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Commentary: It’s time to give the ECAC its due

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — College hockey fans, take note: It’s time to finally admit it, ECAC Hockey is one very good hockey league right now.

Yes, I’m a Hockey East guy. And, yes, if you’ve talked to me in recent years the ECAC has often been my go-to punch line. But I’m ready to step up and say that this year’s ECAC is one impressive bunch.

It took me until the field of four ready to head to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four was assembled to make this admission, mostly because there didn’t seem to be a reason before now. You had a runaway regular season champion in Quinnipiac that faltered down the stretch followed by what on the outside appeared to be a bunch of also-rans.

But now, with the field for this year’s NCAA Frozen Four set, you have two teams from the ECAC — Yale and Quinnipiac — heading to the Steel City.

Yes, that is the same Yale that had what many figured was an impossible path to the Frozen Four. Standing in its way was Minnesota, a team that most believed should have been the top overall seed (see below: lack of respect for Quinnipiac). Not only did the Bulldogs upset the Gophers, they followed it up with an improbable comeback against North Dakota in the regional final.

Then there is Quinnipiac. I personally called them frauds on a few occasions leading into the tournament. In my defense, after the Bobcats finally climbed to the top of the national rankings, they became mediocre at best down the stretch.

I picked the Q to lose to Canisius on Saturday in the opening game of the tournament. And while that almost was a reality — the Bobcats had to score three goals in the last seven minutes to rally for a 4-3 win — Quinnipiac’s 5-1 decimation of Union in Sunday’s East Regional final made me a believer. This team has everything it takes to win a national title.

“I felt extremely confident we were going to be good tonight,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said.

And then there is Union. The Dutchmen ended the ECAC’s drought in the Frozen Four last year, making the first appearance for the league since Cornell in 2003. One could say they were the injectors of belief into the ECAC teams themselves. The one-time doormats of the league made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2011 under coach Nate Leaman. Then, after his departure last season, they reached the Frozen Four, falling short of the national title game in losing a close game to Ferris State.

Despite Sunday’s defeat, Union helped earn further respect by dismantling Boston College — yes, that Boston College that had won three of the last five national titles — in Saturday’s opening round.

“I thought they were awesome last night the way they dominated Boston College,” Pecknold said of that win. “That was a big win for our league.”

For Union, the question at these tournaments has consistently been about what this win or that win does to put this team on the map.

“Hopefully that map is getting smaller,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “That question is getting old.”

I ran into ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell before Sunday’s game. Let me tell you, he looked like the most relaxed man in Rhode Island. He loves the thought that both ECAC teams will play in separate semifinals in Pittsburgh, possibly setting up an all-ECAC final. Someone asked, wouldn’t you rather have them play to guarantee a team in the title game? His response was that his view is more optimistic.

And why not be? Let’s compare what the ECAC has done as opposed to the rest of the nation this weekend.

Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA each got two teams into the tournament and neither will be in Pittsburgh. (One of those two may be more surprising, seeing as the CCHA had a 50-50 chance of winning the Midwest Regional).

Hockey East placed three teams in the tournament. And while Massachusetts-Lowell beat fellow league member New Hampshire in the regional final to head to its first Frozen Four, Boston College was hardly Boston College.

And then there’s the WCHA. The chest-thumpers of college hockey were given six NCAA bids. Six. They were 50-50 in three separate regionals to come out on top and only St. Cloud State can fly the league’s banner. Not exactly impressive.

The college hockey landscape, as most know, is about to change dramatically. The CCHA is now officially gone. The WCHA will never look the same again. And the job of being college hockey’s ego may have shifted to the Big Ten and the NCHC.

So maybe it’s appropriate that for the first time since 1991 no team with a multi-million dollar FBS athletic program will appear in the Frozen Four. It’s also apropos that college hockey will have a first-time national champion with four teams in the Frozen Four that have never been there in college hockey’s modern era.

Back to the ECAC. It might have been Union’s Bennett that best summed up the difficultly of that league this year.

