For Frozen Four newcomers, wow factor takes many forms

Plenty has been made since the Frozen Four field was determined on the complete inexperience of the four participants.

So just how starry-eyed are these teams now that they’ve spent a day or so in the Steel City? It depends on who you ask.

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Listening to Yale players talk, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal — just a game or two being played in a pretty cool NHL building.

“I think just playing at this beautiful rink is an unbelievable facility, unbelievable ice,” Bulldogs senior Andrew Miller said. “It’s a big stadium, so that doesn’t really affect anything that goes on between the glass for us.”

Junior Jesse Root, one of the offensive heroes in the regional tournament, agrees.

“We treat it as another game,” Root said. “We have to bring our focus and not really be distracted by all that’s here.”

When you talk to Massachusetts-Lowell, Yale’s opponent in Thursday’s national semifinal, you’ll get a much different response.

“I’d say for all of us, as soon as we got off the plane, Robert Morris had some cheerleaders and a pep band, we were kind of in awe,” River Hawks captain Riley Wetmore said. “We don’t really expect that ever. It was kind of something different and it was kind of neat.”

Even before the team left campus in Lowell, the experience was something like any other.

“I think the first wow factor I had this weekend was the police escort going to the airport,” Lowell defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “I thought that was pretty cool. I’d never experienced that before. You get there pretty quick. We were a little early for our flight.”

Any concern that Lowell’s difference in focus from Yale’s is a concern, was snuffed immediately by River Hawks coach Norm Bazin.

“It’s exciting for the student-athletes, the coaches and the administration at large,” said Bazin, who on Wednesday was named this year’s recipient of the Spencer Penrose Award given to the Division I men’s coach of the year. “We’re soaking it up, and the coaches are working on getting our focus back to the job at hand tomorrow.”

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose team will play Quinnipiac in the second semifinal on Thursday, said his favorite part thus far was traveling to the Frozen Four on a charter plane.

“That never gets old,” Motzko joked.

He also said that heading home from the regional tournament in Toledo, Ohio, about a week and a half ago created another special airport moment.

“The biggest thing for me was two weeks ago when we landed in St. Cloud when we got back from the regionals and the airport was packed with a couple hundred people,” Motzko said. “For an old coach, this is pretty cool. People are jumping on board.”

Quinnipiac, the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed and the Huskies’ opponent on Thursday, is on board with the little touches that make the environment better.

“I don’t know if the wow factor ever wears off,” Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. “It’s a special moment, I think, for any team that can make the Frozen Four.

“It’s going to be electric tomorrow night for all four teams when that puck drops. There’s going to be a wow factor then with the scoreboard going and the fans going. I think in the end we have a veteran team, and I fully expect there will be a few butterflies, but I expect that we’ll handle that nervousness, channel it, and come out and be really good there early in the game.”