DENVER — It’s extremely difficult to predict much in the game of college hockey, but as we head into Thursday’s opening semifinal game between Boston College and North Dakota, you almost get the feeling that people saw this game coming.
Ignore the fact that this is the third time the two teams have faced one another in the national semifinal (BC won the previous two.) Pay no attention to the fact that the two clubs split back-to-back NCAA title games in 2000 and 2001 or the fact that this is the seventh time in ten years the clubs will play in the national tournament.
The impetus for this harbinger took place in October.
A warm night in October and a packed house at BC’s Kelley Rink translated to less than ideal conditions. BC, which had two games halted in the previous two seasons because of fog inside the arena, had actually taken precautions prior to the North Dakota tilt. The building staff had ordered compressors from New Jersey and installed them the night before anticipating the unseasonable temperatures.
But even the finest laid plans go awry.
Despite testing the system on Thursday night, one of the compressors shorted just before Friday night’s faceoff. The result was a building-wide power outage that delayed the start of the game. At the same time, the temperature inside the building began to rise.
The clubs would play 40 minutes amid foggy conditions, but a second outage during the second intermission was more than anyone could handle. The ice slowly began to melt and by the time the power was restored, the damage was done.
At that point, the game was scoreless and — invoking a little-known NCAA ice hockey rule that allows results through two periods to count as official — the officials decided to halt the game. Both clubs posted a 0-0 tie in their records.
Given the two programs’ history in post-season play, each and every player and coach could only hope that they’d have another chance to square off in the NCAA tournament.
“When the game earlier in the year got canceled, we figured no one wants us to play in the middle of the year. Everyone wants to see us on the bigger stage at the end,” said BC forward Nathan Gerbe.
“After the disappointment of not getting to finish the game in October, we all started joking that if we were lucky enough to get to the post-season we’d definitely get the shot to finish the game,” said BC captain Matt Greene.
They’ve Been Here Before
Both North Dakota and Michigan have played at Pepsi Center before, in the West Regional last season.
The Sioux have the better memories of the occasion. They beat the Wolverines 8-5 in the semifinal before topping Minnesota 3-2 in overtime to earn a spot in the Frozen Four.
Will that experience give North Dakota a bit of an advantage in its national semifinal against Boston College?
“The familiarity is nice, but it pretty much ends once the puck drops,” Sioux goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux said. “Once the two teams are playing, those advantages are over. What it comes down to is which team is ready to play and which team executes better.”
North Dakota also has what could be considered an advantage in that it has more experience playing at high altitude than the Eagles.
“I know when I was a freshman coming in, playing CC and playing Denver, it was a big shock how much quicker you get tired,” North Dakota junior forward T.J. Oshie said. “Now I’m used to it, and I think all the rest of the guys are, too. So hopefully that’ll be a factor tomorrow.”
Oshie also said the Sioux feels at ease with the environment as a whole.
“I think it helps just being comfortable with the city,” he said. “We’re in the same hotel. We know where to go get breakfast. We have a routine here that we’ve already went through. The level of being comfortable, it makes it a little easier not having to try to find places to eat and knowing where to go.”
Rocking The Mustaches
At least North Dakota players seem to be taking the good-natured ribbing about their playoff mustaches in stride.
It happened again Tuesday night, when the UND players were walking around Denver’s Coors Field and drew some comments for the not-quite-fashionable expression of facial hair.
There is some history behind the idea. Sioux defenseman Taylor Chorney’s father, Marc, played on the 1980 UND national championship team, and pictures show him with a healthy mustache.
That and the desire to change fortunes brought out the mustaches.
“We’ve gone with the beards the last few years and it hasn’t quite got us over the hump,” Taylor Chorney said. “We decided this year we’d try something new and go with the mustache.”
Matt Watkins is widely regarded as having the best mustache of the group.
“Some of us aren’t as fortunate to be able to contribute as good as guys like Watty or Chorns, like myself,” Lamoureux said. “A few of the guys have tried to get some of the beard dye so you could enhance the look a little bit.”
Never Gets Old for York
This is BC coach Jerry York’s eighth time in 11 years sitting on the podium on Frozen Four media day representing Boston College. When asked if this feels any different from years past, York had one simple message: it certainly doesn’t get old.
“I genuinely feel even more excited this particular year,” admitted York. “It’s tough to say looking back how you feel going into Milwaukee, how you feel going into St. Louis. But when you advance out of the regionals with an overtime goal and you beat such a quality team as we did in Miami, you really get a great deal of satisfaction.”
York did acknowledge that everything surrounding the Frozen Four has come a long way in his time, which began as a player at Boston College in 1965. He also led Bowling Green to the Frozen Four in 1984, capturing the title.
“This event has become the pinnacle of college hockey,” said York. “In 1965, the national championship was played at Brown [University] that sat probably 3,500 people. To see where it’s come from, is great.”
• According to Barbara Matson of the Boston Globe, the 6:50 a.m. flight from Boston to Denver was loaded with Eagles fans … except for the two fans who were dressed head-to-toe in North Dakota gear.
One has to wonder if the pair were Boston University fans in disguise or the victims of a really bad connection flight from Grand Forks.
• Speaking of Boston scribes, Boston Herald long-time college beat writer John “Jocko” Connolly is attending his 25th Frozen Four this year. He saw three tournaments as a fan at the old Boston Garden in 1972, 1973 and 1974. He then jumped on his beat in 1984 in Lake Placid and has covered 22 of 24 tournaments since that time.
• Eagle captain Mike Brennan currently possesses one college hockey’s best Ironman streaks. The senior has never missed a game in his career, playing in 166 straight.
“Once I realized I wasn’t going to lead the team in scoring,” said Brennan, a blueliner, ” I decided to try to play every game.”
• UND players were impressed by the turnout for a student ticket sale for the Frozen Four this week. Tickets went on sale last Wednesday, but T.J. Oshie noticed four tents outside the sale location when he was going to class last Monday morning.
“I thought it was maybe some kind of survival course, but apparently they were waiting for tickets,” he said.
• North Dakota is hosting what it’s calling the world’s largest viewing party in Grand Forks during Thursday’s game. With the World Curling Championships taking over the main part of Ralph Engelstad Arena, hockey fans will pack into the Olympic rink building.
When that was brought up during North Dakota’s news conference, Hakstol said: “There’s only one place I’d rather be, and that’s right here.”