“It speaks volumes to get [ECAC] teams to the Frozen Four back-to-back and not just one, but two,” Bennett said. “It says a lot about how tough it is to get through our league. Not more than eight days ago, you’re holding the trophy and now I’m up here trying to answer these questions about why we lost.

“I wish Yale and Quinnipiac the best. There can only be one winner I and hope it’s someone from the ECAC.”

Seen and heard around the Northeast Regional

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Wisconsin and head coach Mike Eaves enters Friday’s NCAA first-round game as one of the hottest teams in the country.

The only problem is that the team they’re facing on Friday, top-seeded Massachusetts-Lowell, is the only team hotter.

Asked what stands out to him or concerns him most about the matchup with Lowell, the answer was a direct one.

“In watching video, first thing that jumps out is the size of their goaltender,” said Eaves, making his sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament with Wisconsin. “He covers a lot of net. You look at his numbers they’re outstanding.”

Eaves says he is also quite impressed by the River Hawks ability to transition the puck from defense to offense, calling their game simple.

“The people in front of [Lowell netminder Connor Hellebuyck] do a pretty nice job of blocking out,” Eaves noted. “They play a very simple game of getting the puck up the glass and out.

“Their forwards do a real good job of coming back in their zone. They don’t give you a lot in front of the net and that’s one of the reasons the goaltender’s numbers are so good.”

Passing the Helle-buyck

If college hockey had preseason all-Americans, there is little doubt that Lowell goaltender Doug Carr would have made that list.

Having come off a stellar sophomore year that included an appearance in the NCAA East Regional final, Carr shined on the biggest stage making highlight reel saves in last year’s NCAA tournament.

But as the 2012-13 season went on for the River Hawks, it was clear that another goaltender was emerging as a brilliant star. That culminated last weekend when Connor Hellebuyck, who became Carr’s permanent replacement on February 15, starting 13 straight games heading into Friday’s NCAA Northeast regional, earned the William Flynn Award as Hockey East’s tournament MVP.

While oftentimes you’d refer to such a situation as a goaltending controversy, Lowell captain Riley Wetmore said that the transition has been very smooth.

“It wasn’t that difficult at all,” said Wetmore of the transition from Carr to Hellebuyck. “Doug’s great off the ice. He works with Connor. At the beginning of the season, they were working together all the time.

“We knew they were going to compete in practice to see who was the better goalie or to see who is on that day. It’s just sort of worked out for us this year.”

Protecting the gate

The NCAA tournament committee often times has to work to move teams around in the regional brackets to ensure each regional has strong attendance. That hardly was necessary in Manchester.

With Lowell earning a #1 seed, they were guaranteed to play in the Northeast Regional as was host New Hampshire. Then adding Denver and Wisconsin, two teams that travel well, and you might even see a sellout for Friday’s opening round.

According to a tournament spokesperson, Wisconsin sold its entire 600 ticket allotment provided to the school. UNH did the same if not more.  Lowell said they sold 600 and received and sold 600 more which have already sold out as well.  The box office walkup and online orders have also been very strong.

“I’m excited to see any blue jerseys come through and support out team,” said Lowell head coach Norm Bazin, whose River Hawks team drew upwards of 5,000 of their fans to the TD Garden for the Hockey East tournament.

For Lowell fans who don’t make the 30-minute drive north, there is a viewing party at the Tsongas Center, Lowell’s home rink, on Friday and again on Saturday if Lowell wins.

If there is one school that should have the most fans it is host New Hampshire, whose fans have known for quite some time that the Wildcats would be playing in the regional.

“Tomorrow night is going to be a great night because Lowell is going to be here as well,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “I think it’s going to be a great regional and possibly the best regional in the country.”

PairWise Predictor gets workout from Denver

After the Denver Pioneers were knocked out of the WCHA tournament by Colorado College in the quarterfinal round, it was a bit of a pins and needles ride for the team which hoped to still earn an NCAA bid.

Denver, in fact, was the only team to punch its ticket last Friday night despite being idle. Enough results had gone DU’s way that they were a mathematical lock. That didn’t mean the players weren’t nervous.

“We ran through a bunch of scenarios in the PairWise Predictor all week,” said senior captain Paul Phillips. “We had a pretty good thought we were going to make it but still weren’t sure, so we were sitting around hoping.”

