Dutchmen crashing party of traditionalists
Three of the four teams in next week’s NCAA hockey Frozen Four have had over 20 appearances in the event.
The Dutchmen’s semifinal opponent, Boston College, is making its 24th appearance. The other semifinalists — Minnesota (21) and North Dakota (20) — are experienced, too. The three programs have combined for 17 national championships.
Meanwhile, the Dutchmen are just in their second Frozen Four. Their program is in its 23rd Division I season, one less than BC has Frozen Four appearances.
If this was “Sesame Street,” you could play the game of one of these things is not like the others.
The top-ranked Dutchmen (30-6-4) appear to be the underdog when they face the Eagles (28-7-4) in the semifinals April 10 at 5 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“If they want to give us the [underdog] tag, that’s fine with us,” Union coach Rick Bennett said Tuesday.
The Dutchmen have the nation’s longest winning streak (10 games) and unbeaten streak (14-0-1). So Dutchmen senior defenseman Mat Bodie doesn’t buy into the notion of his team being the underdog.
“The team has been playing well all season,” said Bodie, the Dutchmen captain. “We worked hard to get back to this point. All four teams are really skilled, so I don’t think there’s an underdog in the group.”
BC coach Jerry York doesn’t consider the Dutchmen an underdog at all, especially after last year’s meeting in the East Regional semifinal. The Dutchmen beat the Eagles, 5-1, denying BC a chance to repeat as national champions.
In that game, Josh Jooris gave Union a 1-0 lead in the first period. The Dutchmen took control in the second with three goals, including two in the first 1:04 of the period.
York, who has guided the Eagles to four NCAA titles, believes Union deserves to be in the Frozen Four.
“It’s been interesting to watch the development of Union hockey,” York said. “Kevin Sneddon had a hand in it. Nate Leaman followed him, and now Rick Bennett has taken them to a whole different level. What Rick has done is incredible. You look at the last three years, there were six opportunities to win a league championship and a tournament championship, and he has won five of those six trophies.
“The fans of college hockey are thinking Minnesota, North Dakota, Boston College, you’ve got historical strong college hockey programs. But the person that really follows [college hockey] closely thinks Union might be the favorite of all of us. They’ve had such a great run here.”
While they are excited to be back in the Frozen Four after winning the East Regional championship Saturday over Providence, the Dutchmen are taking a more business-like approach this time around. Two years ago, they were just happy to make it, losing in the semifinal to Ferris State, 3-1.
“Two years ago when we went, it was wild in that dressing room,” Bodie said. “Guys were really celebrating hard. This year, guys were happy that we won, but we didn’t celebrate like we won a championship because, at the end of the day, you haven’t yet. The biggest thing is we’re keeping things within the locker room and not letting any distractions come at us and not get carried away with anything from the media, or the students or the faculty. This year, we’re a little bit more mature with our approach here.”
Bennett said there will be some adjustments to the preparation from two years ago.
“But it’s nothing earth-shattering that these guys haven’t been through throughout the season,” Bennett said. “I’ll talk to the coaching staff about it. I’ll talk with Mat and the leaders about it and explain it. We’re with the team here today. We’ll watch the Providence game [and look at] what we did right and what we did wrong, and put that game behind us and focus on Boston College.”
The practice times on April 9 for the teams are set.
Union will be the first team to practice. The Dutchmen will have the ice from 11 a.m. until noon. Boston College is up next from 12:15 until 1:15 p.m.
North Dakota gets the ice from 1:30 until 2:30. Minnesota will be on the ice from 2:45 to 3:45.
All practices are open to the public.