There are no underdogs in this year’s Frozen Four tournament. As far as school mascots go, there are only Bulldogs, and of course Dutchmen too.
That, at least, is what Ferris State and Union prefer to go by when the two schools face off in the national semifinal next Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Both are making their first-ever appearance in the Frozen Four, and surely, neither are considered the hockey heavyweights that counterparts Minnesota and Boston College are, but as they’ve shown in recent weeks, they are willing to deliver a knockout, at least when it comes to eliminating opponents from the 16-team bracket.
“We don’t really consider ourselves a smaller school in terms of hockey,” first-year Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “So, it’s nice to see a lot of parity within college hockey. We’re anxious to get down to Tampa.”
“It doesn't matter if you're Division I or Division III,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia added. “I think that’s one of the things that makes this tournament special.”
And this year, it is special.
The 2012 tournament in Tampa Bay marks the seventh time since the competition’s inception in 1948 that two teams are making their Frozen Four debut in the same season. Miami of Ohio and Bemidji State most recently did so in 2009, but the last time before that came in 1988 when Maine and Lake Superior State joined the field.
Union College and Ferris State will square off at 4:30 p.m./ET on April 5th at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Furthermore, a meeting between Ferris State and Union with national championship implications on the line is nearly just as infrequent of an occurrence.
The teams have only met four times throughout their histories, with Union scoring a victory in each. The Dutchmen earned a pair of victories in Ferris State’s barn in 2006, as well as two additional wins in its home arena in 2007.
“I like the makeup of this Frozen Four,” Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels said.
Ferris State has a 3-1 NCAA tournament record all-time, losing to eventual national champion Minnesota in the 2003 regional finals before beating Denver and Cornell as the second seed in the Midwest Regional to make this season’s Frozen Four.
Union, meanwhile, is 2-1 in the national tournament, with a loss in last season’s first round and wins over Michigan State and Massachusetts-Lowell as the top seed in this year’s East Regional.
While on the surface it may seem that Union and Ferris State will have to go through schools with longer and greater hockey traditions than their own in order to put their schools on the hockey map, it wouldn’t be the first time that either school did just that.
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 2012.
Of course, before Ferris State or Union has the chance to be a giant slayer once more in the national finals, the two upstart schools will have to battle each other, with the winner getting the chance to play for the first NCAA title in school history next Saturday night at the Times Forum.
“I’ve only been to Florida once, I believe,” Union sophomore goaltender Troy Grosenick said. “And that was for a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando.”
The Times Forum isn’t quite the Magic Kingdom, but nevertheless, a few dreams have been known to come true there too.