Head coach George Gwozdecky, who admitted he doesn’t like to play with the numbers like many of his staff and players do, hopes to take a page out of the book from 2004, when Denver was also eliminated by CC in the quarterfinals but came back to win four straight NCAA tournament games and the first of two straight national titles.

“What we tried to do as a staff that Monday morning after we lost to Colorado College in the first round of the playoffs, we started talking about what we did in 2004,” said Gwozdecky. “There were so many parallels between that team and that season.

“We wanted to see if we could emulate [what we did in 2004] to see if some of those parallels will continue.”

Wildcats looking for a fresh start

UNH players admitted on Friday that the second half of the season has hardly been what they expected. Struggles down the stretch culminated with a loss in the Hockey East quarterfinals to Providence.

That is what makes the opportunity to keep the season going with an NCAA bid so exciting.

“In the beginning of the year, we really wanted to make a statement nationally,” said UNH senior John Henrion. “We got off to a good start but then got behind the 8-ball in the second half. We feel this is a fresh beginning for us going into the tournament here. It’s a second opportunity and we’re ready to take advantage of it.”

If the Wildcats are to be successful, head coach Dick Umile says they’ll need to be able to score goals, something that was what he said was the team’s biggest struggle in the second half.

“We had difficult scoring goals, that was the biggest thing that happened to us [in the second half,” said Umile. “We fell behind in a lot of the game. There was only two games where we got the first goal. Not that that is the answer but it seemed like we were always fighting from behind.”

Commentary: Is NCAA ice hockey held hostage by ESPN?

The Worldwide Leader in Sports – the self-proclaimed title given to ESPN – has done a lot to help grow the NCAA men’s ice hockey championship over the years.  Now, though, it seems like “that network” is doing everything to hurt this tournament when interest in the event is at an all-time high.

Back in the tournament’s growth spurt of the early 1990s, you can point directly to ESPN’s programming that included putting the national title game on TV in prime time on a Saturday night with the late Tom Mees serving as the passionate play-by-play voice as a reason for the sport’s growth.

Back then, the move was sensible for ESPN as it also had broadcast rights for the NHL and hockey was a major part of the network.

The result was positive. At one point a few years back, almost every game of the tournament was given prominent positioning in the ESPN lineup. Even in the regular season, ESPNU was the broadcast home for a number of games from many of the top schools.

But in recent years, college hockey seemingly has become an afterthought for ESPN, particularly in college hockey’s most important time — the postseason. And as an outsider, it certainly looks like the Worldwide Leader has the NCAA by the “you-know-what.”

ESPN has plenty of leverage with the NCAA. They broadcast some of their less compelling championships — most notably women’s basketball and softball — and also give a prominent position to some of the higher-rated events such as the College World Series and the men’s lacrosse tournaments, two events that annually rival men’s hockey as the top revenue-generating championships for the NCAA behind basketball.

But ESPN seems to be taking too much advantage of its leverage, something on display throughout this weekend’s regional tournaments.

A number of regional games were not shown on live television (in this Internet world, is there any other kind?) unless the participating teams could convince local or regional networks to fork over ESPN’s syndication fees to broadcast these games.

The most egregious example of this came on Saturday afternoon when ESPNU decided to show a college lacrosse regular season doubleheader live instead of showing the North Dakota-Western Michigan West Regional semifinal, a battle of the CCHA and WCHA playoff champs. Want to see that? Head over to ESPN3, where your ability to see the puck is subject to the speed of your Internet connection (that and being on a network that ESPN supports).

Lacrosse again caused a mishap later in the afternoon when Johns Hopkins and Virginia’s 2 p.m. game went into overtime, preempting the first 24 minutes of the Boston College-Air Force 4 p.m. opener in the Northeast Regional. That was the third time in four years that ESPNU’s lacrosse schedule ran into the first NCAA hockey game on Saturday.

Now, as Sunday has arrived, fans in Worcester must wait until 8 p.m. for the regional final between top-seeded BC and defending national champ Minnesota-Duluth.

