Last week, I took a look at the field for this year’s Frozen Four and one thought immediately popped into my head.
Worst. Frozen. Ever.
Seriously. Vermont and Miami couldn’t get out of the quarterfinals of their respective league playoffs. Bemidji State didn’t climb more than one game above .500 until it beat Alabama-Huntsville in the first round of the CHA tournament. Outside of Boston University — the tournament’s top overall seed that has reached mythological, 800-pound, ManBearPig status even though the Terriers don’t always play inspired hockey — it wasn’t a scintillating group.
It took an animated movie about a rat to change my perspective. Yeah, the climactic scene in “Ratatouille” swayed me. “Ratatouille”, for those who haven’t seen it, it the story of a rat named Remy with an incredible culinary gift. Unfortunately, rats and fine cuisine are about as compatible as Joe Finley and Blake Geoffrion. Long story short, Remy ends up cooking a meal at one of Paris’s finest restaurants for the country’s pre-eminent (and harshest) food critic and blows him away.
“The work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment,” the journalist wrote in his review. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
Likewise, a great hockey team can come from anywhere — Bemidji or Boston, Canton or Colorado Springs. So the names on the sweaters are unfamiliar and you don’t recognize the guys behind the benches. It’s still the Frozen Four. The teams will compete just as hard. The games will be just as compelling. The winner will be just as deserving.
Besides, in what other sport does the final entrant — Bemidji State was seeded 16th in this year’s tournament — have a chance to win the whole thing? The last qualifier at Wimbledon can park at a one-hour spot and leave with time remaining on the meter. No. 16 seeds in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are oh-for-forever. The rear car in an auto race typically spends its entire run there. The lone exception I can think of is the 1991 PGA Championship, when ninth alternate John Daly ended up winning by three strokes. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Next season, order will likely be restored. Familiar teams, familiar players, familiar coaches, familiar cheers, and familiar fight songs return. The 2009 Frozen Four, however, is a unique dish. Just try it. I think you’ll like the flavor.
Like most of you, I’m sweating out the days prior to the Frozen Four, which seems like a good time to answer e-mails that have been gathering dust in the ol’ inbox. And away we go …
Q. Why is [Alaska goalie] Chad Johnson oftentimes referred to as Ocho Cinco on INCH? It’s certainly not his jersey number. – Dave, Boston
No reason. Just keeping our Spanish sharp in preparation for next year’s Monterrey Regional.
Q. Since you guys partner with ESPN, ever thought of using their elaborate pick ‘em prediction resources for the NCAA hockey tournament? – Eric, Minneapolis
That’s a very good question, Eric. No.
Q. Ken McMillan’s article [from the Atlantic Hockey tournament] was great. However he commented at the end that there really were no Air Force Cadets there. This is because the past few years the tournament has been scheduled during a major training event for the Cadets [and they] are not allowed to leave. – Justin, Air Force Academy, Colo.
Should Air Force ever make the Frozen Four, I propose our government find the cash to bring every Cadet to D.C. If you’ve never been to a collegiate athletic event featuring one of the service academies, you’re missing out on a great experience.
Q. You know what’s really demoralizing? Settling into your seat on Friday night and realizing that you’re getting two nights of Derek Shepherd. – Bret, Cloquet, Minn.
Bret wins e-mail of the year honors. For those of you who don’t know, Derek Shepherd is a WCHA referee. And for those of you who do know … well, I guess you know.
Q. I read James V. Dowd’s recap of Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame [in the CCHA tournament]. I would like someone to answer a simple question for me: Why on earth would you allow Dowd to insult Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer? You guys should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves for allowing Dowd to keep writing such negativity about one player. Especially since Sauer will graduate with the best single-season save percentage of any Michigan goalie ever and a CCHA championship last year. To say he “can’t get the team to the next level” is just mean spirited and wrong. – Brad, Buffalo, N.Y.
Uh … I edited that piece and didn’t see anything resembling what you claim. Let’s get this straight once and for all. Was Sauer a good goaltender for Michigan? Sure, he was good as a sophomore and a junior except for two games — flame outs in back-to-back NCAA tournaments. I bet if you play word association with a Michigan hockey fan and mention the name “Billy Sauer,” the first thing out of his or her mouth won’t be talk of his great numbers.
Q. With Chris Connolly as a frosh at BU and Jack Connolly having an equally good season at UMD, does this make history and have you given this any thought before I just brought it up? Is there precedent or is it historical? – Scott, Hopkinton, Mass.
Chris and Jack are brothers, but I don’t know what the question is here. There is a glut of Connollys in college hockey. Personally, I try to keep my Connolly-related activities focused on Jennifer Connelly. And once at the Frozen Four, I thought USCHO’s Jim Connelly was trying to steal my beer.
Q. I’m loving watching the Catamounts and following their amazing season so far, and I have to say that if Viktor Stalberg is not one of the frontrunners for the Hobey, something smells funny in college hockey. – Geoff, Norwich, Vt.
If anything smells funny in college hockey, I usually look in Jeff Howe’s general direction.
I was a staunch supporter of Stalberg winning the Hobey, because I wanted the engraver to have to put that funky “a” with the circle above it on the name plate. What is that thing called anyway?
Q. I don’t understand how you can leave Chay Genoway — WCHA Defensive Player of the Year — off your All-American teams. – J.T., Colfax, N.D.
Truth be told, Genoway was never really in our discussions. Doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good year. And I’ll admit I like Fairchild better. Maybe I just catch him at the right time, but I never see Fairchild have a night off.
And North Dakota fans, you can save your “Fairchild had plenty of nights off after March 19″ e-mails, because I just wrote that joke for you.
Q. I’ve been a reader of INCH for quite some time now and I gotta tell you, all this making fun of WCHA fans for thinking their conference is the best is getting pretty damn tiresome. – Matt, Minneapolis.
We just do it to keep Jess Myers in his place. Seriously though, I think we do it because WCHA fans can handle it and [most of them] have a pretty good sense of humor about it.
Listen, we’ve said before that there are certain stereotypes that we’re just gonna run with — Maine hasn’t cheated in 15 or so years, but that label has stuck. The same is true with the WCHA superiority complex. We kid because we care.
Q. Do you guys ever see a Division I college hockey program developing in the state of California? – Scott, Santa Barbara, Calif.
I do, but only when I’m on a peyote-induced vision quest with the Lou Diamond Phillips character from “Young Guns.”
Q. im looking for a great educated college to help me learn the basics of hockey, ive never played it but i love the game and i want to get interested. i am a great listener, and pay attention real well even when it has to do with sports, ive done so much and would like to know more. if u can help me get into this school i would be greatful, thanks. – Ryan, Edgewater, Fla.
Must resist urge … to mention … St. Cloud State …
I’M JUST SAYIN’
• If you watched any of the Final Four from Ford Field in Detroit, you’ll get a taste of what next year’s Frozen Four might be like. Don’t take my word for it, but it looks like there are about 15,000 good seats and 55,000 horrible ones.
• Good grief, Vermont, where’d you get those helmets? Those abominations look like something you’d pick up from the prop closet for the movie “Rollerball.” The one starring Chris Klein, not James Caan.
• Since we’re on the topic of things that are awful, isn’t it about time, Boston University fans, that you came up with a better cheer for when a Terrier penalty expires? I mean, counting down the finals seconds and then yelling like a bunch of third graders who just cracked open a pinata? Have you just given up?
• I think I’ve still got two tickets for the Frozen that I’m not using. Good seats, too … at least that’s what I’m told. Contact me if you’re interested in picking them up.