The college hockey world converged upon Pittsburgh and CONSOL Energy Center this past week, resulting in fans from all corners of the nation taking part in a plethora of festivities leading up to a new NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey champion being crowned.
All four teams – Yale, Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell and St. Cloud State – capped remarkable seasons at the Frozen Four, but only one could come out on top. In the end, it was Mount Lebanon native Jesse Root and the Yale Bulldogs who took down the Quinnipiac Bobcats 4-0 in Saturday’s championship game to earn their first national championship, while becoming the first school to defeat three No. 1 seeds on their way to a title.
Yale senior forward Andrew Miller, who finished with four points (2G-2A) in his two games in Pittsburgh, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“I think for everyone it’s an honor to represent our school,” Miller said. “It’s an absolute team effort and everyone played their hardest and competed their hardest and to bring a national championship back to Yale is unbelievable.”
The Bulldog faithful were just as excited after the game, as many rushed to buy championship hats and tee-shirts immediately after the final whistle.
“We followed Yale for 35 years in hockey, so this is a nice win for them,” Yale fan Debbie Sterling said. “To beat Quinnipiac is even better because we beat the No. 4 team, the No. 3 team in the nation, the No. 2 and now we beat No. 1.”
The week went off without a hitch and provided fans with a memorable experience. All four schools were well represented as the pageantry of college athletics was in full effect complete with energized student sections and pep bands. But a large contingent of fans of schools not included in this year’s event made their way to Pittsburgh. Many of them purchase tickets annually and have traveled to everywhere from Providence to Detroit in past years.
Mike McCort, a Wisconsin fan and alum who attended his 22nd consecutive Frozen Four, said Pittsburgh’s version stacked up well compared to Milwaukee and other cities that have held the event.
“I feel very welcomed,” McCort, said. “(Pittsburgh’s) a hockey town, so they always like hockey fans here. I love the sport and we enjoy the action.”
The three games weren’t the only events the Frozen Four provided its fans, as a well-received lineup of activities designed to entertain college hockey lovers were provided.
The Frozen Fest, a festival located in the parking lot across at the former Civic Arena site, was held before games on Thursday and Saturday. Fans took part in hockey-themed carnival games, like “Hot Shot,” a game where fans had to shoot a puck into a small slot in a board painted to represent a goal.
The fest also gave each of the four participating universities the opportunity to hold short pregame rallies. A guest speaker, usually the university’s athletic director, president or chancellor, pumped up his or her contingent along with their respective cheerleaders and pep bands. The rallies gave off a distinct college feel, which fans of the participating teams appreciated.
“[Pittsburgh has] done a great job,” said UMass-Lowell season ticket holder Paul Morrison. “With the flags downtown and we went to the Lowell rally and it’s been great and this fan fest is great.”
The crowd was in high spirits throughout the week, partly because the Frozen Four coincided with some of the most beautiful weather the city has seen in quite some time, especially on Thursday when the temperature hovered in the 70s and 80s.
“This is right up there (with other Frozen Fours),” Paul Flynn, another Lowell fan, said. “I like the outside atmosphere and it seems like a good crowd. We drove down today from Massachusetts and it’s nice and warm. I’ll take this any day.”
But the fest was not the first event Pittsburgh held for fans this week, as the teams’ practices were made open to the public on Wednesday, giving fans a closer look at their favorite players leading up to the marquee event in college hockey.
After Quinnipiac and Yale punched their tickets to Saturday’s big game, the athletes participated in another round of open practices Friday before CONSOL hosted the presentation of NCAA hockey’s most prominent individual award, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. Although he and St.Cloud State were eliminated by Quinnipiac Thursday, Drew LeBlanc was named the 2012-13 player of the year over the Bobcats’ Eric Hartzell and Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau.
LeBlanc, a fifth-year senior forward, led the nation with 37 assists in 42 games.
A few hours after the presentation, the arena’s ice was made available to fans for four 30-minute ice skating sessions. About 20 to 30 people took the ice at a time during the sessions.
Most of these events are held annually, but many fans agreed that Pittsburgh did a spectacular job of maintaining the high quality expected at championship-level NCAA events while providing a distinct Pittsburgh feel.
Mike Helwig, a Minnesota fan and alum, traveled from his home in Denver to attend his seventh straight Frozen Four. He’s attended the event in Detroit, Minneapolis and Tampa Bay among other cities and said his experience in Pittsburgh was top-notch.
“I’m a little bit of a hockey crazy,” Helwig said. “(Pittsburgh’s) been pretty unique. We’re just getting to see Pittsburgh and everything so far is great. We had lunch at a fantastic Pittsburgh restaurant (Primanti Bros.) and it was great. The whole week was great."