Two years ago, the Union College hockey team was awestruck during its first trip to the NCAA hockey Frozen Four.
The Dutchmen got caught up in the hype. Their concentration lapsed leading to their trip to Tampa, Fla., and their practice in Tampa wasn’t good. The result was a 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the semifinal.
The Garnet are back in the Frozen Four. This time, things are different.
As the top-ranked Dutchmen (30-6-4) prepare to face third-ranked Boston College (28-7-4) in today’s semifinal at 5:05 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center, they are very tuned in on the task at hand.
“It’s a different feel,” Union coach Rick Bennett said after the team practice Wednesday. “I don’t know how to really explain it, outside of the fact that you can sense it just by their actions in practice and being out here today. That’s kind of how you tell. Now, does that mean we’re going to beat Boston College? Absolutely not. It’s just a feel.”
Even Bennett admitted that he got caught up in the hype two years ago, when he was in his first season as the head coach.
“It was just one of those [things], just being a rookie coach as well, [and a first-year] staff, I don’t know how you prepare for that,” Bennett said. “You prepare for that by going through experiences and that’s what we did. Here we are again, and I just thought today, these guys are plugged in. It’s a compliment to the guys I’m sitting up here with. These are the guys that make the practice go, and today they did.”
Dutchmen senior left winger Daniel Carr has seen a noticeable difference in the team’s attitude form two years ago.
“I think guys are pretty focused on what we’re going to have to do here and getting ready for [today],” said Carr, Union’s all-time leading scorer at the Division I level with 155 points. “That’s been the thought since we left Bridgeport. From the time we leave here, guys are just going to worry about hockey, and that’s going to be it.”
The team’s leadership, led by Dutchmen senior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie, has done everything to ensure that they treat this Frozen Four experience as a business trip and not get overwhelmed like they did in Tampa.
“I think guys were a little bit awestruck with everything in Tampa, but definitely not so here,” Bodie said. “I think the upperclassmen have done a great job of preparing the younger guys. We’re just treating it like it is just another hockey game. The net is the same, puck is the same and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Dutchmen aren’t treating this game as if it’s a Frozen Four semifinal. To them, it feels like a game in the middle of the season.
“We’re just calmer,” said Dutchmen junior defenseman and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Shayne Gostisbehere. “It’s just another game, like coach said, and he’s definitely right about that. It doesn’t even feel like we’re in the Frozen Four.”
The Dutchmen met the Eagles for the first time in last year’s East Regional semifinal in Providence, R.I. Union eliminated the defending NCAA champions, 5-1.
That doesn’t matter to Carr.
“That was last year,” he said.
And that is how Bennett wants his team to approach today’s rematch.
“It is what it is,” Bennett said. “Last year is last year. I think it’s a wash right now. Come 5 o’clock or 5:06, whoever is getting off that bus, whatever team is ready to go. Looking across to your opponent and who has the most heart and gets some bounces here and there, that is who is going to win. Plain and simple.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles haven’t forgotten.
“They definitely beat us pretty good last year, and I think that’s fresh in everyone’s mind,” BC senior forward Bill Arnold said. “But it’s a new year. We’ve got a completely different team, and I think we’re much better, and I think they’ve obviously made it farther this year than they did last year, so they’re a better team. We’re going to respect them as an opponent, but like we’ve been doing the last month here, we’re focused on our game and what we have to do to win.”
BC junior forward Johnny Gaudreau believes his team took the Dutchmen lightly last year. He knows that won’t happen again.
“I think we should have gone into the game a little more motivated or a little more focused,” said Gaudreau, the country’s leading scorer with 77 points and the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award. “This year, after that first loss against Union, I know a lot of the guys from our team last year didn’t want to go through that again. So all the guys are pretty motivated.
“Like Bill said, that 5-1 loss is pretty fresh in our minds, and we have a great team this year. So I’m excited for Thursday night.”
The Dutchmen will need to be wary of left winger Gaudreau, center Arnold and right winger Kevin Hayes. The trio have combined for 76 goals and 192 points this season.
“They’re a tremendous line,” Bodie said. “It shouldn’t be about limiting the damage. They haven’t been kept off the score sheet all that much all year. It’s going to be about taking time and space away. It’s not simply a line matching up or D-pair matching up. It’s the five guys on the ice. We work as a unit in the ‘D’ zone, and it’s going to be up to everyone to chip in to try to stop those guys. “