No big school tradition, no players with rights owned by an NHL team, no problem for either Union or Ferris State.
When the two schools meet Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the first of two semifinal matches, they’ll be looking for more than just getting through to the next round.
Come Thursday, they’ll each be looking for respect.
“We're in the Frozen Four, last time I checked,” Ferris State goaltender Taylor Nelson said. “And it's a pretty big accomplishment for both teams. We've both had great seasons.”
It wasn’t long after the Regional round of games ended when the jokes began to abound on Twitter. The Union-Ferris State matchup was coming to be known as the Junior Varsity game of the tournament, while the meeting between Boston College and Minnesota would provide all the action of a Varsity heavyweight matchup.
“I don’t know about that,” Nelson said. “We’re both two great teams who pride ourselves on defense first.”
Funny, considering that same sense of pride has caused both sides to feel as if they don’t have to defend themselves at all.
“I wouldn’t say anything different to those people who want to call this the JV game than I would to anyone else,” Union head coach Rick Bennett. “The message has been the same since day one. We’re a blue-collar team who works hard and who deserves to be here.”
If there is any doubt of that, just look at what each team had to go through to even get to Tampa Bay.
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 04: The NCAA Men's Hockey National Championship trophy on display prior to Wednesday's practice sessions at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz)
Union steamrolled through traditional conference powers Cornell, Colgate and Yale throughout the regular season, holding a record of 24-7-7 and the moniker of ECAC champions upon its arrival in Tampa Bay.
Ferris State, meanwhile, comes to Florida’s Gulf Coast having outlasted four other tournament-qualifying CCHA teams to make it to the Frozen Four. What’s more, the Bulldogs have not just merely hung with perennial contenders Michigan, Michigan State, Miami of Ohio and Western Michigan throughout the majority of the season, but rather, it actually held the nation’s top rating through much of the winter after carrying a 15-game unbeaten streak through the first two months of the calendar year.
“We’ve heard about how the small schools can’t hang with the big schools all year, and we just kind of roll our eyes at it,” Nelson added. “To me, that’s silly that people want to call our game the JV game. I always kind of laugh at that.”
As it turns out, Nelson isn’t the only one who finds all of this funny.
“I’d really like to see what Union and Ferris State’s Varsity teams look like,” Bennett joked. “They must be pretty darn good if we’re the JV teams.”
Bennett added that both teams deserved to be in the Frozen Four and said that Ferris State is a strong group who will be tough to beat.
“They’ve made it this far, that’s a testament to that group of guys over there and how hard they work.”
And he wasn’t kidding.