied with the most wins in NCAA tournament history, 40, but the programs have not met in the Frozen Four since the Wolverines defeated the Gophers for the 1953 national championship in Colorado Springs, Colo.
On the other hand, Maine and New Hampshire are no strangers. They faced each other three times during the Hockey East regular season, and met in the conference tournament championship at the Fleet Center in Boston just 10 days ago.
“We’ve seen New Hampshire four times already,” said Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead, who took over in September after coach Shawn Walsh lost his battle with cancer. “There won’t be a lot of secrets. … We have a ton of respect for them and how they play. We know we have our hands full.”
The teams each won on home ice in the regular season, then tied at Maine. UNH won the tournament championship, 3-1.
The two teams also met for the 1999 national championship in Anaheim, which Maine won in overtime.
“There are no secrets,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “I don’t even know if we’ll watch any tape. We’ll probably get confused if we do.
“We had a terrific game agianst Cornell [to get here]. They’re as big and strong a team as we’ve played all season.”
All the coaches agreed that both semifinals should be great games, and to expect an up and down style.
“We’re coming to play,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, reflecting a common sentiment. “We’re not coming to hang on or play a trap. There’s no particular strategy. We need our players to have a good game.”
Said Umile, “Donny’s the young guy with all the hair, Red’s the older guy with all the experience. So it should be a heckuva matchup.”
The only other time two Eastern teams and two Westerns teams faced each other at the Frozen Four was 1961, when RPI played St. Lawrence, and Denver faced Minnesota.
Normally, the brackets cross over in the semifinals, regardless of seed. But this year, teams stayed in their home region, and because the No. 1 team (UNH) and No. 4 team (BU) wound up in the same region, while No. 2 (Denver) and No. 3 (Minnesota) did likewise, the committee just ran with it, creating a guaranteed East-West final.
“The coaches don’t have much of a say in that,” said Lucia. “It is a little bid odd to have lost some of the national flavor of the tournament, to have six and six and no crossover. That was a decision that was made … Hopefully in the future that won’t happen again.”
U.S. College Hockey Online will provide in-depth pre-game show coverage of all Frozen Four games, 90 minutes prior to each semifinal and two hours before the championship game (Details). The semifinals will be televised on ESPN2, and the Championship Game will be on ESPN.
With three great games on tap for the Frozen Four, fans will get their fill of great hockey. But if the games aren’t enough to satisfy your appetite, feel free watch your favorite team practice on Wednesday, April 3.
Maine will begin the practice sessions that day at 10:45 A.M., followed by New Hampshire at noon, Michigan at 1:15 P.M. and Minnesota at 2:30 P.M. All practices are open to the public and held at the Xcel Energy Center.