FROZEN FOuR PREviEW
Calgarians aplenty in race for NCAA hockey title
They are supposed to be all the smart kids. So we had a bit of motivation to beat the ‘smart kids’ and show ’em how we play hockey out west Mike Connolly on UMD’s Upset of no.-1 rankeD yale
Mike Connolly is hoping that the fine folks of St. Paul, Minn., have short memories. Earlier this year, the University of Minnesota-Duluth forward and the men’s puck squad hammered the city’s beloved University of Minnesota Gophers in the Bulldogs’ brand new home arena during the WCHA regular season.
But today, the team touches down in enemy territory as the lone representative from the state competing at the NCAA Frozen Four men’s hockey tournament at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
“We packed about 8,000 people into our own rink for that game, which is a record for us,” said the 21-year-old former member of the Camrose Kodiaks and Calgary Buffaloes. “And any time you can beat those guys, it’s a lot of fun.
“Hopefully the majority of them are cheering for us, considering we’re the only Minnesota team left. Having a bunch of people rooting for you is a good thing.”
First up for the Bulldogs is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-135) at 3 p.m. (LEAFS TV) today, while the No. 2 University of Michigan (2810-4) and No. 1 University of North Dakota (32-8-3) go at it in the other semifinal (6:30 p.m., LEAFS TV). The winners compete for the NCAA’s top prize on Saturday.
To get there, however, UMD had to go through top-seeded Yale in the regional final. Connolly scored a short-handed goal and had three assists in a 5-3 win in the regional final to earn the Bulldogs their fourth trip to the NCAA tournament and first since 2004.
“The No. 1 team ranked in the country,” said Connolly, who’ll graduate next year with business degree in marketing. “They are supposed to be all the smart kids. So, we had a bit of motivation to beat the ‘smart kids’ and show ’em how we play hockey out west.
“That was our kind of thing to get us going in the dressing room.
“They were a good team all year, but we were playing some really good hockey at the time and were able to capitalize on that.”
And while playing in front of 18,000 or so fans will be a thrill, the thought of various National Hockey League eyes watching the action is also appealing.
“Obviously when you get down to the end of the season and there’s only four teams left, there’s going to be a ton of scouts,” said undrafted Connolly, who attended the Edmonton Oilers training camp last season. “It’s the best players that are playing at the end of the year. Any time the team can have success, that stems off for each individual.”
Connolly and fellow Bulldogs Brady Lamb and Wade Bergman, are the only Calgarians on the team, while winger Justin Fontaine is from Bonnyville, Alta.
Alberta is heavily represented on the Fighting Sioux roster with Andrew MacWilliam (Calgary), Corban Knight (High River), Derek Rodwell (Taber), Carter Rowney (Sexsmith), and goalies Aaron Dell (Airdrie) and Brad Eidsness (Chestermere).
Edmonton natives Dillon Simpson, son of former NHL-er and CBC analyst Craig Simpson, and Matt Frattin, a 2007 draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs and one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, also round out the contingent.
Calgary Flames’ 2008 draft pick Nick Larson is also playing in the tournament, toiling for Notre Dame.
“It’s been unreal,” said Bergman, who played for the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys and for the midget AAA Calgary Flames.
“Obviously with college sports being what everyone wants to watch down here and the exposure with NHL scouts, it’s great. We’ve got a really tight knit group and it’s just a great atmosphere to play in.
“A couple of guys have family coming down from Calgary. My family will definitely be watching it on TV.”