The odds of Worcester even having a half-full house are slim. What parent is going to travel with their kids from Boston to Worcester knowing full well that, even if the game ends in regulation, they won’t arrive home until well after midnight and that is if the game doesn’t go to overtime?

This was on display a year ago when New Hampshire and Notre Dame faced off in a similar 8 p.m. regional final in front of a half full house in New Hampshire.

It’s tough enough that regional locations are in somewhat obscure places for travel like Green Bay, Bridgeport and Worcester, but holding the games at such obtuse times simply takes away from student-athletes’ experience to play the biggest game of their life — in front of a half-empty arena.

I know I’m not alone on this rationale. Saturday night, the usually mild-mannered BC head coach Jerry York was massively vocal in his displeasure of having to play at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night.

“I just wish the game was earlier and a little more user-friendly for our audience here in Worcester,” said York. “It’s great for TV, but it’s going to be very difficult for us to draw a big house on a Sunday night at 8 o’clock.

“It boggles my mind that Worcester and all the money they put into this that they can’t get a better game time than 8 o’clock on a Sunday night.”

All of this comes at a time when two networks — CBS Sports Network (formerly CBS College Sports) and NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) — are champing at the bit to cover college hockey. Both networks dedicated significant resources toward robust regular-season TV deals (in the case of NBC, a postseason deal with Hockey East). You would think that either, if given the chance, would give this NCAA championship the appropriate treatment and coverage.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like something that will change soon. It had the chance. The ESPN TV contract was to expire at the end of this season. That was until the NCAA signed a 12-year extension last December that gives ESPN exclusive rights to NCAA tournament broadcasts (with the exception of men’s basketball, owned by CBS, though ESPN gets the international broadcast rights for that tournament) through the 2023-24 season.

I may be the only one who sees it as ironic that college hockey’s ugly step-sister treatment this season (which includes moving one of the the national semifinals from ESPN2 to ESPNU, a network many people don’t get in their homes, and the national title game from the flagship ESPN to ESPN2) coincides with this signing. It seems as if ESPN knows that they have the NCAA hostage when it comes to this championship.

Jerry York is right. Regional host cities put a significant amount of effort and money into hosting, as do those cities that bid and host the Frozen Four. It’s just too bad that the regional is diminished by the power and control of one network that doesn’t seem to care much about hockey anymore.

For Michigan State, the wait was long

Everyone knows hockey players love to watch hockey on television.

So it may seem ironic that on a critically important night where outcomes of various other college hockey games – most of them televised – would affect Michigan State’s NCAA future, that many players chose not to watch any hockey.

Michigan State was eliminated from the CCHA tournament in the quarterfinals a weekend earlier. That’s when the waiting began, a painful grind that didn’t provide any outcome until after all conference championship games were played.

“I didn’t watch any of the games,” admitted Spartans junior forward Anthony Hayes. “It’s hard to watch hockey when you know how much of your fate depends on and you’re completely helpless.”

Senior forward Trevor Nill was just like Hayes. He couldn’t watch the conference finals last Saturday, but admits, he knew what needed to happen to get the Spartans to the tournament.

“Me personally, the USCHO PairWise Predictor was the number one visited site on my computer,” said Nill. “I didn’t get a chance to watch any games but the scoreboard updating and the PairWise Predictor were always on the screen.”

Junior defenseman Torey Krug wasn’t going to hide. He watched every single game (except the ECAC title game, he admits, because that was online pay-per-view and he didn’t want to spend the $10). He did, though, realize the irony that accompanied that ECAC final.

“It’s unique because we were rooting for Union College to win and here we are facing Union,” Krug said of Sparty’s first round opponent.

The players were a little varied in how they handled the stress. But first-year head coach Tom Anastos admitted that he was glued to the tube all night on Saturday.

“I have a set up at my home that has three TVs,” said Anastos. “I went to the CCHA third-place game to watch that live, then went home and watched the three championship games (Hockey East, CCHA, WCHA) on TV.

“I was only following the live score of the Union game and I finally caved in and paid the 10 bucks for the final period.”

That, of course, became money well spent when the Dutchmen rallied from a 1-0 third period deficit to win 3-1.

