Sure, this would make a better final than a semi, but it's two of the most successful programs in college hockey squaring off. They've played 27 times, with Minnesota currently holding a 14-11-2 advantage, but as you may remember the last time these two played was the last time Minnesota had been to the NCAA tourney all the way back in 2007-08, when BC thumped them 5-2. Both teams are maroon and goldish, both have great high school hockey, and both would enjoy going up to a Hahvahd bahr to beat up some smahrt kids (sorry I couldn't resist).
But when you consider recent history, that's about where the favorable comparisons end. Boston College isn't just the best team in college hockey this season, they're the best program of the past decade, and with apologies to Michigan and no apologies whatsoever to North Dakota, it's not that close. If the Gophers are supposed to be the Yankees of college hockey (The U has really failed to live up to this one the past few year but you know), does that make BC the Red Sox?
When you look at the success the Eagles have had recently, even comparing them to the Red Sox doesn't quite do them justice, and when you compare them to the Gophers, well, the "Yankees of College Hockey" tag looks laughable at best. Don't get me wrong, Minnesota has arguably the richest history of any college hockey program, but things have fallen off since 2007, and while things have turned around beautifully this season, we've still got a long way to go to get back to the top. A more apt comparison may be the Dodgers, a team like the Gophers with every conceivable advantage who have been down awhile but are hopefully on the upswing. Boston College is the school who are capitalizing on every conceivable advantage, and writing the definitive story on how to succeed in the new world of college hockey where the top American-born players either leave early or don't show up at all.
Onto the comparison...
Minnesota: 5 (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
BC: 4 (1949, 2001, 2008, 2010)
We have more! They have won more recently. Two more recently, actually.
Ok so not only have they been to more, but this weekend will be only the Gophs fourth Frozen Four in years that begin with a "2" and their first Frozen Four since 2005. The Eagles? Since 2005 they have missed a grand total of two Frozen Fours (2006 and 09). So yeah, they have a pretty good thing going right now.
NCAA TOURNEY APPEARANCES
We win! Of course, if you look at it another way, like recent success, not so much. Since 1998, BC has been to the NCAA tourney every year except 2002 and 2009.
UM: regular season (13), tourney (14)
BC: regular season (13), tourney (13)
The Eagles have "pulled a double"- winning both the regular season and conference titles- in each of the past two years. Minnesota last did it in 2007, and before that was all the way back in 1981.
Minnesota: Don Lucia, 13th year (1999-2000 to present), 318-172-54, 2 natty titles, conference titles (3 regular season, 3 tourney)
BC: Jerry York, 18th year (1994-95 to present), 444-220-60, 3 natty titles, conference titles (6 reg, 9 tourney)
York hasn't just built a dynasty, he's built a freaking juggernaut. BC missed the NCAA tourney 3 straight years from 1991-92 through 1993-94 (at some schools with an elite hockey program that's considered unacceptable. At others...), canned their coach and hired York from Bowling Green, where he won a national title in 1984. Yep, Bowling Green won a natty title. York took three losing seasons to get things turned around, and then in 1997-98 boom goes the dynamite, starting a run of four straight Frozen Fours- including 2 finals losses- before winning it all in 2000-01. They missed the NCAA's the next year, but since then won two more national titles, made six more Frozen Fours, five regular season Hockey Easy titles, six Hockey East tourney titles, and have only missed the NCAA's once.
Um, wow. That's kinda, sorta impressive. Just a smidge. So it'd be tough to compare ANY college hockey coach to Jerry York right now, but let's take a look at Lucia's credentials. He had a great start to his Gopher coaching career after he took over for the retired Doug Woog in 1999-2000, winning back-to-back national titles in 2002 and 2003, and advanced to another Frozen Four in 2004-05. His teams then won back-to-back conference titles but couldn't get past the Regionals, and things started to decline the following season with a 7th place WCHA finish saved by a surprise run in the Final Five. That was when they met BC and were sent packing, and in the three seasons after that the Gophers missed the NCAA's three times, didn't even make it out of the first round of the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons, and finished fifth or worse in the WCHA four years in a row.
A down season happens now and again (well unless you're Michigan, who haven't missed an NCAA tourney under coach Red Berenson since 1990!). Look at Wisconsin's rebuilding season this year, or York's 2001-02 or 2008-09 seasons when BC missed the NCAA's. It happens, but to have three in a row well into your coaching tenure is a little strange. However, Lucia bounced back this year with what may have been his best coaching job as Gopher coach. He took a very young team that was picked to finish fifth or sixth in the WCHA, got them off to a blazing 9-1 start, and finished with a WCHA regular season title. His team also played arguably their two best games of the year in the NCAA Regionals defeating two very good teams in BU and UND to get here to the Frozen Four.
Lucia showed this year he hasn't forgotten how to coach, but like just any other coach in college hockey, it's hard to make a fair comparison between he and York. Both guys can definitely coach, but while York has cemented himself as an "all-timer" Lucia is still working to establish his place among Gopher coaching greats.
Thursday's matchup in Tampa pits two traditional powers against each other, one at the pinnacle of the sport, the other trying to climb their way back to it.