In 2015 Frozen Four semifinals, East meets West

TD Garden hosts the 2015 Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — This weekend, two of the nation’s best leagues collide when the NCHC meets Hockey East in the national semifinals.

It’s a microcosm of college hockey — two of the more powerful leagues producing the four teams who will play each other in a type of crossover, with Omaha playing Providence and North Dakota playing Boston University.

2015 Frozen Four

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It should create a vibe inside the arena where East meets West in a battle of dueling hockey cultures.

“There is definitely an East-West feel to this year,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “I love how it is because it lets you play teams you might not ordinarily see, and it really helps you learn and respect other coaches and the job that they’ve done at their schools.”

Growth in college hockey lends itself in 2015 to a unique structure where two traditional powers clash opposite two relative newcomers. Boston University and North Dakota are in their 22nd and 21st Frozen Four, respectively.

“The culture’s changed since the 1970s with social media,” said BU coach David Quinn. “Back then, there wasn’t that much familiarity, but if you asked people to name five college hockey programs, the majority would say North Dakota is one of the best programs. BU would also be in the mix. So it makes for an interesting matchup, and it’s a juicy subplot [to our game].”

“A lot of this happened when the WCHA and Hockey East had interlocking schedules maybe 25 years ago,” said Mavericks coach Dean Blais. “The East knew the West, the West knew the East, and it was a great thing for hockey. We’ve tried to play the Eastern teams as a Western team every year. I did that at North Dakota and now I’m doing it at Omaha.”

It’s Omaha’s first trip to the Frozen Four, while Providence arrives for the first time since 1985.

“It’s great to be able to play some new teams,” said Omaha forward Dominic Zombo. “This is a big show for all of [the teams], and we’re all just trying to live in the moment with a great opportunity.”

“It’s a good measuring stick,” said Omaha defenseman Brian O’Rourke. “You want to measure yourself against teams all across the country, and being able to play against a Providence team that we haven’t played against yet will be a nice test. But I think our NCHC schedule, with how difficult it was throughout the year, prepared us for moments like this, and I think we saw that at the regional in South Bend.”

The growth of the game and its shifting alignments allowed for the game to become much more competitive in markets where it maybe wasn’t formally seen.

Even within those different regions, new hockey locations are showing their mettle. This year, Rhode Island and Nebraska have a chance to take center stage in place of their better-known brethren in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.

“It’s good to get Providence back on the map,” said the Friars’ Noel Acciari, himself a native of the Ocean State. “Hopefully we can continue this journey. I means, it’s a good feeling. Having the regional in Providence, having people come to the games that usually don’t come, it’s just good to have people in Rhode Island come out, see the games, see what Providence is all about and what kind of team we are. We might be a small state, but we’re hard workers.”

“I think Omaha is really putting themselves on the map,” said O’Rourke. “If you look at where Omaha is located, it’s a good central location for players to come from all over the country. It’s an up-and-coming program playing against the top competition week in and week out.”

Still, the growth within the regions can only heighten the competition between two distinct regions of the world’s fastest game.

“Player development has gotten out of the hockey hotbeds of East coast and West coast,” said O’Connor, “but both [BU and UND] have a lot of history and excellence. It’s kind of a cool thing to be playing a team like North Dakota from the Midwest. I think it just brings back more tradition with fans and culture, and it’ll be fun to do it in the Garden.”

20 COMMENTS

  1. “Player development has gotten out of the hockey hotbeds of East coast and West coast,” said O’Connor, “

    Does he think UND is West coast? Or does he think the San Francisco to San Diego corridor is some hockey-mad hotbed of talent?

    • Check the rosters in our league and rest of college hockey, not just the Sioux. World does not revolve around UND. You are starting to see more players from Arizona and California that were great inline roller skaters playing college hockey. You have one from Arizona, Miami and DU have 3 from California. I have not checked others but am sure it is commonplace. Even though it is not yet what I would call a “hotbed”, there are a lot more west coast players in college hockey.

      • It’s the context of the comment that doesn’t make sense. “Player development has gotten out of the hockey hotbeds of East coast and West coast” implies that the West coast has always been a hockey hotbed when it has only become that way in the last 10+ years. A more accurate statement would have said East coast and the Midwest.

        • You are correct. I would further state that California and the rest of the west coast is still not a hotbed as young Mr. O’Connor stated. If you were given all of the west coast to recruit vs. a 100-mile radius around Lakeville, MN, 100% of college coaches would choose the latter.

          • Do you realize how ridiculous your last sentence sounds? You are comparing the proverbial “apples and oranges”. Why not compare Manitoba and British Columbia with Florida and Hawaii? Lakeville, and most of Minnesota, has a hockey tradition going back forever. Partly due to the weather, they have excellent and elongated PeeWee, High School, and Junior Amateur leagues. This is a major sport in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. California, due to weather and limited ice rinks, have tremendous inline skating facilities. This takes nothing away from their kids hockey “skills”, and many coaches are realizing that.

          • Thanks for reinforcing my point. Young Mr. O’Connor referred to the “hotbeds” of hockey on east coast and west coast. There is a much greater hotbed around Lakeville. It was a gross error on his part. He sounded silly.

          • If you think I reinforced your point you are mistaken. His words were totally incorrect but you still sound like the hockey world revolves around Minnesota or North Dakota. It certainly does not. Sioux roster contains 5 Minnesotans and 9 Canadians. According to your logic, Canada is really the “hotbed” of hockey. Unfortunately, there are 2 college hockey teams that Canadians can’t play for.

          • You’re like the man who married my sister, Mr. Right. His first name is Always. Pardon my opinion.

        • Absolutely correct, terrible semantics. That is why I stated when I said “it is not yet a hockey hotbed”. I think the point is that the average college hockey fan does not realize how many players have come out of CA and AZ. Many “fans” don’t even know their own teams rosters.

      • Check out Hockey East rosters… 2-3 players from California, Florida, etc. are becoming commonplace… With a groundswell from New Jersey, not just New England, NY State and Canada. US-based Junior leagues and programs all over the country have changed the (recruiting) game. American players are so much stronger in skill and in numbers than 15-20 years ago.
        One other point… Players coming from the “non-traditional” areas don’t play high school or prep hockey as in the Midwest/Great Lakes and Northeast… They play Juniors, so they can come from anywhere. I contend New Jersey is more of a “new” hotbed than AZ or CA.

        • Thanks Jake, this does not surprise me at all. I know these warm weather players are increasingly being recruited, did not know the extent back east.

  2. Interesting – NCHC is the best Conf in the country according to Pairwise with 6 teams getting into Tourn. So far they have been great against non-Hockey East teams. Providence made Omaha look like a high school team. C’mon are u kidding me? 6 teams – REALLY??? Pairwise failed this year and NCAA needs to revisit how teams are selected to Tourn. If UMass-Lowell, VT & UNH got in the Tourn – there could be 4 Hockey East Teams in FF. REALLY !!!

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