Frozen Findings

This past weekend marked the third time I’ve attended the best party in hockey—the Frozen Four.

It’s always an incredible, unique event, as fans from all over the country buy tickets months in advance and don’t even care if their team makes it. The best part is just hanging out at the bars talking to fans from different teams.

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This year, the championship was in Boston, a city that features four Division I schools, and a couple dozen more within easy driving distance. If you didn’t see what happened, go check out some of the awesome work that my colleagues at College Hockey News did this weekend. Seriously, they did an awesome job, especially Jashvina Shah, who witnessed a Pitt-like collapse by her alma mater and still managed to write some great stories.

I don’t cover the Frozen Four when I attend—it’s my annual standing vacation. I turned off my work e-mail and just enjoyed everything. So below are my thoughts on a few random things.

Boston gets it

I’ve only ever been to one American city more hockey-crazed than Boston—Minneapolis/St. Paul. And that’s technically two cities.

One of the things I loved about the TD Garden was that the seats were Bruins-themed (black and yellow), and the rink is clearly designed for hockey. It’s a Bruins arena in which the Celtics just happen to play. That’s hard to find these days.

Everywhere we went, people knew exactly why we were there. “You in town for the Frozen Four?” our hotel concierge asked. The bartenders all asked the same thing. Even the less-informed people knew there was a “hockey thing” going on. That didn’t happen in Pittsburgh or Philly. Most of the bartenders/cab drivers in Pennsylvania asked us “What’s the Frozen Four?”

It was incredible to witness that kind of passion for college hockey. And I imagine I won’t see it again until St. Paul hosts in three years.

Nobody cared about the gays invading

Thanks to some new, awful legislation in Indiana, being gay at the Final Four turned into a political statement. There were lots of LGBT events there, including a get-together sponsored by You Can Play. That wasn’t present at all in Boston, but it would have been nice to have some LGBT events to go to.

And I actually met a few other gay people in Boston. I met a man and his “partner” (apparently, people still say “partner”) who were in town for the games because one of them went to BU. And I talked to a few other folks on Twitter and even Grindr who were there for the games.

ff6Last year, I wrote about how I had to work to be open about myself when talking to other fans. But this year, it wasn’t even an issue. It might have helped that I was with a gay friend this year, but we talked to lots of people about the Madison Gay Hockey League and about our awesome MGHA Classic team name. And everyone thought it was great.

Everyone just laughed when I talked about how the gorgeous and beardy Matt O’Connor needed a hug from me after what happened on Saturday. And if I could get BU fans to laugh Saturday night, I doubt they were too hung up on the fact that there were gay people there.

It was very refreshing to be able to be completely open and not have to worry.

Still, we really should have an LGBT fan event at a bar or something in future years. I’d be willing to help plan something in Tampa next year.

Fairbanks, you let me down

Once again, I played college hockey bingo. My friend made some sweet bingo cards with a random sampling of all 55 teams that were not competing. (We left out the four semifinalists because we knew we would see their fans).

Before we even got to Boston, I saw plenty of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota fans on my flight through Detroit. We didn’t start our bingo game until Thursday, though. One of the first jerseys I saw was Robert Morris (Let’s go Bobby Mo!).

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By the end of the weekend, I saw every single team on my card except Mercyhurst and Alaska-Fairbanks. I’m not surprised about Mercyhurst, they’re a tiny school in Erie that has never made the Frozen Four.

But come on, Fairbanks…just because you were banned from the postseason doesn’t mean you had to boycott!

Omaha fans deserve an award or something

They won me over in South Bend with their die-hard, almost defiant, support of their Mavericks.

Omaha was on a Penguins-like skid heading into the NCAA Tournament. They had only won 2 games in the previous two months. One college hockey writer penned a regional preview and tweeted it with the headline: “Three of the teams here are playing extremely well, and then there’s Omaha.”

The Mavericks fans didn’t like that very much, and it became their rallying cry. After they earned a berth to the Frozen Four (beating out those three other teams that were playing extremely well), they sold shirts that said “And then there’s Omaha!”

But there was one little problem, Omaha is 1,500 miles from Boston. College students can’t exactly afford last-minute plane tickets. So the university organized three student buses, where $250 got students a round-trip ticket that featured game tickets for both Thursday and Saturday as well as hotel accommodations.

It’s 21 hours from Omaha to Boston.

They came out in full force Thursday night. They had a full student section in the upper level that rivaled BU’s students. Providence didn’t even have a student section, and their fans can reach TD Garden via public transportation.

Unfortunately, Omaha came up short in the semifinals, but the students stuck around for the championship game and enjoyed the weekend.

But then their bus broke down in Ohio and it took more than 30 hours to get home. Kudos to the students for their commitment.

Looking forward

ff5Next year, the Frozen Four heads back down south to Tampa. It may sound weird, but Tampa hosted in 2012, and everyone who went said it was a great time. It’s a small enough city so I’m sure the event will be a big deal. And after the cold, rainy weather in Boston this week, I won’t mind heading to a sunny Florida beach during the Frozen Four.

I know it’s way too early, but it’s always fun to think about the teams that will make the Frozen Four next year. I don’t think we’ll see any of the four teams we saw this year. BU is losing Eichel and some key seniors. Providence had a bunch of seniors and might lose their goalie. Omaha relied way too heavily on its senior goalie, and assuming Zane McIntyre leaves the North Dakota net early, they’ll be in a similar situation.

So here’s my dream Frozen Four:

  • Wisconsin – Of course
  • Robert Morris – Go Pittsburgh
  • RIT – Their fans are crazy
  • Omaha – Their fans are now just as crazy as RIT

But that will never, ever, ever happen. So here’s my actual, way-too-early picks for the 2016 Frozen Four:

  • Harvard – Vesey’s back, they’ve got to be early favorites
  • Michigan – They’ve been slowly building, and they won’t be kept down for long
  • Duluth – They’ve got a good goalie returning and they had a great year
  • Boston College – They make the Frozen Four every other year

Looking ahead even further, the 2017 Frozen Four is in Chicago, and frankly, I think it’s going to suck. The best part about the Frozen Four is hanging out at the bars before the game, and having a nice fan fest near the arena, but the United Center is out in no-man’s land. Yeah, I guess there’s a few bars over there, and if it’s nice, we might be able to tailgate in the parking lots.

But I just can’t imagine Chicago having the festive kind of college hockey atmospheres we saw in the areas around the arenas in Pittsburgh, Philly and Boston. I’m afraid it’s way too big of a city without enough of a college hockey presence.

In stark contrast with Chicago, though, St. Paul will host in 2018, and that will likely be the best one yet. The entire city of St. Paul basically exists to house a hockey rink. It will be magical.

See you in Tampa.

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