In case you haven't heard, the Minnesota Gophers and Boston College Eagles face off Thursday night in Tampa in the semis of the Frozen Four. Boston College is the top ranked team in the country, and one of the top defensive teams in the nation against the Gopher's top ranked offense. For such a monumental occasion we thought we'd talk to the opposition and get some background and perspective on the Eagles.
(They also asked us a few questions and we answered over at BC Interruption in a post they like to call Five Good Minutes: Minnesota Hockey preview with The Daily Gopher)
Grant Salzano is one of the editors of SB Nation Boston College blog BC Interruption and was kind enough to answer some questions about the big Frozen Four tilt between our Gophers and their Eagles...
The Daily Gopher: This is Minnesota's first Frozen Four since 2005, so fans are excited just to be here again. Jerry York has you here almost every year, and you're the definitive favorites. How are BC fans feeling about another Frozen Four?
BC Interruption: It just never gets old. But it's funny, the feeling we have when we make it each year is almost one of relief. We've attained such a level of excellence in hockey that we've come to expect nothing less than a Frozen Four appearance. Not getting that far is a shock, because we make it more often than we don't (which is just insane). So the thrill is certainly there every time, but it's accented with a feeling of being glad that this year, there won't see a blip in the excellence.
Um, Tampa? Your opinion on an interesting choice of venue for a not-so-"Frozen" Four.
BC: I don't hate it. Detroit, I hated. The city was far better than I had expected (hey, I didn't get shot, so that was cool). But putting it at Ford Field was asinine. It felt empty and no one could see anything. The Frozen Four is going to sell out any (hockey) arena, so I don't mind it being in someplace different every once in a while. The problem is that for poor folk like me, I can't just take three days off of work and drop a grand to head down to Florida. That just won't fly with Mrs. Salzano14.
Your site had a good post last week on how unfriendly E!SPN has been to college hockey (and the NHL and hockey in general). Will choosing a non-traditional site like Tampa help to find new viewers, and what else can be done to increase the level of interest in the sport? And what, if anything, can be done about E!SPN?
Non-traditional sites don't matter. No one is going to get into college hockey because of a 5 second shot of downtown Tampa coming back from a commercial break during the Frozen Four. Gimmicks like Detroit's Ford Field fiasco won't do it either. College hockey is a niche sport. It's important to realize that, as with everything else in the world, perception is reality. Perception of college hockey isn't just perception -- it's what it actually is. Right now, to Mr. Average Q. Joe in Atlanta, college hockey is the same as college lacrosse. It's "Oh, hey, check out this college sport on TV that I never see. Just another sport ESPN feels like it has to show during playoff time. I guess I'll watch a bit because it's on." But Mr. Joe won't care come October. Why? Because if it's being broadcast as a niche sport, it sure as hell is one.
I think the biggest difference is actually already in the works. NBC Sports picking up a ton of regular season games is going to be huge. While Mr. Average Q. Joe may never be as rabid a fan as the rest of us, he'll at least view it as a more legitimate college sport. If other people think it's cool, maybe it's cool enough to follow a bit. Plus, with NBC's expansive NHL coverage, they're going to be pimping the college games all over the place. That, and NBC Sports regular season coverage in general, is going to go a long way.
As for ESPN itself, I don't hate it as much as others do, but that's probably because I have easy access to every ESPN outlet including ESPN3. Hell, ESPN3's quality when hooked up to my TV through my HDMI cable is legitimate high definition. I know ESPN has the rights to all of the NCAA sports' playoffs, but there's no reason they can't sell off partial rights to hockey like with hoops. It makes even more sense for them to do it with hockey, since (unless I'm mistaken) they don't cover any hockey at all, so it's not like they would be selling to a competitor. It would be like a bookstore selling extra bookshelves to another bookstore: Who cares? They aren't in the bookshelf selling business.
We polled our readers last year on what kind of school they thought Minnesota was- football, basketball, or hockey? Hockey won in a landslide. If you polled BC Interruption readers, would they say BC is a hockey school?
That's interesting, given the stunning new football stadium you guys have. BC and Minnesota are two schools with, I think, very, very similar athletic traditions. Each has decent programs in good hoops/football conferences. While BC hockey is far and away number one to me, I wouldn't say that BC is a hockey school. I think we're a football school, despite the fact that our AD is running it into the ground. No D-1 school in the country has such a high percentage of students who attend football games. Our football student section is something like 5,000 students while we only have 9,000 undergrads. That is Looney Tunes. Even games where the stadium was half empty in this horrendous football season, the students still packed their corner of the stadium. So despite the monumental success of the hockey program, outside of the diehards, it's still behind football for the vast majority.
Interestingly, I think hockey has easily surpassed basketball in popularity. Even the bandwagon students show up to a hockey game against BU like they show up to a game against Duke. The basketball games against the non-marquee names have a nonexistent student section. The fact that hockey is winning and basketball is not is really the reason why -- but hockey has passed basketball I think, and that's a fact.
Hockey East expansion is coming, which looks like it'll add Notre Dame and UConn. Less games against rivals but adding Notre Dame doesn't seem like a fair trade to me. Thoughts?
Hockey East wasn't broken, and its status as a Bus League was pretty awesome. That's why I was a bit annoyed when we grabbed Notre Dame. There was no need for Hockey East to expand, it's not like another conference was going to poach one of our schools. The National* tried to grab BC, from what I understand, and there was no chance of that happening. Even if BU was coming, I would never want BC out of this conference.
