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NHLers fondly remember college days

by Bob Snow

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Blake went to
the University of North Dakota, and was a member
of the 1997 UND team that won the NCAA title.
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"Just enjoy it," said the Rangers' Chris Drury about college tournament time.

"College goes by so fast; in just a blink of an eye, it's over. I was there four years, so I can only imagine how fast it would have been if I was there one year," said Drury, one of Boston University's all-time best.

Between those blinks, Drury won a national championship as a freshman at BU, in 1995 against Maine, went back to the title game against North Dakota in 1997, and capped a stellar career with a Hobey Baker Award in 1998.

"The biggest thing is nerves," said the Maple Leafs' Jason Blake about his junior year in 1997, when his North Dakota Fighting Sioux bested Drury's Terriers. "You're playing in front of 18,000-20,000 people each game in the tournaments. For some teams, they have a hard time at that stage when they go out for warm-ups and see that."

There's no shortage of chatter among Drury and other NHL players about this weekend's league tournaments, the NCAA Tournament next weekend, and the Frozen Four in Denver on April 10 and 12.

"It's always about timing," reflected the Senators' Mike Commodore, who enjoyed winning a national championship as a junior at North Dakota in 2000. "You don't have to win that many games to win the national title, but you also don't have to lose many to be right out."

Two tickets to the 16-team NCAA Tournament were punched this past weekend when Niagara took out Bemidji State in the College Hockey America championship game; ditto for Air Force, which earned a second consecutive NCAA appearance with a win over Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey title game.

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This Saturday night, four of the 14 remaining invitations will go to the winners of the other four league tournaments – Hockey East, CCHA, ECACHL and the WCHA.

The 10 remaining teams will earn at-large bids, based on the PairWise rankings from season-long play.

"For us, the momentum started with the Beanpot,” said the Bruins' Bobby Allen, who was on the losing end of the 2000 title game as a junior at Boston College, but enjoyed the rematch win over North Dakota as the captain in 2001. “Then you focus on the rest of your league games. You need to be playing your best hockey into the playoffs. Once you have a good league tournament, your confidence is usually soaring going into the NCAAs."

"Stay composed," said Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, who played alongside Allen on the BC blue line in 2001. "You're playing a series with single-game elimination. A lot of weird stuff can happen. The biggest thing is how you deal with adversity. There's only two directions you can go, and you always shoot for the positive one."

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas didn't win a national title, but he and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis led their Vermont Catamounts deep into 1996 postseason play before losing a Frozen Four semifinal game, 4-3, in double overtime.

"You've got to enjoy the experience," said Thomas. "Playing in front of bigger crowds than ever and on national television; focus on each game on one hand but on the other, soak it in."

The Panthers' David Booth played in the NCAAs in 2004 and '06, his sophomore and senior seasons at Michigan State. His last game was a crushing defeat against Maine, 5-4, in the 2006 East Regional.

"Best game I ever played in," said Booth.

Concurring with Drury, Booth said, "I'd say enjoy it; you worked all year for it. It's a good time for the younger guys to develop that winning attitude in the locker room. The beauty of college is if you get on a hot streak at the end, you can win the championship. Every night you've got to give it all you have."

After giving all they have in the league tournaments this weekend, 16 teams will be left standing Sunday night for next weekend's NCAA Tournament. One team will stay on that hot streak – all the way to a national title April 12. 

On Campus Clips – In Hockey East, New Hampshire plays Boston College in one tournament semifinal Friday, while Vermont tackles Boston University. … CCHA action has Northern Michigan taking on Michigan and Notre Dame facing Miami. … ECACHL tourney foes include Cornell against Harvard and Princeton against Colgate. … The WCHA Final Five tourney has a play-in Thursday, with Minnesota and St. Cloud battling for the right to play Colorado College, while North Dakota and Denver square off in the other semifinal. … All league tournaments are played Friday and Saturday. … The entire tournament field will be announced by the NCAA on Sunday night, including pairings in the four regionals, to be played next weekend in Worcester, Mass., Albany, N.Y., Madison, Wisc., and Colorado Springs, Colo. The four winners play in the Frozen Four in Denver on April 10 and 12. …'s 16-team NCAA Tournament projection: Bemidji State, Niagara, New Hampshire, Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, Notre Dame, Clarkson, Princeton, Colorado College, North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota State, St. Cloud. … Bemidji State coach Bruce Serratore was named Coach of the Year in College Hockey America. Robert Morris University senior Ryan Cruthers was named CHA Player of the Year. … The Wayne State University Warriors had their 2007-08 season come to an end following a 4-1 loss to Bemidji State in the CHA semifinals last Saturday afternoon at Niagara's Dwyer Arena. The WSU Board of Trustees voted last fall to end the hockey program, effective this season, due to financial constraints.'s Top 10

1)   Michigan 
2)   Colorado College
3)   North Dakota
4)   Miami
5)   New Hampshire
6)   Denver
7)   St. Cloud
8)   Boston College
9)   Michigan State
10)  Clarkson

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