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Frozen Four preview: Getting down to business paramount

TAMPA - It's a business trip. Sure, there's great excitement at making the Frozen Four, the NCAA hockey championships. Yes, it will be a unique trip to Tampa, the first Southern city to host the event. But when the four teams gather for Thursday's national semifinals at the Forum, the coaches say all peripheral distractions will be long gone. Ignoring the hoopla might be a monumental task for Union College, a 2,133-student liberal arts school from Schenectady, N.Y., or Ferris State, which features an enrollment of 13,543 in Big Rapids, Mich. Both schools are making their first Frozen Four appearances.
Call it "Cinderella on Ice." "We were on a conference call with the NCAA to go over all the events and I realized as a coach, once the wheels hit the airstrip in Tampa, I'm going to lose control of this team," said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, whose Bulldogs are 25-11-5. "There are so many things scheduled. We're lucky our players are so mature and so focused. I think we're going to handle it well." "Dealing with all of this (excitement), it's pretty easy to get complacent," said Union College coach Rick Bennett, whose Dutchmen are 26-7-7. "But the way to really curb that complacency is to get better. It starts with our coaching staff and holding our guys in practice to the high demands that we ask." For the Boston College Eagles and Minnesota Golden Gophers, who meet in Thursday night's second semifinal, such demands have been a way of life. BC (31-10-1), a winner of 17 straight games, is making its 23rd Frozen Four appearance and 10th under coach Jerry York. The Eagles have won four national championships, including titles in 2008 and 2010. Minnesota (28-13-1) is making its 20th Frozen Four trip and fourth with coach Don Lucia. The Gophers have captured five national championships, including back-to-back titles in 2002 and '03. "There's no magic formula to it," York said. "You get a lot of good players and keep them on the same train." In late January, though, it looked like an atypical season for BC hockey. The Eagles were 6-9-1. That's when York had a sobering discussion with his players. "We were an average team," he said. "There's nothing wrong with being average. A lot of teams play hockey. They're not all going to win conference championships and go to the Frozen Four. "That was a fact of life for us. We had to decide, 'Do we want to be just average — you know, like the majority of teams, win one, lose one — or do we want to be special?' They didn't want to be average. Our commitment raised, our play raised, our work ethic raised, everything you need to go from being average to a special team. We kept building on that and here we are." And here are the Gophers as well. It's a young Minnesota team with 19 underclassmen, but one loaded with talent with 16 NHL draft picks. Regardless of the lineup, Lucia said Minnesota's standard never wavers. Neither does the exposure of its program. "We have quite a bit of attention," Lucia said. "We're obviously in a major media market. Every one of our games is on TV with a half-hour pregame show and a postgame show, so we're used to all the media attention. "We want our guys to enjoy this. It's obviously business, but you better have fun with it, too. We're all going down there to do the same thing, win a national title. We're not trying to take the fun away from our players. We want them to experience things and enjoy themselves. But they know that Thursday is the time for business." Lucia said he doesn't think a festive, warm-weather site such as Tampa will change his team's focus. "You're so focused on your games, it really doesn't matter if you're in Tampa or Timbuktu," Lucia said. "Your focus is on the game, the rink, the opponent. Now when you get in there, when you get on the bus to leave the airport, you might see some different palm trees instead of pine trees. "It's going to be a great experience. No question, the host cities do a tremendous job with this event. I think you do realize the purpose of why you are there." It's a business trip.


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

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

WHERE: Forum,  downtown Tampa

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

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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