ANONYMOUS UNION DEFENSE KEYS TEAM SUCCESS
By Joe Gladziszewski
College hockey fans who are just catching up on to this Union team and its successful run through the regular season and NCAA Tournament can surely come up with the basic information. Troy Grosenick, the sophomore goaltender, is a Hobey Baker finalist. Jeremy Welsh, the team’s leading goal-scorer is a high-level player and has surely attracted lots of attention from NHL front office types.
But what about the defensemen? Those guys do their job in relative anonymity, and it suits them just fine. It’s a mix of differing styles of play, differing levels of collegiate experience and different personalities, but they make all of those things work as a complete unit. Union assistant coach Jason Tapp, a former Boston University goaltender, works primarily with the defenseman.
Junior defenseman Shawn Stuart is part of an anonymous Union defensive corps.
“I think the biggest part of the D is that they all know their roles,” Tapp said. “We have some offensive guys, we’ve have some stay-at-home guys and everyone says we’re an older team but we’re actually pretty young.”
Among the defense corps, the only senior that’s among the top-six is captain Nolan Julseth-White. Juniors Shawn Stuart (40 games) and Greg Coburn (39) have been in the lineup almost every night. Mat Bodie is a sophomore and Shayne Gostisbehere is a freshman. The other spot has been claimed by junior Ryan Forgaard, who returned from injury to reclaim a lineup spot and has been in 19 games this season. Freshman Charlie Vasaturo (12) and senior Taylor Reid (13) have been solid contributors when called upon.
“They’re all very coachable, and they know what their roles are. They listen, they do their job and don’t try to do too much. I think that’s the thing, they don’t try to do things they’re not capable of,” Tapp said. “They keep it even, keep it steady, go about their job and they know what they’re good at. They focus on that stuff and do those things well but they don’t try to get out of their comfort zone.”
That all comes from Julseth-White’s presence and leadership. He’s vocal about keeping things prioritized. Union’s strongest characteristics are its self-belief and unflappable nature, and those traits run through the defense. Grosenick is obviously a beneficiary and gets some notoriety as a result, and Union ranks first nationally in overall team defense. The Dutchmen have allowed just 1.80 goals against per game.
“Our D do a great job of allowing Troy to see pucks. We do a pretty good job of eliminating sticks on pucks and denying shots and taking away some grade-As that teams leave. We form a pretty good pocket around him,” Tapp said. “It’s not just our D, but our team defense. Our forwards get back hard for him and they pick up the trailers so there’s no late passes. We focus a lot on team defense and our guys have bought in and that’s certainly helped Troy.”
SIT STANDS TALL BOSTON COLLEGE
By Kevin Zeise
With as much firepower as Boston College has offensively, it’s easy to overlook the team’s defensive prowess. And as the Eagles try to match up with Minnesota’s top scoring line on Thursday night, they’ll rely on a freshman who grew up in the shadow of the Gopher program, freshman Michael Sit.
Sit centers the Eagles’ fourth line, flanked by fellow freshmen Quinn Smith and Danny Linnell, but unlike his linemates from the East Coast, Sit is the lone representative on the Boston College squad from Minnesota, hailing from the Minneapolis suburb of Edina—a mere 13 miles away from Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena.
Boston College forward Michael Sit, a Minnesota native, relishes the opportunity to face the Gohpers in Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal.
“We were actually (Minnesota) season ticket holders, and I watched them win a few championships when I was in my childhood, those back-to-backs in the early 2000s,” Sit said Wednesday. “We were like 15 minutes from campus, and attended a lot of games when we were younger.”
Despite the obvious hometown appeal, Sit had his sights set on attending school away from home, and a family connection drew his attention toward Boston. His older brother, David, enrolled at Boston University and plays for that school’s club team.
“The East Coast draw was pretty big because he was out here,” Sit said. “I felt more comfortable looking at the schools out east, and this was where my first interest came.”
Sit’s numbers (0-3—3) aren’t the type of thing to grab one’s attention, but he’s aware of the importance of his role on this year’s team. The chemistry he and his linemates have showed have helped the Eagles during their 17-game winning streak leading into the Frozen Four.
“I kind of envisioned my role as a shutdown guy from the beginning, but then when we started playing together, they’re both amazing skaters, they both battle hard in the corners and get to the net,” he said. “I’m more of a harassing-type of player. I don’t have the stature to throw the body around, but then again, Quinn Smith is a pretty small guy, and he bangs pretty hard.”
