April 5, 2004
NCAA Frozen Four

Postcard: Processing Paradise
UMD staff, fans, find the new world of the Frozen Four a tad overwhelming

By Jess Myers

“My people are not paradise people. We’ve lived in Minnesota all of our lives and it has taken a lot out of us. My people aren’t sure they’ll even like paradise: not sure perfection is all it’s cracked up to be. My people will arrive in heaven and stand just inside the gate, shuffling around. ‘It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be,’ they might say. We’ll say, ‘No thank you, we can’t stay for eternity, we’ll just sit and have a few minutes of bliss and then we have to get back!’” Garrison Keillor

If you see fans of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs shuffling around the FleetCenter and saying, “It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be,” this week, don’t be surprised. While the Frozen Four isn’t virgin territory for the Bulldog faithful, the trepidation they may feel in heading to Boston is akin to the feelings before walking in the door of your 20-year high school reunion – excitement, sure, but also a nagging uneasiness about seeing things you haven’t been around for a long, long time.

Captain Beau Geisler and the Bulldogs are appearing in the school's first Frozen Four since 1985.

Bob Nygaard, the school’s sports information director for more than two decades, was 25 and in his second season on the job in 1985, when the Bulldogs last played in the men’s Frozen Four. He remembers that one call from the Detroit Free Press was about the extent of the out-of-town media requests he got before his team arrived at Joe Louis Arena that year.

Since returning to his office from Grand Rapids, Mich., last Monday, the calls and e-mails Nygaard has received this time around have been almost non-stop. He’s been in lengthy conversations with people from ESPN every day. He’s gotten media requests from dozens of newspapers, Web sites, TV stations and radio stations. The Boston Globe even flew a reporter to Duluth to file on-scene reports about how the Twin Ports are going crazy over the Bulldogs.

“Between reporters wanting interviews, photos, logos and other information requests, it’s been amazing,” said Nygaard, who has one full-time assistant and assorted students helping him out. “You really see how the college hockey world has grown, how the Internet has changed the media, and how big a deal the Frozen Four has become.”

Jay Hagen, a long-time UMD backer who has attended the Frozen Four every year for more than a decade, will be flying himself and his family to Boston from Australia (where he’s working as a computer consultant for a year). For many other Bulldog fans, the challenge comes not only in trying to find a way to Boston (there are countless carloads planning to make the 24-hour road trip starting on Tuesday or Wednesday) but just in processing the thought that after so many lean years, the good times have returned so quickly and so thoroughly.

Until this March, one come-from-behind playoff win over Minnesota in 1998 could have legitimately been called the biggest moment in the past 15 years of Bulldog hockey. In the 18 seasons between their last Frozen Four appearance and this year, the Bulldogs managed to crack the upper half of the WCHA standings just four times. Folks, you’re witnessing the college hockey equivalent of the Detroit Lions going to the Super Bowl.

But it’s not like there hasn’t been a “quick turnaround” precedent set in the WCHA. A decade ago, Don Lucia took Colorado College from last place in the league to the NCAA title game in three years. One win over Denver, and UMD coach Scott Sandelin will have duplicated that feat.

If that happens, the Bulldogs and their fans will have the Friday between the semis and the title game to figure out whether they’re ready for life in college hockey’s paradise.

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