Frozen Four extra special to players from Philly area

Posted: April 11, 2014

UNION SOPHOMORE Nick Cruice still remembers where he was 4 years ago when it was decided the Frozen Four was coming to Philadelphia in 2014.

"Me and my dad were driving over to Pennsauken for practice for Team Comcast on the day it was announced," said Cruice, who won a state title for La Salle High School. "We were talking about how cool of an experience it would be to play in Philly and to - hopefully - win a national championship here. Fortunately, I'm here and I'm just trying to make the most of it."

There are four teams with a hundred or so kids who have reached this year's Frozen Four. For the handful who are from the Philadelphia area, getting here is just a little more special.

"I've got a lot of friends and family asking for tickets and stuff like that," said Boston College star Johnny Gaudreau, who played at Gloucester Catholic High School. "It's difficult to give them all tickets, because we only get about six each. But I'm trying to give out a few to my friends. My mother wasn't having too much of it, because I had to give them all to the family. But it's good to have people want tickets and wanting to come watch the game. I'm really excited for this weekend."

The Gaudreaus actually have 12 tickets at their disposal. Matthew Gaudreau, Johnny's younger brother, is a reserve freshman for the Eagles.

Union plays Boston College at 5 p.m. today in the first national semifinal. North Dakota and Minnesota meet in the nightcap.

Union junior Charlie Vasaturo can hardly be blamed for sneaking in a few peaks during yesterday's practice at the home arena of his beloved Flyers.

"Looking around the stands where I've been so many times, it's definitely special," said Vasaturo, who was born at Jefferson Hospital and raised in Washington Township. "But come tomorrow night, it's just another rink. We just have to keep doing the job that we've been doing all year."

He then rattled off some of the games he saw here as a youngster, including many during the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. So, where'd you sit for the Patrick Kane game?

"I was on a flight to Sweden that night," he recalled quickly. "I didn't get the heartbreak right away. But I got it eventually."

Coach-speak

Boston College's Jerry York is the winningest coach in college hockey history. He's been in the game for 42 years, won five championships.

But even York isn't above enlisting a little help in crunch time. Earlier this week, he had Bruins coach Claude Julien address his kids. Yesterday, Peter Laviolette stopped by.

Laviolette, a native of the Boston suburb of Franklin, Mass., has addressed BC players before, York said, mentioning a 2006 session after Lavy and the Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

While the former Flyers coach was brought in to inspire the kids, he also helped out his old friend.

"He recommended a fabulous restaurant for us last night," York said excitedly. "We went to Spasso [Front Street, near Chestnut], which is a short walk from the hotel, and he was spot-on there."

All business

Union is ranked No. 1 and playing in the national semifinals for the second time in 3 years. The trip in 2012 ended when the Dutchmen were dumped by Ferris State in the semifinals in Tampa.

"I think our first time to the Frozen Four we were just happy to be there," said star defenseman and Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostisbehere. "Of course, we wanted to win. It didn't end up our way. This year's more of a business approach. We're just looking to do some damage better than we did 2 years ago."

Union coach Rick Bennett acknowledged he and his staff were just like the players in 2012. The Dutchmen were a little awestruck playing at the Tampa Bay Lightning's home area, which must have seemed massive, given that Union's rink seats about 2,500.

But Bennett felt a different vibe when he and some of his top players gathered for a news conference after yesterday's practice.

"We had a better practice [yesterday] than we did in Tampa," said Bennett, who played 15 games for the New York Rangers in the early 1990s. "You don't worry about how many [fans] are here. As far as I'm concerned, we're back playing a home game at Union."

Vasaturo summed it up best.

"It's not good enough to just get here," the Union defenseman said. "It's a business trip. We can come visit here in the summertime if we want."

Youth movement

One of Boston College's biggest concerns entering the season was a group of blue liners who were green with inexperience. Of the Eagles' top six defensemen, three were freshmen (Scott Savage, Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini) and two were sophomores (Michael Matheson, Teddy Doherty). And they were playing in front of goaltender Thatcher Demko, a freshman.

BC allowed 2.28 goals per game, tied for the eighth fewest in the nation. Demko went 16-4-3 with a .920 save percentage. He was recently named the No. 1 North American goaltending prospect by the NHL's scouting service.

"They've exceeded expectations," York said. "I knew they were going to be good, but I wasn't sure [they'd reach] this level this early in their careers."


On Twitter: @EdBarkowitz

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