Facing a team that put up 12 goals in the two games in the West Regional in Minnesota, it’ll be up to Sit and his linemates to help slow down the Gopher attack for the Eagles to reach Saturday’s national championship game. Knowing that the road to the national championship game goes through the program that he grew up watching brings a smile to Sit’s face.
“It’d be a great feeling. I grew up admiring those guys, and that team, and being able to come back and beat them now that I’m in college would just be a great feeling and a great accomplishment.”
GOPHERS’ DEPTH MIRRORS BOSTON COLLEGE
By Jess Myers
Much was made a about the emergence of Minnesota’s newly formed third line when the WCHA playoffs started. When Don Lucia juggled just enough to create a more dangerous third offensive unit with Travis Boyd centering Nate Condon and Taylor Matson, he gave the team a certain offensive depth, correcting an area where the Gophers had been hit or miss in the second half of the regular season.
In Frozen Four foe Boston College, the Gophers now face a kind of mirror image, and not just because the Eagles also wear a variant of maroon and gold.
Watching tape: Minnesota's Ben Marshall readies a stick after the Gophers' Wednesday practice.
“Most teams aren’t three lines deep offensively,” Lucia said Wednesday. “That’s what separates Boston College from, I think, everybody else.”
Well, perhaps everybody except the Gophers, where the top two lines have provided scoring punch all season and the members of the third line all had at least a goal and an assist in the wins over Boston University and North Dakota during the NCAA West Regional. Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the weak link this season but goalie Kent Patterson did his best work early in the season, giving the blue-line corps time to grow.
“They have three really good scoring lines, but one thing that might benefit us as defensemen is that we go up against a very talented group of forwards each and every day in practice,” said sophomore Nate Schmidt. “We’re up to the task. They have big, strong forwards as well. (Johnny) Gaudreau is a similar size to a guy like Kyle Rau and (Chris) Kreider is a big guy kind of like (Nick) Bjugstad, so we see the same type of players. That caliber doesn’t change very much.”
Still, Lucia tried hard to paint his team as the underdog , joking that you don’t get to the Frozen Four every year unless you’re Boston College while giving a little hint about his team’s strategy against an Eagles team that didn’t allow a goal in winning the NCAA Northeast Regional.
“The first thing we have to do is manage the puck. You can’t turn pucks over against BC and shorten the rink for them,” Lucia said. “We’re going to have to pick our spots, but at the same time I don’t think we can sit back and let them have the puck all night because they’re too talented.”
He won’t mention it, as it doesn’t fit with his underdog vibe, but there will be plenty of talent and three lines of offensive depth on both benches Thursday.
CHANGE OF SCENERY SUITS FERRIS STATE’S WYSOPAL
By James V. Dowd
The sense of surprise in Ferris State reaching its first-ever Frozen Four has been well-documented in the 10 days since the Bulldogs defeated Denver and Cornell in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional in Green Bay. But if there’s one person who finds it hardest to believe that he and his team has reached college hockey’s biggest stage, it might well be Ferris State senior defenseman Brett Wysopal.
Wysopal began his college hockey career skating for Colorado College, a program better known for national success and one just three years removed from a Frozen Four appearance when he arrived in Colorado Springs. The Tigers appeared to be trending in the right direction with a bevy of talent in the pipeline and a bright future seemingly assured.
But after finishing his freshman year with no points in 21 appearances and having mixed feelings about the college’s unique block scheduling setup, Wysopal decided to transfer, landing in Big Rapids.
Ferris State's Brett Wysopal transferred to Big Rapids after one season with Colorado College.
“I didn’t think we’d be in the Frozen Four before CC,” Wysopal said, “Especially after my freshman year at CC where we were ranked No. 1 in the country and kind of laid an egg in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, I was really rooting for my friends to get out of the [NCAA West] regional, but they couldn’t get it done. I thought they were going to do it.”
Despite leaving a program on the upswing and one that’s better known for recruiting and developing top-end talent, Wysopal found Ferris State has a knack for uncovering gems in the defensive zone—a key in the team’s growth and stability in recent seasons. The senior counts himself lucky to have played with some of college hockey’s top blueliners over the past three seasons and credits their skill sets with giving him the opportunity to refine and improve his own game.
“I think it makes my job a lot easier,” Wysopal said. “I’ve never been a really high-profile guy. We have (senior Chad) Billins this year, we had (Winnipeg Jets prospect Zach) Redmond last year and (Matt) Case a few years ago. They are all high-end players who are very skilled. It’s really easy to let them go do their job and I just have to worry about mine.”
