NCAA Frozen Four Notebook
Through the Motions
Wednesday's practices give teams the
lay of the land, but little else
By Joe Gladziszewski,
Jeff Howe and Mike Eidelbes
|Breakaway games are a staple
of Wednesday practices at the Frozen Four. (Photo by
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Most practice sessions
at the Frozen Four really don’t involve much practice.
The Xs and Os discussions and game-planning have been taken
care of in the 8-10 days leading up to this weekend’s
Think of those times when people ask you what
you did at work or school on a certain day and your reply
was, “Nothing.” That’s how things went
on Wednesday at the Bradley Center as the four teams participating
in the national championship weekend went through final
rehearsal before Thursday’s semifinals.
Wednesday’s on-ice activities for most
teams included a light skate to stretch their legs and a
lot of work playing the puck to get used to the boards and
glass at the Bradley Center. Full-ice odd-man rushes and
breakaway drills were the norm and defensive zone coverages
and loose-puck battles were ignored.
Boston College associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh
said the Eagles’ approach to Wednesday was very simple.
“It was an up-tempo skate. We always
try to do that the day before the game and just learn the
rink. There were a lot of wraps around the boards to see
if there’s any funny hops, and when you dump the puck
in how quickly does it jump out.” Boston College Associate
Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “We don’t have
to do a lot of game planning now. We’ve been teaching
them systems since October. We want the kids to feel good
about themselves and be ready to play tomorrow.”
Maine was certain to test the boards and glass
after winning its regional at the Pepsi Center in Albany.
There, the Black Bears were confronted with so many awkward
bounces that the only surprises came when a puck took a
true ricochet off of the glass or around the boards.
Goaltender Ben Bishop is adept at handling
the puck and he worked with defensemen on making indirect
passes that can help the Black Bears break out of their
zone in Thursday’s semifinal against Wisconsin. The
forwards had a relatively easy day and were able to stretch
“It’s just kind of brushing up
on things, getting some flow, and taking a lot of shots,”
Maine’s Mike Hamilton said.
North Dakota forward Drew Stafford has been
through this ordeal before as the Sioux are the only one
of these four teams that played in last year’s Frozen
Four. The key to getting ready for these games is not so
much in the hours leading up to the game but in the week
before the games are played.
“This past week was great for us because
we were able to watch a lot of video and see BC’s
tendencies, watch their special teams and get the guys ready,”
North Dakota’s Drew Stafford said. “That’s
been our main focus all week. All we’re thinking about
it is getting ready for BC.”
At the end of the day, four workouts by four
teams truly accomplished nothing. And that was the plan
|Chris Collins has 31 goals this
season, two more than his first three years combined.
COLLINS HERE – AS EXPECTED
Chris Collins has known he would be in Milwaukee
to end the hockey season for a few months now. It’s
not because he was overly confident or because he had any
Nostradamus-esque revelations. It’s simply due to
the fact that Collins was the first player chosen to participate
in this year’s inaugural skills competition.
But thanks to a late-season surge into the
Frozen Four by his Boston College Eagles, Collins was resigned
to bail on Friday’s casual bash for a bit more of
a black tie affair: Thursday’s national semifinal
against North Dakota.
“I was looking forward to being involved
in [the skills competition], and it was an honor to be involved,
but I didn’t want to come out here by myself,”
Collins said. “These are some of my best friends here.
I wasn’t looking forward to coming out here by myself,
and I couldn’t think of anything better than coming
out here with the 23 guys.”
He still has some individual business to tend
to, though, as he is one of three finalists for the Hobey
Baker Award, which will be announced on Friday at 6 p.m.
local time. His good friend, Matt Carle of Denver, and potential
opponent in the national championship, Brian Elliott of
Wisconsin, will share the stage. With Collins will be hard
at work this weekend in Milwaukee, the Hobey is the last
thing he is really worrying about.
“I think it’s tough focusing on
the Hobey Baker when you’ve got the national championship
on the line, but I am completely 100 percent focused on
beating North Dakota and going into the national championship
game,” Collins said.
“This is going to be an incredible experience,
and it’s something I’ve been looking forward
to for my entire life. My whole family will be out here,
and that will be incredible. It’s an honor to even
be in the mix with that, but my first and foremost goal
is to win games here with the team.”
After all, he knows what it’s like to
make it this far – to be one of the last four teams
left standing – only to be sent home without a chance
to play on Saturday night. As a sophomore two years ago,
Collins’ Eagles ran into Jimmy Howard and a hot Maine
team, who stole BC’s chance to play for hardware.
Now as a senior and one of the premier players
in the nation, he feels the responsibility to make sure
that what happened in Boston doesn’t repeat itself
“There might be a little more pressure,
but at the same time, it’s more satisfying because
it’s your senior class and your final year here,”
he said. “The young guys are looking up to you just
like I used to look up to Ben Eaves and some of those guys.
I was a player back then, but I was just a role guy and
not a top-end guy for one of the top teams in the Frozen
Four. It’s an incredible experience … and I’ll
never forget that for the rest of my life.”
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE BRADLEY CENTER
• Most of the talk surrounding Maine
has revolved around the difficulty of playing Wisconsin
in front of what will likely be a decidedly pro-Badger crowd
at the Bradley Center Thursday night.
It’s not a big deal for the Black Bears,
though. Consider that in its last three NCAA Tournament
“Every year we’ve
played in a hostile environment,” said senior forward
Derek Damon. “It’s just about going about and
playing our game. It’s the same game we’d play
if we were at Merrimack College or down at BU.”
