Start getting ready for Frozen Four

Gaudreau
Gaudreau
Posted: March 06, 2014

YESTERDAY WE published a fans' guide to college basketball conference tournaments, which included the Atlantic Sun Conference, Horizon Conference and Summit League.

This underlines two things. One, we love our college basketball. And two, we have a lot of homework to do before the Frozen Four makes its first Philadelphia appearance on April 10 and 12 at the Wells Fargo Center.

So as a public service, I thought I would provide a little guide of my own.

The first challenge is to get our pucks in order, so to speak. Boston College is good this season. Boston University, not so much. As confusing as the Big East, ACC and A-10 shuffles might have been to college hoops, understanding hockey's conference alignments can be like taking a long car ride with Ilya Bryzgalov. For example, Mercyhurst, based in Erie, Pa., just clinched the regular-season championship of the Atlantic Hockey Association for the first time in school history by taking three of a possible four points against Niagara.

Wondering how two teams based on the shores of adjoining Great Lakes found their way into the Atlantic Hockey Association? Don't, because the Air Force Academy, based in Colorado Springs, also is in the Atlantic.

You following this, Bryz?

Good, 'cause now we move on to the Big Ten, which should be called the Big 14 since it will soon include that many schools. But only six of those schools have a hockey team. So, using a formula I will call the Bryzgaleum theorem, we get:

14 plus 6 divided by 2 = Big Ten.

Got it, Bryz?

Despite those favorable numbers, Penn State is in about the same position in hockey as it is in basketball. The good news is that everybody gets into the Big Ten Tournament and that an underdog winning a tournament with a hard, rubbery disc has proved to be much more possible than with a large round ball. Michigan, ranked among the nation's top 12 teams in several polls, has lost to the Nits twice this year.

To be clear, though, a Penn State surge all the way to the Wells Fargo Center is less likely than Bryz ripping Vladimir Putin. Really, the best course for hockey enthusiasts is to do what scribes do: root not for teams, but for stories and story lines.

The best college hockey player in the nation, for example, comes from Carneys Point, N.J., and once played for Gloucester Catholic High School. Better yet, Johnny Gaudreau plays for Boston College, which is currently ranked second in the nation and will undoubtedly be seeded at the top of one of the regionals regardless of how it fares in the Hockey East Tournament. Gaudreau's younger brother Matt is a freshman on the team.

Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostisbehere is a fast, puck-moving defenseman for little Union College, which despite its size is ranked third and has already clinched the ECAC regular-season championship. A junior, Gostisbehere has drawn favorable comparisons to former Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch and more recently, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, a rookie of the year candidate. Krug joined the Bruins after his season at Michigan State concluded last spring and helped them to the Stanley Cup finals.

Given the Flyers' unending issues with their blue-line talent, you'd think Gostisbehere has to be here whenever his college season concludes.

Sorry.

Larkin Jacobson is another good story. A junior forward playing for the University of Denver, he is the stepson of Ruslan Fedotenko, the two-time Flyer currently playing in Russia's KHL. Jacobson credits Fedotenko, whom he has been around since the age of 8, with teaching him his hockey work ethic. Heading into its conference tournament, Denver is on the cusp of being ranked, but the Frozen Four almost perennially features an unranked team.

Or one that came from nowhere. In 2009, Matt Read's Bemidji (Minn.) State team became the first 16th seed to reach the Frozen Four, knocking off top seed Notre Dame and well-regarded Cornell.

An unknown (and older) sophomore at the time, Read received two-way offers from several NHL teams after that run. He returned to Bemidji for his junior and senior seasons, then signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Flyers.

"I went to school thinking if I played any pro hockey, it would be in the East Coast Hockey League or one of the minor leagues and wouldn't have too much of an opportunity," he said recently. "So I went to school thinking I was preparing for my future, working a 40-hour-a-week job. I got my degree in kinesiology. I wanted to stay in hockey, but maybe like, personal training."

I'm going to go out on a Sherwood here and say he overachieved.

Finally, there is the University of Vermont's Nick Luukko, another Flyers property and the son of former Flyers president Peter Luukko. Whether it was the mononucleosis he suffered through when he first got there or an abdominal injury that wrecked his freshman season, Nick's ride in Burlington has not been smooth. The Catamounts also took their lumps in his first two seasons, but this year they have been ranked and seem to be peaking, knocking off eighth-ranked UMass-Lowell the other day to position themselves for a home-ice game in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.

Nick's dad did a lot of work to land the Frozen Four here. It would be a nice story if his kid got to play in it. But a lot of rubber discs have to bounce right before that happens. A lot of anything can happen that has to happen.

Got it, Bryz?


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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