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Frozen Four participants seek to keep emotions in check on college hockey’s biggest stage

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
Forget just for a second that tonight’s two Frozen Four semifinal matchups are, to date, the biggest games of the season for each of the participating schools. That’s just what Union College, Ferris State, Boston College and Minnesota are doing.

Despite tonight’s action holding a trip in reserve to the national championship game on Saturday night, each of the four teams are treating each game of this year’s Frozen Four tournament like any other.

“It's a unique experience to participate in national championships and to win one is certainly the stuff of dreams,” Boston College head coach Jerry York said. “But I also understand how difficult is to bring a trophy home when the stakes are at their highest, so I think for us, and I’m sure the same is true for the other three schools, we’re all preparing to just play well and play our game.”

York might have hit the nail on the head, but still, it’s easier said than done.

Take for example, his Boston College Eagles. They come in riding a 17-game win streak, adding not only a big red target to their backs, but added pressure to keep the streak going on college hockey’s biggest stage.

“You establish winning streaks during the season, you lose, you start another winning streak,” York added. “You go back and forth with the ebbs and flows of the season. But once you get to the Frozen Four, there’s no going back. You win and you advance or you lose and you go home.”

That’s why each teams’ ability manage its emotions will prove to be so key.

Wednesday’s media day appeared to serve as a good warmup. There were more reporters, more attention, more potential distractions. Spending nearly a full week on the road for a pair of hockey games isn’t exactly standard operating procedure.

Then again, there is hardly anything standard when it comes to the Frozen Four. Just look at the location.

Boston College's Pat Mullane, #11, and Michael Sit, #18, battle for the puck in practice (Photo by Scott Iskowitz)
But for as much as it seems like one, this year’s Frozen Four experience is hardly a vacation.

York’s Boston College team comes looking for its fifth national title and its third in five years. Minnesota, meanwhile, is looking for its sixth overall and first since 2003. Union and Ferris State are seeking to play the role of spoiler to capture what would be just the first national championship in either school’s history.

Neither Union nor Ferris State had ever been to the Frozen Four prior to this year. No matter. Their players are student athletes, and they are smart enough to know what the tournament is all about.

“Obviously this is a great event,” Ferris State senior defenseman Chad Billins said. “But when you sit back and think about it, we’re coming here to play hockey. So it’s great to see all the hoopla and excitement, but I still think we have to prepare for this the same way we have all year.”

As for Boston College and Minnesota, the schools are Frozen Four royalty with a combined nine national championships between them. Just like in years past, the two clubs are taking the same business-like approach that has made them so successful.

“It’s exciting to get out here, and things are a lot different than what we’re used to back home,” Boston College defenseman Tommy Cross said. “Guys are having fun, but once you get to the rink, your mindset changes. The boards are the same, the ice is the same and at the end of the day, it’s still a hockey rink so you just go out and play.”

“For our players, the focus is simple,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia added. “I don’t think we’re too different from any of the other teams. Yeah, we’re going to go have fun in the sun and sit by the pool and maybe that will relax us a little bit from a mental standpoint and calm some of the nerves. But once that puck drops, we’re going to play and try to win games. I don’t think that changes no matter where you’re at.”

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