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Fans' passion for hockey fuels Frozen Four

tom jones' two cents

Ever see the movie Fargo? The good folks of Minnesota probably didn't care for all the "yahs" and "you betchas," although as someone who lived in Minnesota for three years, I can tell you the spoof wasn't really a spoof.

However, there is one scene even Minnesotans would agree rings true. It's when Jerry Lundegaard, played by William H. Macy, asks a co-worker if he has an extra ticket to the University of Minnesota hockey game.

The co-worker turns and acts as if Lundegaard has worms crawling out of his ears.

"Are you kidding?" the co-worker says.

That's what college hockey means in Minnesota. Asking someone if they have an extra Gophers ticket is like asking them if they have an extra winning lottery ticket.

The Gophers aren't quite as essential as food, water and oxygen, but they are not too far down on the list.

It's like basketball in Indiana or football in western Pennsylvania. Hockey is a way of life in Minnesota, especially Gopher hockey.

And this week, the same can be said on the campuses of Boston College, Ferris State and Union as they join Minnesota for the Frozen Four at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It's why this is one of the coolest events ever to come to Tampa Bay.

Here's a look at some of the things that make college hockey — and this year's Frozen Four in particular — so great.

The passion

Let's look at Gophers coach Don Lucia. He won national titles in 2002 and 2003. He has guided the Gophers to four Frozen Fours. He has won 318 games in 12-plus seasons with Minnesota and 597 overall. Quite simply, he's one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history. Yet there were those in and around the Gophers program who wanted Lucia fired because he had the audacity to miss the NCAA tournament the past three years.

Forget that he was fighting a disease called sarcoidosis, which caused a mass on his brain. Forget that his father died last year. There was a chance an entire recruiting class would go their entire career without playing in the NCAA tournament, and that just wouldn't do. Not in Minnesota.

Firing Lucia would be like the Gators firing Billy Donovan if Florida strung together just a few subpar seasons. Can you imagine? But then that only shows how much passion there is for Gophers hockey.

The little guy

There aren't too many sports where a school such as Union, with 2,200 students, can compete for a national championship alongside a school such as Minnesota with its 52,000 students. There aren't too many sports where a team from Big Rapids, Mich., (population 10,849) competes for a national championship along with a team from Boston (population 617,594).

Some are calling today's Ferris State-Union semifinal the junior varsity game before the Minnesota-Boston College varsity game. Ferris and Union had never been to a Frozen Four; Minnesota and BC have a combined 43 appearances.

Word is that three busloads of fans are coming in from Michigan to root for Ferris State.

"I hope they get here safely," Ferris State goalie Taylor Nelson said, "because we want them here to help blow the roof off this place."

Three busloads blowing the roof off the 20,000-seat Times Forum? Isn't that about the cutest thing you've ever heard?

The traditions

At some point during tonight's semifinals or Saturday's final, you'll hear a chant right after a goal. You'll listen closely, trying to figure out what the fans are saying. The answer: "sieve." As in, "Your goalie is a sieve." It's one of hockey's greatest insults. Hearing that along with marching bands is the soundtrack to college hockey.

It's hockey … in Florida

There is already a buzz that if Tampa Bay has a good weekend, it could be a permanent part of the Frozen Four rotation.

Makes sense. It's a pleasant escape for the teams up north. And when you think about it, there's no difference for a school to fly to Tampa as opposed to Denver or Minneapolis or Buffalo. Once you get on a plane, it doesn't really matter where you end up.

And there aren't too many better places to end up than the west coast of Florida.

"You get off the plane, and there's not trees with no leaves on them," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "There's palm trees."

Palms trees and sunshine. And a sheet of ice for one of the cooler events to ever come to Tampa Bay. Yah, you betcha!

Fans' passion for hockey fuels Frozen Four 04/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 10:50pm]
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