As the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Wysopal improved as a defender, his responsibilities shifted. This year, he was asked to take on more of a defensive role than in the past and responded with a plus-5 rating and 73 blocked shots.
“I think my role changed this year,” Wysopal said. “I’ve been more of a power-play guy before but I think this year we needed a guy who could play in a more defensive role. I might be undersized, but I figured I could do it. The coaching staff asked if I could I do that and I think I’ve done a pretty good job.”
Wysopal’s defensive efforts will be as important as ever if the Bulldogs hope to reach Saturday’s title game. Facing a Union team that’s strong defensively and with explosive forwards who are big in stature, Wysopal knows little things like blocked shots and physical play will make the difference. And while the Bulldogs have enjoyed more offensive success than years past, they’re prepared to grind it out in a game that Wysopal believe will be a one-goal game.
“We like to run and gun more than Ferris State used to in the old days,” Wysopal said. “Guys like Jordie Johnston like to run and gun and score some goals. But I think we can (grind it out). It’s more of a battle, it’s much more of a battle and it wears you down. But at this point in the year, guys are willing to do anything to win.”
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
By Mike Eidelbes and Kevin Zeise
• Ferris State coach Bob Daniels was named the recipient of the Spencer Penrose Award presented annually to the NCAA Division I coach of the year. It’s the second time Daniels has won the honor—he was also the Penrose winner in 2003—and the first CCHA coach to win it since Michigan’s Red Berenson in 2008.
“The (Penrose Award) is unique in it represents a team accomplishment. There’s no coach that’s deserving of individually winning the award,” Daniels said following his team’s practice at Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I think it’s an award bestowed upon the coaching staff, the players, the administration, the fans. It truly is a team award.”
• No stranger to the Frozen Four himself, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon was in attendance at Wednesday’s practice sessions. And while his Catamounts didn’t have the season they had wanted this year, Sneddon has taken some pride in seeing Union, a team he coached from 1998 to 2003, qualify for this year’s Frozen Four.
“It’s been a really neat evolution when you look at that program. I remember at the time, it was all about dollars and cents—can we recruit, do we have enough money to buy sticks, if we don’t get more donations, how can we continue to do this? I think at that point in time, we were focused on trying to build a foundation for the program to prosper and now that they have foundation, they can really get after it for championships.
“There’s some great people there and it’s a great school, and I think that’s part of the frustration during that time was it was this fantastic school and a great environment, and it just needed a little bit of help. Now they’ve got that help and you see where they are.”
• No one familiar with college hockey views this year’s Frozen Four semifinals as a case of the haves (BC, Minnesota) vs. the have nots (Ferris State, Union), but it’s naive to think there aren’t differences between the institutions. For example, one INCH staffer overheard a Union student manager talking to his boss about Minnesota’s equipment bounty: “Did you see how many sticks they have?”
• The Gophers earn a bonus point for adorning their Tampa Bay Times Forum locker room door with a logo similar to the skating Gopher logo that used to grace one end of old Mariucci Arena. The new Gopher logo certainly looks like he’d be better in the corners, but the old skating Goldy (pictured, right) has more of a Gretzky-like demeanor, no?
Kudos to Minnesota equipment manager and friend of INCH Lee Greseth for encouraging the Gophers to more prominently use the old logo.
• Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Shannon, out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, visited the Boston College locker room after practice Wednesday and addressed the team. Shannon played for Boston College from 2001-05 and helped the Eagles to the Frozen Four in 2004.
“Coach York had him talk to us about his experience in the Frozen Four, just what it was like for him,” said Boston College sophomore Bill Arnold. “He reiterated that this is it, and not to take anything for granted, and to give it everything we have. One game, and the season could be done.”
• Flashback to Frozens past: Glanced up at one of the television monitors in the Tampa Bay Times Forum media workroom to catch a glimpse of a replay of Tuesday’s Anaheim-Vancouver match that starred Canucks netminder Cory Schneider—the former Boston College goaltender who helped the Eagles to the Frozen Four in 2006 and 2007. Schneider stopped all nine shots he faced in relief of starter Roberto Luongo as the Canucks earned a 5-4 shootout win over the visiting Ducks.
When asked by a reporter why Boston College and Minnesota don’t play each other more often, Eagles head coach Jerry York remarked that BC will be part of Minnesota’s holiday tournament next season and added that the two schools are working on a four-year scheduling agreement for regular-season series with an unspecified start date.