Fatherhood is a strange thing. Your world changes every day. Take Mook Williams for example. Around the time of the Beanpot he was so up to his neck in diapers that he could barely pay attention to BC hockey. Now he is getting the hang of things and, with a newborn, basically homebound, so he's been watching a ton of college hockey. Thankfully he is sharing that knowledge in anticipation of BC's return to the Frozen Four. I asked him some questions regarding the team. His answers are below.
1. Why does the NCAA spread out the regionals from the Frozen Four? It is nearly two weeks between games. It seems like it would hurt BC's momentum. Do you think it will have much of an impact?
Mook: It could have an impact, I suppose, in that BC might lose a bit of their edge for the beginning of the game on April 5. However, the stage is too big, the opponent too strong (and familiar in this setting), and the sting of coming so close last season will be too real for BC to play poorly against North Dakota for any time longer than the first 10 minutes of the first period. If you aren't yet a believer that Coach York can't repeatedly get guys up to play NCAA tournament games close to or at their full potential, then you'll never be after this season and last! I personally am drinking the York Kool Aid after witnessing back to back hibernation-busting hot streaks at just the right time in consecutive seasons with young teams, and you should be drinking it too! You just can't do anything but BELIEVE in York and his squad, and that they are going to post a strong effort against North Dakota, carrying their momentum forward. Could they play a good game and still lose? Of course. But I'd be shocked if this team laid an egg, bowing out in a manner similiar to their exit in 2005 when the team was ravaged by injuries and started a freshman Schneider in net instead of a senior Kaltiainen.
In terms of why the NCAA schedules the Frozen Four the way that they do, it's simple - they do not want the Frozen Four completely overshadowed by the hoops Final Four. The NCAA hockey tournament is one of the few NCAA tournaments that actually turns an annual profit, and the Frozen Four is about 90% of the reason why. The NCAA needs to preserve the strong cult following behind the Frozen Four, and although it could still be there anyway if held the same weekend as the hoops Final Four, the NCAA isn't going to take any chances.
2. Aside from being more experienced, what is the main difference between last season's Frozen Four squad and this year's version?
Mook: Well, on paper, this team is a heck of a lot worse. They are missing an explosive scorer who could make his own scoring opportunities and convert on them, in Hobey Baker finalist Chris Collins. They are missing an elite defenseman, in Peter Harrold. And they are missing a great grinder in Stephen Gionta. Their replacements? None of this year's freshmen are standouts, although Ben Smith has started to score as of late.
However, down the stretch, this year's iteration has played nearly perfectly as a TEAM, even more so than the 05-06 Eagles. I swear, at points during this winning streak, the BC Eagles were playing perfect, and I mean PERFECT team hockey in all aspects of the game. It might have only lasted for a few minutes, but perfect team hockey was displayed. I didn't see this kind of cohesion from last year's squad during their hot streak - rather, last year BC rode the tide of several outstanding individual performances to victory (many of them provided by Collins). I love the move of Boyle back to defense, as well. He looks like a natural at that position, and somehow this move has had an "addition by subtraction" effect on the BC forwards. We're seeing the forwards skate harder, forcheck harder, and move the puck quicker without Boyle up front. Gerbe is far better this season - what a pleasure he is to watch out there. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Corey Schneider is playing the best hockey of his career. I'm not sure whether BC would have gotten by Miami and the tough first period that they threw at BC without the brick wall imitation portrayed by Mr. Schneider.
3. BC struggled midseason and obviously got hot late. Is there any reason to fear the team reverting to the lackluster form?
Mook: See above. Not outside of the first 10 minutes of the first game. And Schneider will be there to save their asses in those first 10 minutes, in all likelihood - NHL calibur talent of North Dakota's be damned. But let's face it, this team is still fairly thin on the blue line. Every one's been playing fantastic back there for weeks now, but I couldn't blame any of them if they made a few mistakes, outside of any conscious fault of their own. Hey, this is college hockey after all - these kids will make mistakes, even when they are playing "perfectly."
4. How do we match up against North Dakota?
Mook: That's a tough question, because BC v. North Dakota next week will be a parade of high octane NHL talent like no other matchup in the 06-07 season can provide. I wouldn't be surprised to see another high scoring game between these two, as the floodgates should open as soon as the puck drops, in terms of odd man rushes and end-to-end action. DO NOT MISS this hockey game. It's going to be as entertaining as you can get.
I'll give slight edges to North Dakota's forwards and defensemen - the depth there is amazing. Ryan Duncan could win the Hobey, and he is part of a who's-who of NHL prospects with names such as Oshie, Toews, Bina, and 6'7 240 pound sophmore defenseman Joe Finley. However, I'll give BIG edges to BC's goaltending and special teams. Do you realize just how hot BC's PK and PP are? In the playoffs, goaltending and special teams win titles, and that's why I think that BC is going to break the "alternate wins" pattern that BC/ND has been stuck in since 1999.
We are seeing a team on a 12 game winning streak versus a team that hasn't lost in regulation since January 5 (and that was 1-0 on the road), so this is going to be . . .as they say . . . a BARNBURNER!!!
5. Assuming we get by the Sioux, who would you rather face in the Championship game?
Mook: Maine. It's a farce that Maine even got a #3 seed in this tournament. I wouldn't have been surprised if they weren't selected at all, actually, and I certainly wouldn't have been upset for Hockey East. Maine then got the blessing of being placed in one of the weakest regions the NCAAH tournament has ever seen since it went to a 16 team field, and managed to ride a rejuvinated Ben Bishop to wins over a St. Cloud Team that couldn't beat a team in the NCAA tournament that had a pulled goalie for the entire game, and a UMASS team that had never played in the Tournament before, and had just came off a physical overtime victory the night before. Not too impressive.
On the other hand, MSU is a team that should be consistently in the top 5 next season. They are STOCKED with young talent, even beyond their "'09" line. Rick Comley, their coach, knows what it takes to win a national title, haven done so with Northern Michigan in 1991 when they beat BU in the longest, and arguably most dramatic, game in NCAA post season history (how the heck did they head into overtime at 7-7, and stay they for so long????). MSU is far more of a threat than Maine, so I'll be rooting for our Hockey East bretheren and "Big" Ben Bishop to stonewall the Spartan upstarts.