by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
DENVER For Frozen Four finalists Boston College and Notre Dame, two Catholic institutions, the idea of redemption never seemed so appropriate.
It's the first time in the 61-year history of the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Tournament that the championship will be contested by two Catholic schools. And besides going for a title, both have something to prove — a reason to redeem themselves.
Last year looked like the year for Notre Dame. The Irish finished first in the CCHA regular season, then captured the tournament title. Jeff Jackson's club was ranked first much of the season.
But league rival Michigan State put an end to the Irish's Frozen Four dreams with a 2-1 upset win in Grand Rapids in the Midwest Regional.
This year, Notre Dame found itself third in preseason CCHA polls behind Miami and Michigan — and wound up finishing fourth. An unimpressive 2-3 record in the CCHA tournament had the Irish holding their breath on Selection Sunday to see if they'd even get in.
Of course, we knew they would — but just barely. It would have taken just one more loss during the season to bump the Irish from the final at-large bid — or one more upset win in conference tournaments.
Few teams entered the 2008 version of the NCAA tournament with less expected of them than this Notre Dame team. Three surprising and impressive wins later, they are on the cusp of something hardly anyone could have expected.
For Jerry York and Boston College, it's been a different story. Not many teams have come so close for so long without winning a title. Since the Eagles' last championship in 2001 — and I wonder how many BC fans would have entertained thoughts of following Charles Stuart off the Tobin Bridge after the last two or three years if not for Krys Kolanos — BC has done everything but win another title.
Last year, it was a goal with 18 seconds remaining against Michigan State. The year before, a third period power play goal by Wisconsin did them in.
Yet this year it's been the road less traveled. The preseason favorite to win Hockey East (along with New Hampshire), BC's troubles began the opening weekend with team-imposed suspensions of two defensemen, including Brett Motherwell — considered by many the team's top returning blueliner. Neither player would ever return. BC also lost Brock Bradford, expected to be one of the top forwards in Hockey East and the country, to injury.
The struggles continued into November, when the team could not muster a win until the very last day of the month against arch-rival Boston University. That kicked off a stretch of 16 games with only two losses, as BC climbed right back into the league race. Including winning the Beanpot. Had they finally righted the ship?
A 1-5-1 stretch quickly followed (plus a win the last day of the regular season to barely clinch home ice), and the team that many had pegged to finish roaring through the schedule, suddenly looked tired and vulnerable.
All BC has done since then is win seven straight postseason games, including a Hockey East Championship, and put itself in a position to complete the rare trifecta (Beanpot, Hockey East, NCAA championships).
So here we are. Two teams that seemed on the verge of greatness last year. Two teams that ended their '06-'07 seasons in disappointing fashion. Two teams that went through much of their regular seasons this year in disappointing fashion, and had few of their fans daring to dream they would still be taking the ice on April 12.
Redemption. It's out there waiting for both of these teams to grab it. One team will complete the journey on Saturday. The other will go home again wondering what if.