Having said that, while I would have preferred the way we were, I don't *hate* having Notre Dame. I think the Irish are going to have a pretty long-term stretch of success. As for UConn... I hate UConn 2nd only to BU, but I really want UConn in the conference if and only if
they are willing to put the resources into the program that they need to. Also, only because I really hate the idea of 11 teams -- if we didn't add Notre Dame, I wouldn't consider it. Part of wanting UConn is that I'm selfish, and it would be a 20 minute drive for me to see BC play at the XL Center in Hartford and only an hour or so to Storrs (barf). They would also allow Hockey East to complete the New England state school hockey set: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (acknowledging that URI doesn't have D-1 hockey). As for losing games against BU... yeah, that sucks. But maybe Hockey East will follow Brian's scheduling advice
(which is utterly brilliant) and we won't have that problem.
Your pro sports teams had a pretty torturous history, then in the past 10 years you've won every major pro sports championship at least once. Who did you have to sell your soul to, and how can Minnesotans get this deal? Gopher hockey is about our only team with any semblance of hope right now.
We didn't sell our souls, we just traded with Minnesota! Thanks for David Ortiz
and Kevin Garnett; that was pretty swell of you guys to hook us up.
Ok then onto the game: BC has won 19 million a row coming in (hang on...I'm being told it's 17 in a row, which in college hockey might as well be 19 million). What has been working so well for them?
It's all about the defense, and it starts with Parker Milner. It's been beaten to death, but he's been playing like Parker Brodeur. But it's not just him, it's the team D as well. I can't recall ever seeing such a choking defense. The BC D-men stick to their man like class on Jerry York any time there's an offensive rush, slowing them enough to allow the cavalry to join from behind, and then on top of that, they get their sticks in the way of almost every pass. It's crazy to think that BC hasn't given up more than two goals since the very first game of the 17 game winning streak. We could probably stroll into the arena as plastered as Jack Parker on Thirsty Thursday and still score two goals, so we aren't going to lose too many when our opponents are only getting 0, 1, or 2 themselves.
Junior F Chris Kreider has been getting all sorts of hype as the New York Rangers top prospect- Is he all hype or the real deal?
Here's the thing about Chris Kreider -- he is going to be a much better pro player than he is a college player. He is playing very well, yes, but his stats really haven't been all that flashy. But his style is going to translate extremely well to the pro game. There is a reason the Rangers called him "untouchable" around the trade deadline. So, while he has the potential to completely take over a game this weekend, he's not the guy I would be worried about.
Both teams have a dynamite 5'7 freshman forward. Tell us about Johnny Gaudreau, who's been absolutely on fire since February.
Yeah, this is the guy you should be afraid of. This kid is ridiculous, and I've been the conductor of the Gaudreaubey Baker bandwagon since mid-October. He is going to be better than Nathan Gerbe was, and coming from someone who experienced Gerbe completely taking over the 2008 NCAA tournament first hand, that is saying something. He is quick, but his stickhandling is just at another level. Watch out if he sets up behind the net, because BC's about to have a quality scoring chance. He's both a playmaker and a finisher. I am so glad he looks like he's 12 years old, because the only way he leaves early is if he has a Gerbe-ian career. And I think that would be a fair trade.
I did not know that Mike Milbury was initially named head coach in 1994 but backed out and the Eagles took Jerry York instead. On a scale of 1-10 how happy are you Milbury didn't work out? A 12? 1200?
I can't help but imagine that having Mike Milbury as coach would be a lot like having Jack Parker as a coach. Ignoring the relative lack of success he would have had relative to York, Milbury isn't exactly the kind of guy you'd want to sit down to Easter dinner with. But there isn't a person associated with BC who evokes a feeling of pride like Jerry York does. Everything he does is accented with excellence. The way he lives, the way he approaches things. You can see it in his players and how they carry themselves. It starts with the type of kid he recruits, but how he turns them from kids into young men is something to see.
The key to beating BC is...
...I don't know? Usually I can think of something but I'm having trouble. Typical BC arrogance, I know. Our penalty kill is ridiculous right now, we're something like 39 for our last 40 or something crazy (forgive me, I can't find the stat). Our offense is clicking. Our defense is stifling. Our goalie is standing on his head. This is the most confident I've felt about BC hockey in... well, ever. If I had to name something though, I will say the key is making the extra pass. BC's defenders are going to be all over the Gophers coming in, so if the Gophers can make that extra pass to get Milner caught on the other side of the crease and get some separation on our defenders, that will be the key.
Thoughts on playing the Gophers Thursday?
I love the Gophers. They are my second favorite team and what a bunch of my friends call "The BC of the West." There's obviously the maroon and gold, but also everyone out there hates you because of your history and general level of Awesome. Just like us. I made two pilgrimages out to Minneapolis while I was a student to see the BC women play the Gophers and was fortunate enough to catch a game between St. Cloud and the Gophers at Mariucci while I was out there. I even have a Minnesota jersey in my closet. Unfortunately, I'm going to have it inside out and buried at the bottom of my dirty clothes pile for Thursday, just because, well, it's necessary.
Finally, give us a prediction for the game...
I don't see how BC loses this weekend. I'm half expecting us to pitch a shutout through the whole tournament. I'm feeling a bit maniacal about the whole thing, honestly. Despite the fact that Minnesota's been scoring goals lately, I think our defense does what it's been doing and keeps everything under control. I would go with 4-0 BC no matter who we were playing -- I really don't think it matters which jersey lines up across from us at the faceoff dot at this point -- so that's my prediction. Two safeties and a shutout for the BC D.