Seen and heard around the East Regional…

With all four teams practicing Thursday at the East Regional, there were plenty of quotable moments.

  • Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin kicked off his press conference on Thursday by introducing leading scorer Jack Connolly as Zac Brown from the Zac Brown Band. I’ll admit that I had to do a Google image search for Zac Brown, but after looking at the photo, I see Sandelin’s point. Of course, Connolly is sporting a playoff beard that would make any NHLer jealous.
  • Sandelin’s Bulldogs may not have felt very welcome when they arrived at their hotel, the Courtyard Marriott in nearby Shelton, Conn. When they arrived at breakfast Thursday morning, the sign outside of the room read: “University of Minnesota.” Said Sandelin, “They’re going to change that in a hurry.”
  • When asked what concerns him about Minnesota-Duluth, Union coach Nate Leaman quickly quipped, “The weather,” saying he wouldn’t want to live there. He quickly recanted. “I didn’t mean that. Hopefully that doesn’t go into print in the Duluth paper. I’ve never been to Duluth, so I can’t say that.”
  • Leaman referenced the 2010 ECAC tournament when talking about how he’s prepared his team for this weekend’s NCAA tournament, noting that he didn’t prepare his team for all the media attention and hype a year ago. This time around Leaman, who was part of the Maine coaching staff in 1999 that won the national title, imparted as much knowledge as he could on his team which is making its first NCAA tournament appearance.
  • The ever-quotable Air Force coach Frank Serratore didn’t disappoint when he took the podium. When asked about having beaten Yale earlier this season in Colorado Spring, Serratore joked, “Because we beat them, I think they should have to beat us twice to be able to move on. Tomorrow, if they win we’ll go down to the Yale Whale and have the rubber game.”
  • Serratore talked about how playing in front of a hostile environment for last week’s Atlantic Hockey title (Air Force beat RIT in Rochester in the finals) will prepare his team to face Yale less than an hour from their campus on Friday: “We played that championship game against RIT and there was like 4,500 people in there. It was all orange in there. It looked like a pumpkin convention.”
  • This is Air Force and Serratore’s fourth trip to the NCAA Regional but its first since losing to Vermont in double overtime in the regional final in Bridgeport. Some may remember that the winning goal was scored on a puck that went through the net and some 20 minutes later – after a whistle finally halted play and the officials reviewed the goal on video – the goal was awarded. Remembering back to that game, Serratore quipped, “It’s not often technology works against the Air Force but it did that night.”
  • Serratore said that in the first meeting between Yale and Air Force this season, a 4-3 win for the Falcons in which they scored the final four goals of the game, that he believed the altitude in Colorado played a factor in Yale becoming fatigued late in the game. When Yale coach Keith Allain was asked about that, he dodged the question with rare humor: “I can’t translate for coach Serratore. He talks real fast.”
  • Many wanted to ask Allain about the possibility of his team reaching the Frozen Four for the first time in more than half a century. Asked if he realized what was at stake this weekend, Allain wanted nothing to do with referencing a Frozen Four berth. “What’s at stake is if you don’t win tomorrow, you don’t play anymore,” said Allain.

BC's York Reflects on Tournament's Growth on Eve of History

DETROIT — Perhaps no one in Ford Field this weekend will have as much experience in Frozen Fours as Boston College head coach Jerry York.

York, who played in the Frozen Four in 1965, falling to Colorado College in the title game as a member of the Eagles, not only has led BC to the national title twice (2001, 2008), he also coached Bowling Green (led by captain Wayne Wilson, who will coach RIT this weekend in Detroit) to national title game in 1984.

To say that this event has grown since then would be an understatement. But as this years event moves to its biggest landscape of all time, Ford Field, where the attendance is expect to exceed 30,000, York put the growth into perspective.

I think back to 1984 in Lake Placid, it was a sold out building, it was loud, there was a lot of energy in the building, said York. I had played in the mid 60s at Brown when there were 3,000 people at an NCAA championship game. There was energy in the building. There was a lot of excitement. So theres a lot of parallels with Frozen Fours as you go through the years.

