First it was Barack Obama heading to the White House. Now it's the foursome heading to the Verizon Center in Washington for the Frozen Four -- and the crowning of a new national champion April 11.
Boston University, Bemidji State, Miami (Ohio), and Vermont will battle for national supremacy. Only BU and Vermont previously have played in the Frozen Four.
BU has made the trip to the Frozen Four most recently, losing the 1997 title game. Vermont lost its semifinal game in 1996 to Colorado College in double overtime, 4-3, on a historically disputed hand pass before video review was in effect.
Led by Martin St. Louis -- Vermont's all-time leading scorer with 267 points from 1993-97 -- and goaltender Tim Thomas, that postseason run seems like yesterday.
"It's the top of the mountain for the college player," said St. Louis about playing in the Frozen Four. "Just enjoy everything that comes with it. Channel your emotions in the right direction. Play the best you can; sometimes your emotions get the best of you, especially in that first period, and not hurt the team. Let the dust settle and don't get wound up. Do the things that got you there. It's not always the best team that wins. I hope the 'Cats win; I'd be vindicated for how our season ended in '96."
"Our team gave it our best shot in '96 and left everything on the ice," said Thomas. "We were one hand pass away from the finals. My advice to the teams is, 'Carry the momentum over (from regional play).'"
"It was a highlight year for me," said Lightning assistant coach and former BU captain Mike Sullivan, who played in the 1990 Frozen Four. "We had a tight-knit team and got to play in (Detroit's) Joe Louis Arena. It was a big thrill. It's a tough thing to get to."
Here's how the four teams who got to the 2009 Frozen Four match up for next Thursday's semifinal games, quotes from each coach, the NHL.com skinny -- and a final prediction.
The winners play for the national championship at 7 p.m. ET on April 11.
Bemidji State Beavers from College Hockey America (20-15-1) vs. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks from the CCHA (22-12-5)
April 9 at 5:30 p.m.
Bemidji State -- This is Bemidji's first appearance in the Frozen Four.
How Bemidji got to the Frozen Four -- In the Midwest Regional, the Beavers rolled over favored Notre Dame, 5-1, and then showed Cornell the door, 4-1.
Coach Tom Serratore's comments -- "It's an honor to represent the great state of Minnesota in the Frozen Four," said the Bemidji alum and eighth-year head coach who has taken his program to three NCAA tournaments. "This is hockey country. We play tenacious and we're a fun hockey team to watch. You have to believe and we believe in ourselves. We played great special teams last weekend and scored the first goal against Notre Dame. Against Cornell, we responded to them scoring first and you could feel the energy building. Unless you've worn a Beaver jersey, it's hard to fathom this program. How many times have we won games that few gave us a chance? This is great for hockey; it's boring to have the same teams (in the Frozen Four). It's going to be great to get national attention. You can't put a price tag on that."
NHL.com skinny -- Bemidji is one of college hockey's trivia answers that sent non-Minnesota puck buffs to the media guides for the final answer (Name the five Division I teams from Minnesota). Heads still are being scratched about how the Beavers stopped Notre Dame's bid for a return to the Frozen Four. How? Tyler Scofield and company played an up-tempo, in-your-face style, and let-the-puck-bounce-where-it-will game against the Irish and Cornell, while sophomore Matt Dalton held each opponent to just one red light in goal. You have to love a team whose captain, senior Travis Winter, has 7 points on the season -- a Mike Eruzione-type leader on a team now well-known beyond Minnesota.
Miami (Ohio) -- This is Miami's first appearance in the Frozen Four.
How Miami got to the Frozen Four -- In the West Regional, the RedHawks demolished heavily favored Denver, 4-1, and then slipped by Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1.
Coach Rico Blasi's comments -- "A lot of well-wishers from alumni and fans," said the RedHawks alum in his 10th year behind the bench about the euphoria in Oxford, Ohio. "I'm not sure it's totally hit me. The last couple of days have been very gratifying, especially for our seniors. We (only) had two weeks to mentally prepare for the postseason (not knowing if they'd make the tournament). We had pretty good senior leadership and did finish second in our league, but the CCHA has (great) parity. Our young players have good hockey sense and know how to move their feet. We try to hold each other accountable to be the best we can be. At this point we need to just go out and play our game."
