‘Frozen Four’ tourney far crazier

While the much more ballyhooed basketball version of the “Final Four” wrapped up Monday night, in a game that resembled more of a brick-laying competition in its early stages, come tomorrow afternoon the lesser-known but far more crazier “Frozen Four” NCAA hockey championship gets underway at the Xcel Energy Centre in St. Paul, Mn.
And let’s face it, any hockey tournament that can be put into a football stadium (as it was last year in Detroit), and will be held in Tampa, of all places, next season, is a whole other level of madness entirely compared to the March hoops showcase.
This year’s tournament has a multitude of storylines heading into tomorrow’s semi-finals, and not only with Fort Frances native Joe Basaraba taking to the ice for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs afternoon against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
For the Bulldogs, they’ll be looking to win their first-ever national championship in their fifth appearance to the big dance, with their closest opportunity to tasting victory coming in 1984 when they lost in quadruple overtime to the Bowling Green Falcons.
The Fighting Irish program, on the other hand, has had a massive turnaround over the last few years, thanks largely to head coach Jeff Jackson, who made it to three-straight title games with the Lake Superior State Lakers in the early 1990s, winning the crown in 1992 and 1994 with current Fort Frances Lakers’ bench boss Wayne Strachan on the roster.
In the other semi-final, two of the most historic programs in U.S. collegiate hockey will be going head-to-head as the nine-time national champion Michigan Wolverines face off against the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, who have taken home the title seven times.
Besides the fact both sides will be squaring off for the first time ever in a “Frozen Four” tournament, a chance to end lengthy title droughts also is on the line this weekend, with the Wolverines last winning the title in 1998 and the Fighting Sioux taking the crown last in 2000 (when International Falls native Dean Blais was behind the bench).
And if Saturday’s final couldn’t get any bigger, there could be inter-conference rivals potentially going against one other for the national title—with the Fighting Irish and Wolverines of the CCHA and the Bulldogs and Fighting Sioux of the WCHA on opposite sides of the bracket.
With the bad blood of previous meetings in the regular season already set in the memories of each player, and the chance to capture a national championship on the line, the stage could be set for an out-of-control title game if an inter-conference match-up were to come to fruition.
For those who have never seen a “Frozen Four” final (if you call yourself a hockey fan, you really should have watched one by now), the closest comparison I can make to it is any of the last two world junior hockey championship finals, where everything went out of control in the late stages and logic was tossed out the window.
Over the years, that has been the norm when the NCAA hockey championship is on the line, going as far back as 1991 when the Northern Michigan Wildcats and the Boston University Terriers, completely ignoring the defensive side of the game, battled to an 8-7 triple-overtime thriller with the Michigan side winning their lone national title.
The tournament also has been used as a coming out party for some, such as in 2007 when current Detroit Red Wings’ forward Justin Abdelkader found the back of the net with 18.7 seconds left in regulation time to help the Michigan State Spartans defeat the Boston College Eagles.
However, the wildest title game, and in my opinion one of craziest finishes I’ve seen in any sport, occurred in 2009 when the Miami (OH) Redhawks squared off with the Terriers.
Trailing by a score of 3-1 with a minute to go, the Terriers scored twice in the final minute to force overtime, then found the back of the net in the extra frame to break the hearts of the Redhawks, who were seconds away from winning their first national crown.
If this year’s tournament even can come close to matching any of those three games, I’ll more than likely lose my mind and have no idea of my surroundings, which is more than likely similar to what highly-excitable announcer Gary Thorne will be experiencing as he calls the action.
Unfortunately, it appears none of the major Canadian sports networks are planning to air the “Frozen Four” on television, so if you want you to watch arguably some of the most exciting hockey of the entire year, you might have to make your way across the bridge to watch the game over there.
(Or you could watch the game via a streaming website, but as a law-abiding citizen, I advise against such nefarious means).

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