Now whats happened is its gone from 3,000 to 8,000 to who knows, 33 or 35 thousand tomorrow. Whats happened is the world has found out how tremendous our college hockey game has become. The enthusiasm of the fans generally earlier it was just the participants fans that were there now were getting fans from all the conferences despite whoever is playing in the game.

I think the energy and the enthusiasm of the coaches, the athletes is the same. Now the world is finding out that with college hockey we better get to Anaheim, we better get to Milwaukee, we better get to Detroit to watch this event.

One Shining Moment

DETROIT The NCAA mens basketball tournament has become famous in past years for splicing together a highlight video from the 65-team event that airs prior to the national championship game called, One Shining Moment.

During the layoff between the regional tournament and the Frozen Four, the Boston College staff put together a video, not of shining moments from this years tournament, but instead of great championship moments from sports history.

From Muhammed Alis knockout of Joe Frazier to the 1980 Olympic Team, if theres been a championship moment, this video had it.

The video, which originally was put together by someone outside of Boston College, was then edited by the staff to include some of Boston Colleges great championship moments over the year, such as Krys Kolanos national championship overtime game-winning goal in 2001. The two versions were shown to the team, first without the BC highlights and second with the Eagles historic moments.

When asked about the video, many of the players had different memories and items they enjoyed. When BC goaltender John Muse was asked about it what he liked most, his answer was pretty strange.

I liked it because it was pretty short, said Muse, conjuring up laughter from the media thinking he was referencing a problem with attention deficit disorder.

Muse, though, went on to explain.

You realize that the great moments in sports dont happen all the time. There are very few great moments in sports. Being able to put yourself into the DVD is great because you realize that opportunity doesnt come every day.

Were here with an opportunity that may not come again (winning a national championship). We have to put ourselves in the present right now and realize we have such a great opportunity. We have to come ready to go tomorrow and have our best game. Not only tomorrow but throughout the weekend.

Home Field Advantage for Eagles?

DETROIT No team has ever played a hockey game on Ford Field. But that doesnt mean Boston College doesnt have a bit of a home ice advantage heading into Thursdays national semifinal game at the Frozen Four in Detroit.

The Eagles may not have played on Ford Field, but that have played on the ice that is now sitting on the field.

Boston College faced Boston University at Fenway Park in January on a special game played after the National Hockey League hosted the annual Winter Classic at the historic ballpark.

The exact same ice system that was used in that game is being used at Ford Field this weekend, according to Dan Craig, the ice guru for the NHL who engineered the temporary ice rink.

Boston College lost the Fenway game, 3-2, but hopes to maybe take the little bit of experience on the temporary ice into Thursdays game.

Weve been following the construction throughout the week, said BC alternate captain Ben Smith. There was a lot of anticipation getting out there today. Its pretty cool out there. A unique experience.

It feels a little bit different, said BC captain Matt Price, when asked to compare the ice to Fenways. The stars arent there when you look up.

But is there any sort of advantage to having played on the actual ice before?

Weve got a sense for the board a little bit, said Price.

Maybe thats enough.

Muse Remains Confident in Net for Eagles

DETROIT When this season began, Boston College goaltender John Muse was the teams biggest question. Coming off surgery in the summer to repair his hip, head coach Jerry York wondered if wed see the standout netminder before November.

When he appeared in net, though, to start the season, many were shocked. But a somewhat slow start and inconsistent play at times saw Muse on the bench heading into the playoff run. Freshman Parker Milner played made four straight and five of six starts between February 21 and the teams opening playoff game on March 12.

It was that March 12 contest, though, a 6-5 win over Massachusetts, that Milner, for the first time looked a bit jittery in net. The net night, Muse was back between the pipes and has been there ever since.

Parker was playing great, said Muse, the day before his team faces Miami in the national semifinal at the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit. When you have a hot goalie, you dont change it up.

Point taken, certainly. Which might make some wonder if York ever thought about going back to Milner after the team 9-7 regional final victory over Yale. Muse surrendered a career-high seven goals, just a week after matching his previous career mark of six goals allowed in the Hockey East title game, a 7-6 overtime win over Maine.

