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Taking off the jersey for final time never easy

by Bob Snow

Notre Dame defenseman and captain Mark Van Guilder is one of several four-year players who capped their college careers in the Frozen Four.
It's been 15 years for Montreal's Bryan Smolinski, but he can still relate to the moment when the college jersey comes off for the very last time.

"You bleed your school's colors for four years," Smolinski said about his last game for Michigan State back in 1993. "You go through the ups and downs whether you have a good team or not. You realize it's over after a long four years for guys that stay."

At the Frozen Four two weeks ago, North Dakota goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (Grand Forks, N.D.), Michigan's Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter (Northville, Mich.), Notre Dame's Mark Van Guilder (Roseville, Minn.), and Boston College's Mike Brennan (Smithtown, N.Y.) had many ups and downs, and each stayed the four years.

"Congrats to those four for having illustrious careers in their own rights," said Smolinski. "If you're lucky enough to make it to the next level, you know there might be bigger and better things to go on to, but when you look back, there's nothing but good times. You grow up as a human being. Hopefully, they can move on, whether it’s business or hockey."

The intensely abrupt and emotional transition from playing that last career game in college to moving on was captured by in Denver. Here's the setting and comments from the ironman of each Frozen Four team -- Lamoureux, Porter, Van Guilder and Brennan -- about taking off the college jersey for the very last time: 

Lamoureux was a local kid who made good by ending his career as the nation's leading goaltender in GAA and save percentage for 2007-08. Sitting solo in the corner of the North Dakota dressing room after the semifinal loss to BC, Lamoureux's mood was melancholy, his comments reflective just before he took off the jersey for the very last time.

"The emotions of this last game don't sink in for a few years later," he said. "Unfortunately, tonight didn't turn out the way I thought we would have liked. But reflecting now, I couldn't have been prouder to play for my hometown and the Fighting Sioux. This being my last game, I'll follow the team and be a Sioux fan for the rest of my life. I couldn't be prouder to play behind these guys. I don't really want to take it off; keep it on as long as I can. It means a lot to me. It was always a dream of mine to play for the Sioux. Now it comes to an end, and a new chapter begins."

Porter returned to Michigan as captain for his senior year; his sole focus to lead the Wolverines to a 10th national title, and a first since 1998. Coming up short, and immediately after Michigan's loss to Notre Dame in the other semifinal, the eventual Hobey Baker recipient and heart-and-soul of Red Berenson's squad was emotionally drained. He spoke demurely of his 162nd and final college game, and then peeled off the Maize and Blue for the last time.  

"It's tough taking it off for the last time," Porter said. "You lose this game and you're not going to the championship game. I'll never put it on again so it's pretty sad. The four years have been unbelievable, especially this year. Winning the national championship was the main reason for returning, but I grew as a player and a person. I could list a hundred other things."

Van Guilder, Notre Dame’s captain and outstanding defenseman, had just finished his last practice for Notre Dame. His 163rd game on the Irish blue line would be for a national championship 24 hours later.

"This last game has crept into my mind quite a bit because we've been on the bubble the past few weeks," Van Guilder said. "Now the end is here; either way this is the last time I'll put a Notre Dame jersey on. It's been a constant build from five wins my freshman year to a national championship game. Everything we've gone through has been worth it. The relationships with teammates and in the community we built on campus, I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's sad win or lose to be honest. It's been great to wear this jersey; playing with your teammates is what it's all about. This is the last time with all these guys."

Mike Brennan exits his collegiate career as part
of an NCAA champion with Boston College.
Brennan was a rock-solid mainstay on the Eagles’ blue line since he was a freshman. The last two seasons ended with a national championship at stake. Brennan was 0-2 in those season-ending losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively. Not this year. Immediately after winning the national championship against Notre Dame, the son of a New York policeman was euphoric after the jersey came off for the 168th and final time in his BC career.

"(You and I) talked the other day, and if you lose, you know it's not going to be the same thing," Brennan said. "It really wouldn't have been the same feeling taking it off. Every time when I put this jersey on, every time I've been given the ‘C,’ I just took pride in putting it on every single game. Luckily I got 168 games in this jersey and when I take it off it's going to be a shocker. I've bled in it, I sweat in it; I was with my teammates in it. It's the best four years of my life, but coach always said you want the next four years to be the best. I'll be satisfied with what's happened the next few years. This is what I wanted; this is what the team wanted."

On Campus Clips -- Nathan Gerbe's five goals in the Frozen Four is the highest total since Dave Silk also scored five for Boston University in 1977. Colorado College's Bob McCusker holds the Frozen Four all-time record with seven in 1957. ... Gerbe finishes as the nation's leader in total points with 68; he will return to BC for his senior year. ... BC coach Jerry York is now tied with Boston University's Jack Parker for all-time NCAA Tournament wins with 26. ... Notre Dame was the first No. 4 seed to advance to the national championship game since the NCAA expanded the field to 16 in 2003. ... If Boston College plays in the 2009 championship game, the Eagles will be the only team in NCAA history to play in four consecutive title games; Minnesota, Wisconsin and Lake Superior State have also played in three straight. ... The 2009 Regional sites are Bridgeport, Conn., Manchester, N.H., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Minneapolis. ... The U.S. Naval Academy and the Greater Washington Sports Alliance will host the 2009 Frozen Four. ... The semifinal games and the championship game will be played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on April 9 and 11.'s Final Top 10
1.    Boston College  (25-11-8)
2.    Notre Dame (27-16-4)
3.    Michigan  (33-6-4)
4.    North Dakota  (28-11-4)
5.    Miami (33-8-1)
6.    Michigan State (25-12-5)
7.    Wisconsin (16-16-7)
8.    Denver  (26-14-1)
9.    Clarkson  (22-13-4)
10.  Colorado College (28-12-1)

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