Patrick Brown, center, and the Boston College Eagles won the Beanpot championship in February. Credit: Glen Cooper, Metro
This Frozen Four, the latest big event to pass through these parts, has nothing to do with Princess Anna or any other characters from the popular Disney movie Featuring an all-star cast. But it does have everything to do with deciding the NCAA’s best on ice.
The fun starts at 5:00 p.m. Thursday when Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau, the local kid from South Jersey who is considered the favorite for the Hobey Baker Award as the game’s best player, takes on Union. Union College boasts Flyers highly regarded defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
In the second game it will be traditional bitter rivals Minnesota and North Dakota, who’ve met 284 times but none this year due to Conference realignments, taking the ice around 8:30 p.m.
The survivors meet for the National championship 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Frozen Four joins the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships and 2000 Women’s Final Four as NCAA championships decided in Philadelphia. But the list of big events to call Philadelphia — and specially the Wells Fargo Center home since the building opened in 1996 is long and impressive.
It’s played host to the NCAA’s men’s tournament opening weekend on three occasions, most recently last year — as well as the 2001 Eastern Regionals. And who will ever forget the 1992 Eastern Regionals finale at the Spectrum where Christian Laettner and Duke edged Kentucky 104-103 in overtime in what many call the greatest game ever played?
Besides that, there were the 1998 U.S. Figure Skating championships, the 2002 NBA All-Star Game, 2008 U.S, Olympic Team gymnastics trials, NHL All-Star Game and even the 2000 Republican National Convention, not to mention hundreds of concerts.
Clearly, then, this is familiar turf (or pond in this case) for the city, which depending on how things go this weekend, has already considered bidding for the 2019 Frozen Four.
You wonder can an Olympic bid be far behind?
Turning back to this weekend, here’s a few things to look for:
1. Come Back Shayne
Flyers fans, who’ve only heard his name are anxious to see Union’s highly rated defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in person. Depending on how things play out, they’re hoping he’ll turn pro after this season and perhaps be wearing the orange and black on this same ice next year.
"He’s a pretty dynamic player who brings people out of their seats," said Union coach Rick Bennett of Philadelphia’s 2012 third-round draft pick. "He’s exciting to watch, very elusive and has really coming into his own."
"As a freshman he used to take chances, but the last two years his defensive game has really matured," added fellow defenseman Matt Bodie. "He’s a game changer for us, who frustrates guys with how easy he makes it look."
If that’s the case maybe the Flyers shouldn’t wait till next year and should sign him now.
2. Will Johnny be Gaud Enough?
The Frozen Four won’t be Johnny Gaudreau’s first time on WFC ice. He once played for "Mites on Ice" between periods of a Flyers game years ago.
Since then Gaudreau has developed into the premier forward in the NCAA, this year scoring 35 goals to go with 42 assists in 39 games. Teamed with Kevin Hayes (27 goals) and Bill Arnold (14 and 38 assists) they’ve become a formidable line.
Even at 5-foot-8, 159 pounds Gaudreau’s lightning speed and quickness makes him a force.
"It’s pretty special to get a chance to come home and play in the Frozen Four before all my family and friends," said Gaudreau, a 2011 fourth round pick by Calgary, who roomed with Gostisbehere on the World Junior team. "I’m excited and trying to take it all in."
"He’s gotten better every year," said Eagles coach Jerry York, who’ll be sending his team to the Frozen Four for the 11th time since 1997, including four championships. "This year he’s become a dominate player. It’s not easy playing when every team circles his name."
If Gaudreau and his linemates can maintain their pace, BC has a chance for its second title in the last three years and third in the last five.
3. You Guys Again
Over 67 years Minnesota and North Dakota have banged heads 284 times, including the 1979 championship game, won by the Gophers. Minnesota leads the series 138-130-15.
But when the Big Ten was realigned after last season primarily due to football, these two bitter hockey rivals were left out in the cold, so-to-speak. The only way they could meet in 2014 would be in the Frozen Four.
"To play North Dakota is one of our favorite games," said Minnesota’s defenseman Nate Condon, whose 27-6-6 club has been No. 1 most of the season. "Being in a Frozen Four setting even more so."
"Rivalries always add excitement to the game," said North Dakota coach, Dave Hakstol, whose program has won seven titles to Minnesota’s five. "We didn’t get to face them this year, but there’s a lot of familiar faces. It adds extra excitement."
It took a late season surge for the Fighting Sioux to earn their trip here, UND winning four of its last five games to advance at 25-13-3. But now that they’ve made it they’re confident they can take out their archrivals.
"In our locker room we really believe in ourselves," said Stephane Pattyn of a team scored just 126 goals this season but allowed only 100. "Now we’ve taken advantage of the opportunity and are excited to be heading to the Frozen Four."
Especially with the Golden Gophers waiting for them.
4. Rust vs. Rest
It’s been 11 days since the field for the Frozen Four was finalized. That means the combatants have had plenty of time to rest up, study their opponent and try to channel their energy until now. While that’s let injured players have time to heal, it also has to concern coaches their players might be a little rusty.
"We’re certainly used to it," said B.C.’s Jerry York, whose club got a recent pep talk from Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick. "We drew a bye and had to sit 10 days before the tournament, so this is par for the course. You just have to start from scratch and have good practices."
That seems to be the consensus.
"All four teams are facing the same break," said Union’s Bodie, who feels his club was more businesslike after advancing last week than in 2012 when it made the Frozen Four for the first time. "The biggest thing is the first five minutes you might see some rust. Once we get going you won’t see it at all."
The same goes for the nightcap as well.
"I’ve been on both sides," said Minnesota’s Condon. "I understand week off and from the fan’s perspective the extra days help. You’ve got to mentally and physically fresh. But as long as we’re there it’s good."
Because it sure beats the alternative.
5. "Rocky" vs. Tradition
Boston College will be making its 24th trip to the Frozen Four, with five national championships on its resume. North Dakota is going for the 21st time. It has seven titles. For Minnesota this is No. 20. The Golden Gophers have won five.
And Union? While the little school of 2,500 from upstate New York will be making only its second appearance, they scoff at being called underdogs.
"We’ve played well all season," said Union coach Rick Bennett, whose 30-6-4 club has been ranked No. 1 or 2 all season. "All four teams are really skilled. There’s not an underdog in the group."
That said, defenseman Matt Bodie did notice a perceptible change in attitude from two years ago.
"Two years ago it was wild in that dressing room and guys celebrated hard," recalled Bodie, whose club beat Boston College last season. "This year we were happy, but didn’t celebrate like we’d won a championship. We’re more mature in our approach. But if they want to give us the “Rocky’ tag it’s fine with us."
Sorry, Boston College isn’t buying.
"Fans of college hockey are thinking of Minnesota, Boston College and North Dakota historically being strong programs," said York, just four wins away from No. 500 at B.C. and only from 1,000 over his illustrious career. "But people who follow closely know Union might be the favorite of all of us. We played them last year and saw firsthand. Union is legit."
So are the Eagles, along with both Minnesota and North Dakota, which figures to make the 2014 Frozen Four a memorable one.
While it’s admittedly tough to predict when you’ve seen none of the teams play, here goes.
We’ll go with Boston College’s depth and the exceptional Gaudreau line in the opener over Union, then powerful Minnesota taking out North Dakota.
And in the finale playing before a supportive crowd, the hometown kid Gaudreau and Jerry York’s Eagles who’d be facing the Gophers for the 11th time in the tournament but first ever in the final, will take home the big prize