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Martin Fennelly Columns

One frozen moment coming to Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:55 PM
TAMPA -

By next Tuesday, we'll finally be rid of that NCAA basketball nonsense and get down to the real tournament.

As if it matters - my bracket is a mess.

I mean, Boston College and Minnesota, sure, but who had Union and Ferris State?

More to the point, who are and where are Union and Ferris State?

We give you college hockey's Frozen Four, coming next week (April 5-7) to the Forum in downtown Tampa.

"You can't just buy a ticket to the Frozen Four, you have to earn it," Boston College coach Jerry York said by teleconference Tuesday.

Actually, you can still buy a ticket - $195 gets you in the national semifinals next Thursday and Saturday's championship game. But we know what York means. The stage is smaller, room for just 16 tournament hockey teams, but they go and go. The Frozen Four is coming. It makes no apologies for not being the Final Four.

I've been a Frozen Four freak for years, easily going back far enough to remember veteran Lightning star Marty St. Louis when he played for the University of Vermont at the 1996 Frozen Four. The Frozen Four is a rocking good show and it will be here, strange as that seems.

All you need to know about college hockey in the South and this Frozen Four is the host school has to come from another state: University of Alabama in Huntsville. Anyway …

"I've been to Florida once, I believe," Union College sophomore goaltender Troy Grosenick said. "It was a family vacation to Orlando."

But this one has something for everyone.

"I like the makeup of this Frozen Four," Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said.

Let's put it in Final Four basketball terms: We've got two Kentuckys and two George Masons at this Frozen Four.

In next Thursday's second semifinal, it's the Boston College Eagles against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, college hockey royalty, nine national titles (Minnesota leads, 5-4), and 21 title games and 40 Frozen Fours between them.

Boston College is No. 1 in the country, winners of 17 consecutive games. It's the Eagles' 10th Frozen Four since 1998. As for Minnesota's hockey heritage … well, if you remember the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, and you do, know that nearly half of those miracle workers played at Minnesota under Olympic coach Herb Brooks.

Minnesota and BC have a combined 27 players on their roster who've already been drafted by NHL teams.

Then there are the Cinderellas in the first semifinal, complete newcomers to the Frozen Four. One will play for the championship two nights later. It's wonderful.

There are the Dutchmen from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., near Albany, enrollment 2,200. They are Division III in every sport but men's and women's ice hockey.

And there are the Ferris State Bulldogs, at one point ranked No. 1 in America this season, the pride of Big Rapids, Mich. - a school founded by Woodbridge Nathan Ferris, who must have still been smarting over not inventing the Ferris wheel - and never to be confused with Ferris Bueller State, which does not exist. Ferris State is Division II in its other sports.

No current Union or Ferris player has been drafted into the NHL. That's not to say Union and Ferris haven't produced several pros. They have. Also, Al Jardine, guitarist for the Beach Boys, attended Ferris State.

Don't worry, baby. Union (founded 1795), has that beat, easily, with alum Chester Arthur, the 21st president of the United States, who took office after James Garfield died from an upper-body injury in 1881.

And, not to pile on, but there's Union grad William H. Seward, secretary of state to both Lincoln and Johnson, who engineered the purchase of Alaska. Anybody who brings home 586,412 square miles of ice, that's a hockey guy.

Only in the Frozen Four do the divisions mix it up, big and small routinely skating against each other.

"We don't really consider ourselves a smaller school when it comes to hockey," first-year Union coach Rick Bennett said.

"It doesn't matter if you're Division I or Division III, and I think that's one of the things that makes this tournament special," said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who has helped the Golden Gophers to two national titles.

York has won three national titles at Boston College. He nevertheless insists there are no underdogs next week.

"It makes for a very interesting Frozen Four," York said.

If only Chester Arthur was alive.

His bracket would be a mess, too.

NCAA FROZEN FOUR

WHAT: 2012 NCAA Division I men's ice hockey semifinals and championship

WHEN: April 5 - semifinals at 4:30 (Ferris State vs. Union) and 8 p.m. (Minnesota vs. Boston College); April 7 - winners meet in championship game at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Forum,  downtown Tampa

TICKETS: All-session tickets are $195, available through TicketMaster

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