Semifinal 1: Final Preparations
BC and North Dakota Meet Again in the NCAAs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
MILWAUKEE North Dakota and Boston College, two young teams, will meet in the first Frozen Four semifinal, Thursday at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2). Wednesday was spent getting acclimated to the Bradley Center, with the standard afternoon practice sessions and media news conferences.
The Bradley Center houses the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, but some players said it's a good thing they had the session to get adjusted.
"Right away, the ice didn't feel too good," said North Dakota freshman defenseman Brian Lee. "But it's just adjusting to any ice surface. It always feels a little different."
Lee has experience in the World Junior tournament, but was wowed by the obvious buzz when coming to town.
"Even at our hotel and around town, there are signs up all over," Lee said. "You can tell it's kind of a step up from anything we've ever played in before."
To keep the 13 North Dakota freshmen on an even keel, it will be up to seniors like Mike Prpich.
"It's very important just to let them know, because it's such a big stage, just to keep a level head about everything," Prpich said. "If we do that and kind of just keep it as business as usual, we'll be all right."
North Dakota was here last year, but all those freshmen weren't. But at least North Dakota can feel better that, despite that lack of experience, those freshmen — led by Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie —are ridiculously talented.
"I think more than anything, we're going to focus on this year," said junior defenseman Matt Smaby. "Last year's team was completely different. We played a different style. This year, we're just going to focus on playing our game, playing physical and moving the puck."
"We don't have the same physical presence as last year, but that's because of the number of younger players we have on defense," said coach Dave Hakstol. "We have more skill this year, but you still have to work hard."
One guy very familiar with North Dakota's lineup is Boston College goaltender Cory Schneider, who was teammates with many of them in the U.S. national program, and played against Toews in this year's World Junior tournament.
"What jumps out at you is their talent," Schneider said. "They get up and down the ice so well."
Schneider pointed out that the Eagles' youth is on defense, where it's more difficult to adjust to the college game. But Schneider, and North Dakota goalie Jordan Parise, are neutralizers.
"He has made games so much easier for us, especially the young guys who came into college and who sometimes play afraid to make a mistake," said senior defenseman Peter Harrold of Schneider. "He makes it easy to play in front of because it is more comfortable and that makes you a better hockey player."
The teams, of course, have plenty of history, having met in the 2000 and 2001 championship games, with each team taking one. Last season, they opened the season with two games against each other, then met in the NCAA Regional, with North Dakota winning.
"You know you're going to be in for a very competitive hockey game," said BC coach Jerry York. "They're a little bit different team than they were last year. ... This year, they're more creative offensively."
That's more along the lines of what the team used to do under Dean Blais, playing offensive hockey in winning two titles. But those teams used to do it with a lot of smaller players who didn't go on to big pro careers. The players North Dakota has amassed now are talented and also big pro prospects.
The one constant through this little rivalry has been York.
"No one personifies class more than Coach York does," said Hakstol, who is in the Frozen Four for the second time in his two years at the helm. "This team certainly plays with great team speed, tenacity and outstanding goaltending, so we know we have a tough challenge ahead of us."