Muse, though, was never concerned whether or not hed be the starter on Thursday in Detroit

As for the Yale game, they scored a bunch of goals, but a wins a win, said Muse. Thats all were looking for right now.

Wake Up Call for the Terriers

MANCHESTER, N.H. On paper, top seeded Boston University looks by far like the hottest team in this weekends Northeast Regional. The Terriers have just two losses since Christmas and are the only club of the four participants to have won its league championship last weekend.

If you listened to head coach Jack Parker speak, though, heading into the tournament, you might never know that. Parker was disappointed with his teams effort down the stretch, through the Hockey East quarterfinals and even last weekend when the Terriers beat Boston College and Mass.-Lowell to win the Hockey East title.

So its no surprise, then, when asking the players what the past week of practice was like it didnt sound very much like a Club Med atmosphere.

We got in a few kids faces [at practice], said senior co-captain Matt Gilroy. I think we got the wins last week and that was important. But the atmosphere in practice all week was that we had to work real hard. We really got after each other and were really excited to get to the national tournament right now.

Its always been difficult to judge whether the team is ready to play tonight or ready to play this week, said Parker when asked what to expect on Saturday night. We had a good week of practice and the kids seem to be enthusiastic. The stars seem to be aligned properly and we just came off a big win. But you never know whats going to happen with the emotions of a tournament. You never know what will happen with the pressure of an NCAA tournament.

Get Out the Measuring Tape

Parker, during his teams practice on the Verizon Wireless Arena ice on Friday, pulled out a tape measure and began measuring the space between the lines. His findings were that the rink sets up as expected, with 64-foot neutral zones, matching what is suggested by the NCAA.

When I looked at [the neutral zone] upstairs, it looked bigger than our rink, said Parker. When I looked at it on the ice, it looked normal. I just wanted to see what it was.

Back to Parkers Roots

Ohio State is not a very familiar opponent for the Terriers. Saturdays game will be the first between the two schools in the NCAA tournament and the two teams have met just twice ever, both in holiday tournaments and both won by BU.

For Parker, though, one of those games may be more memorable. BUs contest with Ohio State on December 28, 1973 at the Rensselaer Tournament in Troy, N.Y., was just Parkers second game behind the BU bench. Parker had taken over the reigns at Christmas time when Leon Abbott was let go by the school. Parkers Terriers beat Dartmouth in the opening game of the tournament, then faced Ohio State the next evening.

For the record, BU won that game, 6-5.

Wilson Has Added Incentive

Colin Wilson may be a tad more familiar with Ohio State than the rest of the Terriers as hes played with Buckeyes John Albert, Joseph Palmer, and C.J. Severyn prior to arriving on campus. The four guys skated together on the U.S. Under-18 Team in the National Team Development Program before embarking on college careers.

Its obviously going to be an exciting game here, said Wilson. Playing against old teammates makes it a little bit more exciting; it makes me want to win just a little bit more to get a little bragging rights against those guys.

BU History 101 with Jack Parker

Theyve won the Ice Breaker Tournament, the Denver Cup, the Hockey East regular season, and the Hockey East Championshipso where does the 2008-09 Terriers rank among the other clubs in BU history?

I think its pretty easy to say who the best teams are in BU history, said Parker. Its the teams that won the national tournament. You measure everybody else to them. The best team that didnt win the national tournament would probably be the 76 team and maybe the 96 team. The 96 team was probably the best team, but it was the most difficult year; that was the year of the Travis Roy injury. It was a difficult year for everybody on that team; we were defending national champions and we lost in the semifinals of the national tournament. This years team is as good a team as Ive ever coached up until this point in the season. It remains to be seen whether or not, you know, if theyll join the other four as the best in BU history.

Playing Against the Hunter

BU coach Jack Parker was very well aware that his first round opponent, Ohio State, has already beaten the other three number one seeds: Michigan, Notre Dame and Denver.

He hopes his club doesnt become the fourth.

Theyre probably thinking, Heres another number one seed to beat, said Parker. Theyve beaten some good teams and were going to have our hands full.

Melissa Parrelli contributed to this report.