NHL.com skinny -- The 2007 and '08 RedHawks were better teams than the '09 edition; each lost a heartbreaker in regional finals to deny the school a first-ever Frozen Four appearance. That motivational intangible is the main reason Blasi's boys finally are on the Frozen Four map. He has a flock of underclassmen, led by sophomores Carter Camper and Pat Cannone up front, and senior leadership in regional MVP Justin Mercier and captain Brian Kaufman. The defense is very young, but is CCHA battle-tested. In the year of freshman goalies on the Frozen Four stage, Miami features a balanced duo in Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp.
April 9 at 8:30 p.m.
Boston University -- The last Frozen Four appearance for BU was the national championship game in 1997, won by North Dakota, 6-4.
How BU got to the Frozen Four -- In the Northeast Regional, the Terriers clobbered Ohio State, 8-3, then squeaked by New Hampshire 15 seconds from overtime, 2-1.
Coach Jack Parker's comments -- "It's been a long time with us knocking on the (Frozen Four) door several times," said the 36-year coaching legend about his alma mater. His Terriers are 19-1-3 in their last 23 games and have the nation's leading offense and third-best defense. Parker won two national titles -- 1978 and 1995. "We'll have at least one Hockey East team in the final. All of our successes this year add up to nothing at this level. It will be interesting to see how (the Vermont) game unfolds. Two talented teams on the ice, but you won't win on talent; it's about controlling emotions and staying out of the penalty box. Sunday (against UNH) was not our best game and that's the sign of a good team. What we do best is play defense and move the puck up ice. And our goaltending is stingy. But Vermont does all those things well, also."
NHL.com skinny -- Is there a soft spot in the 2009 Terriers' armor? Fifteen NHL draft picks, led by Colin Wilson (taken No. 7 last June by Nashville) up front; five All-Americans, led by captain Matt Gilroy, on defense; goaltender Kieran Millan was Hockey East Rookie of the Year; seven Terriers have 30-plus points, led by Wilson; and BU has the nation's best power play. On occasion, however, the soft spot might be too much individual effort and showcasing talent, and not enough teamwork. Parker -- and Gilroy -- will drill that home by the first faceoff April 9. This team is built to make NCAA history.
Vermont -- Vermont's last Frozen Four appearance was 1996, losing the semifinal, 4-3, in two OTs to Colorado College.
How Vermont got to the Frozen Four -- In the East Regional, the Catamounts took down host Yale, 5-1, and then ousted Air Force in the second overtime, 3-2.
Coach Kevin Sneddon's comments -- "We beat a great Yale team and the Air Force game was an epic hockey game," said the sixth-year coach. Sneddon won a national title in 1989 as a Harvard freshman. "We're thrilled for our fans and alumni. It's great to have our team together and consistency from the defense and in goal. We're all about the name on the front of our jerseys; all about team. This is a big moment for our program. We know BU from playing them -- an exceptional team. Not a lot of weaknesses there. It's all about the battles this time of year. The strength of Hockey East has prepared us for this level. We haven't had a week off from playoff hockey since January. We're going to have to transition well against BU."
NHL.com skinny -- Vermont had the toughest strength of schedule during the 2008-09 regular season, including two wins in three games against BU -- both wins at BU. That speaks most directly to the reason for Sneddon's team being among the Frozen Four; Hockey East entries come from arguably the best top-to-bottom league across the six conferences. No team in the Frozen Four has a trio of barnburners up front like Catamounts senior captain Dean Strong, Peter Lenes and Justin Milo. Viktor Stalberg is a Hobey Baker candidate at center; 252-pound regional MVP Dan Lawson leads a stellar blue line. Rob Madore is another solid freshman goaltender
NHL.com predictions -- Bemidji beats Miami, and BU beats Vermont in the semis. BU wins its fifth national championship against Bemidji in the final.
On Campus Clips -- BU defenseman Matt Gilroy and forward Colin Wilson, along with Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen, are the 2009 Hobey Baker finalists for the nation's best player. The winner will be announced Friday at 7 p.m. ... Gilroy has been named the winner of the 57th annual Walter Brown Award, presented to the best American-born Division I player in New England. ... The regional tournament's Most Outstanding Players include: BU's Jason Lawrence in the Northeast Regional; Vermont's Dan Lawson in the East Regional; Bemidji State's Tyler Scofield in the Midwest Regional and Miami's Justin Mercier in the West Regional. ... Spencer Penrose finalists for Coach of the Year are Yale's Keith Allain, Northeastern's Greg Cronin, Alaska Fairbanks' Dallas Ferguson, North Dakota's Dave Hakstol, BU's Jack Parker, Bemidji's Tom Serratore, Vermont's Kevin Sneddon, and Bentley's Ryan Soderquist.