By Raymond Rolak
(special to ClearysNoteBook)
24th Frozen Four for University of Michigan
ST. PAUL-- With great parity, the teams are set for the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minnesota. Any of the four schools can win. It is my prediction that overtime will take place in at least one of the contests. The Hobey Baker Award winner will be announced and the landscape of college hockey will be discussed and dissected throughout the week-end. The announcement of the Big Ten Conference and what is happening at the storied Michigan State program will be chewed over and over.
The legacies of John Mariucci and Herb Brooks will be rightfully celebrated and the locals will still try and convince everyone that the best college hockey is played in Minnesota.
Notre Dame (25-13-5) and Minnesota-Duluth (24-10-6) will play in one national semifinal on Thursday, April 7, and the other semifinal will have Michigan (28-10-4) and North Dakota (32-8-3) squaring off.
Notre Dame has a young team and coach Jeff Jackson said, “For this group to accomplish what they have this year with so many young kids, it’s just incredible.”
Minnesota-Duluth was the first to claim a spot in the Frozen Four, by besting Yale 5-3 in the East Regional. Michigan made it by getting past Colorado College 2-1 in the West Regional. North Dakota rolled over Denver 6-1 in the Midwest Regional. Notre Dame completed the group as they squeaked by New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional.
The Michigan versus North Dakota game will be compelling. After winning the West Regional, veteran Michigan coach Red Berenson said, “Well that's why we are here, because of our seniors. These guys have been the glue on our team, the leader’s right from day one. They were the only ones in the Frozen Four and that was a good experience for them. Our team was picked to finish high in the league mostly because of our senior class.” Berenson is in his 27th season at Michigan. That accumulated experience is quiet an edge for the Wolverines but remember North Dakota is the top ranked team in the country.
This is the fifth time North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol has taken a team to the Frozen Four in his seven seasons as Sioux head coach. This will be the 11th time for Berenson. He has won twice.
There will be a College Hockey Fan Fest in St. Paul on West 7th Street, walking distance from the Xcel Energy Center. Music, a hockey village, video games and interactive displays will be featured. The pep-bands from the respective schools are scheduled and the winners of the ‘Science of Hockey’ video contest will be announced.
The traditional lobbyists will attempt to advocate which conference is best with no success. All in all, the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Finals and related events are still one of the best sporting attractions offered. It is even a greater experience for the participating players. The good folks in the communities around Minneapolis and St. Paul will make sure everyone develops some great memories.
Hospitality is part of the local fabric and one of the reasons that will make the Twin Cities experience special. ‘You Betcha’
(Raymond Rolak is a veteran sports broadcaster who covers NCAA sports.)