• Wisconsin sophomore defenseman Joe
Piskula, who hurt his ankle while blocking a shot in a win
against St. Cloud State March 3, skated with Badgers today.
In fact, he’s been on the ice for a few days, but
won’t play at the Frozen Four.
“I can skate pretty well but I don’t
have that jump…and the quickness, because the strength
isn’t there,” said Piskula, an Antigo, Wis.,
native. “These are going to be some real tough games,
and between my coaches and me, we just decided that we didn’t
know that my ankle will be ready for that.”
Though he’s been sidelined with the
injury for more than a month, Piskula has been able to contribute
to the Badgers in other ways, picking out opponents’
tendencies from his vantage point in the stands.
“When I watched the Cornell game, you
could tell how they took pride in there defense,”
Piskula said. “They had four guys back when we were
trying to do a line rush. You could definitely see that
• There aren’t many goalies who
can measure up to Maine freshman Ben Bishop. At 6-foot-7,
towers over his counterparts from Boston College, North
Dakota and Wisconsin – Cory Schneider stands 6-foot-2,
Jordan Parise tops out at 5-foot-11, and Brian Elliott is
listed at 6-foot-3.
In terms of notoriety, however, Bishop is
the forgotten man what with Elliott a finalist for the Hobey
Baker Award, Schneider a first-round draft pick and the
starting goaltender for the U.S. team at this year’s
World Junior Championship and Parise playing in his second
straight Frozen Four.
“It’s kind of nice,” Bishop
said about his relatively low profile. “To get a chance
to play against a Hobey Baker finalist tomorrow is going
to be a lot of fun. I’ve played against Schneider
a couple times this season, and that was a lot of fun. I
just look at it as a great opportunity.”
• Boston College’s roster includes
an interesting mix of players that have Frozen Four experience
and those that are participating in this event for the first
time. The junior and senior classes for the Eagles played
in Boston in 2004, but just five players from those two
classes will be in the BC lineup on Thursday afternoon,
and 14 of the 19 players won’t have had that experience.
One of the three seniors, Stephen Gionta, said they’ve
been trying to share some advice with the youngsters.
“Being so young (as a team) it helps with our young
guys and their confidence. It’s their first time going
through this. The junior and senior classes played in the
Frozen Four in Boston and we kind of know what to expect
coming in,” Gionta said. “We kind of tell them
what to expect but once you start playing you have to learn
on your own and they’ve done a great job and are playing
with a lot of confidence right now.”
• Maine goalie Ben Bishop got a nice
long look at the back of teammate Wes Clark, who stood at
the top of the crease wearing a bright yellow practice jersey
for about a 10-minute segment of practice on Wednesday.
Clark stood securely, knowing that no defensemen would be
clearing him from that spot of real estate, as Maine regularly
runs practice drills with a player in front of the goalie
to help the goalie work on tracking the puck through traffic.
• This is the third time the Frozen
Four will be held in Milwaukee. In 1993, Maine won the national
championship, and in 1997 – the 50th anniversary of
the tournament – North Dakota took home the title.
Both teams are in the field this week, but if you didn’t
know that already, you probably aren’t even reading
• Legendary Maine assistant coach Grant
Standbrook was a 12-year assistant and three-time national
champion on the Badger bench. A reporter told Mike Eaves
that Standbrook had nothing but nice things to say about
him and the Wisconsin program and then asked Eaves if he
could say the same about him. Eaves responded wryly with,
“I’ve got nothing nice to say about Grant Standbrook,”
which drew a roar from the media.
• Brian Elliott said that as he and
his teammates were walking downtown on Wednesday morning,
they were receiving high-fives from the Badger faithful.
only been in town just a few hours, but Milwaukee has proved
to be a welcoming host thus far. Numerous signs at General
Mitchell International Airport greeted fans arriving in
the city for the Frozen Four and a number of banners hanging
from light poles downtown celebrate the event. It’s
quite a change from Boston and Columbus, where the Frozen
Four barely registered on the local radar.
|The Bradley Center concourse.
(Photos by Larry Radloff)
even nicer touch can be observed in the Bradley Center concourse,
where tournament organizers have arranged a display featuring
sweaters from many Division I teams. People using the media
entrance on the building’s northwest corner, for example,
were greeted by an array of jerseys that included Providence’s
classic home white model, complete with the skating Friar.
Some even had names on the back – the Minnesota sweater,
for example, was the no. 11 of sophomore defenseman Nate
Fischer, the press conference mediator, made a tongue-in-cheek
announcement before Mike Eaves and the Badgers took their
seats in the media interrogation room, saying that anyone
who answered a cell phone during the press conference would
receive a 25 dollar fine. As Eaves took his seat, he did
his best Joe Horn impression by pulling out his cell phone
and saying, “Before we start, I’ve got to answer
my cell phone.”
Dakota’s Drew Stafford described the playing surface
as being “a little shaky out there,” and Maine’s
Mike Hamilton called it “sloppy.” That has come
to be expected at the Frozen Four where pro ice surfaces
are stripped and re-painted to meet NCAA specifications.
at today’s practice sessions was disappointing. Nowhere
near as many fans were at the Bradley Center compared to
Columbus and Boston – and we were disappointed a year
ago in Columbus. In fact, there were more media and NCAA
staffers than fans at the rink.