Students from Union College cheer during a pep rally for their school outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum prior to their school's NCAA Frozen Four college hockey tournament semifinal game against Ferris State, Thursday, April 5, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
TAMPA, Fla. It has been 22 years since an ECAC Hockey team made it to the NCAA Frozen Four championship game. It has been 23 years since an ECACH team won the NCAA championship.
If there is any pressure on the Union Dutchmen to snap those streaks in this year’s Frozen Four, they aren’t feeling it.
The Dutchmen (26-7-7) could take a step toward snapping at least one of those ECACH skids today when they face Ferris State (25-11-5) in the first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The survivor will face the winner of the second semifinal between Boston College and Minnesota in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
View videos, related stories
Ken Schott is in Tampa, Fla., following Union in the NCAA hockey Frozen Four. He has video reports and stories on the following:
Part 1 of Union's press conference Wednesday. Click HERE.
Part 2 of Union's press conference Wednesday. Click HERE.
Action from Union's practice on Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Click HERE.
Dutchmen defensman Mat Bodie and center Kelly Zajac talk about Thursday's semifinal against Ferris State. Click HERE.
Part 1 of the Ferris State press conference on Wednesday. Click HERE.
Part 2 of the Ferris State press conference on Wednesday. Click HERE.
Union's Josh Jooris hopes to duplicate what his father did at RPI. Click HERE.
Bennett learned much from Leaman, but has his own style. Click HERE.
Clifton Park's Alber has come a long way for Boston College. Click HERE.
A Seat in the Bleachers (Mike MacAdam): The Electric City feels a charge, as Upset City beckons Dutchmen. Click HERE.
Dutchmen player profiles. Click HERE.
Colgate was the last ECACH team to make it to the Frozen Four final, where the Raiders lost to Wisconsin, 7-3. An ECACH team hasn’t won the NCAAs since Harvard beat Minnesota, 4-3, in overtime in 1989.
Since then, the ECACH hasn’t had many teams make it to the Frozen Four. And when a league team did make it, it lost in the semifinals. Clarkson lost to Boston University in 1991, Harvard was beaten by Lake Superior State in 1994, Vermont was ousted by Colorado College in 1996, St. Lawrence was eliminated by Boston College in 2000 and Cornell went home after losing to New Hampshire in 2003.
“We know our conference has been national championship-starved for the past while,” Union sophomore defenseman Mat Bodie said. “We don’t feel like we’re carrying the weight, by any means. We’ve done a lot of first things for the program this year, but we just enjoy coming to the rink with this group of guys.”
The Dutchmen, the two-time ECACH regular-season champions and ECACH tournament champs, got to their first Frozen Four by winning the NCAA East Regional two weeks ago. That ended the ECACH’s nine-year Frozen Four drought.
Union junior center Jeremy Welsh believes the team isn’t feeling much pressure trying to get the conference’s first NCAA title-game berth, let alone winning the whole thing.
“We don’t think too much about that, or read too much of the articles,” Welsh said Wednesday after the Dutchmen’s practice. “I think that’s more of the media making a big deal out of that. But we don’t really worry about that. We know what we have in the room, and we know who we are. So, we’re just here to play our game.”
Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett agrees with that.
“It hasn’t been brought up at all,” Bennett said. “We haven’t focused on that one bit. We were pretty familiar with the last [ECACH] team to get here, Cornell in 2003. So, it’s an honor within itself. Honestly, we’re focused on [today]. That’s been our focus the whole time.”
When the Frozen Four matchups were set, many college hockey fans took to the various social media network sites, proclaiming that the Union-Ferris State matchup was the junior varsity game because the two schools aren’t traditional hockey powers, while the Boston College-Minnesota semifinal was the varsity game because they have won many NCAA titles.
“I wouldn’t tell them anything,” Welsh said. “I really wouldn’t bat an eye at it. Don’t really read that stuff. Doesn’t really matter what other people think. We’re here at the national championship. Just two wins on the line for every team that’s here. So, we’re all in the same boat.”
Ferris State senior goalie Taylor Nelson believes the notion of the first contest being a JV game is plain silly.
“First off, we’re in the Frozen Four the last time I checked,” said Nelson, who is 20-6-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average. “And it’s a pretty big accomplishment for both teams. Both teams deserve to be here. We’ve both had great seasons. [We’re] two great hockey teams, teams that pride themselves in defense first.”
Union, led by ECACH Ken Dryden Award-winning goalie Troy Grosenick, leads the nation in defense, allowing just 1.8 goals per game. Grosenick is a big reason. The Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalist is 22-5-3 with a 1.64 GAA, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts.
The Bulldogs aren’t bad on defense, either. They are fifth in the nation, allowing 2.17 goals per game.
“I think this could be an interesting match of two teams that are very, very similar,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “I think we’re both very structured in our approach to the games. I think both teams play a really strong unit-of-five team game on the ice, and I would anticipate that this would be a very, very close game — one goal, maybe an overtime-type of game.”
The game could also come down to a battle of excellent special teams.
Union’s power play is clicking at 24.3 percent (46-for-189). Ferris State’s penalty kill is 85.2 percent (157-for-183).
“It could be a close game, maybe a one-goal game,” Dutchmen senior center Kelly Zajac said. “So, we’ve got to stay out of the box, or they have to stay out of the box. If you get that [power-play] opportunity, you’re going to have to capitalize on it.”
The Bulldogs know their penalty-killing unit has its work cut out for itself. But the Bulldogs are confident that they can stop the Dutchmen’s power play.
“We’re really good in getting into the shot lane,” Ferris State senior forward Jordie Johnston said. “So, that’s going to be the key, and really not getting to the point where we run around, not getting stressed out there and just making smart, easy plays.”