Forget the Final Four, Philly; We have the Frozen Four

From the Sidelines April 17, 2014 0 Comments

by Clark Groome

For a city where college hockey is all but non-existent, this year’s Frozen Four, the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Ice Hockey Tournament held at the Wells Fargo Center, gave the impression that the sport had come home.

While hoops and, perhaps, rowing are atop the Philadelphia college sports heap, the four-day Frozen Four not only reaffirmed that Philadelphia is a hockey city of the first order but that our connection to the college game is unique.

Start with what is likely the most revered name in American hockey, Bryn Mawr’s Hobart Amory Hare “Hobey” Baker and then move forward to Flourtown’s Mike Richter and Carney’s Point’s Johnny Gaudreau. Toss in Bernie Parent, Paul Holmgren and Shayne Gostisbehere, the Frozen Four’s “most outstanding player,” and you’ve got a Philly-centric sport that put on a grand show last week.

Hobey Baker, after whom the NCAA’s equivalent of football’s Heisman Award is named, was a superstar athlete at Princeton before anyone even knew what a superstar was. From one of Philadelphia’s elite families, Baker was a renowned football and hockey player and is the only person ever enshrined in both the Hockey and College Football Halls of Fame.

More than anything he was known for his sportsmanship. In his entire Princeton hockey career he was only given one penalty, and the referee who whistled it apologized to Baker after the necessary call was made.

Baker is also responsible for inaugurating one of hockey’s most enduring and endearing traditions. After each game, win or lose, he would go to the opponent’s locker room and shake every player’s hand. It’s a hockey hallmark to this day, and he was doing it several years before the NHL was founded in 1917.

A pilot during World War I, Baker was killed in a training accident the day before he was due to return home after the Armistice.

The award that Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau won during the Frozen Four is given to a player who “exhibits strength of character, both on and off the ice;” “contributes to the integrity of the team;” “displays outstanding skills in all phases of the game;” and “shows scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.”

That a Carney’s Point kid won the Main Line’s Baker Award in Philadelphia was an emotional highlight of the tournament.

Flourtown’s Mike Richter, who played his hockey as a youngster at Germantown Academy and the Wissahickon Skating Club, grew up to be a sensational NHL goalie.

As a kid, he was a Flyers fan even though he later went on to lead the locally-despised New York Rangers to their 1994 Stanley Cup. When his number 35 was retired in 2004, he was only the third Ranger so honored up to that time.

Growing up his goalie hero was Flyers Hall of Famer Bernie Parent. So when the newly established Mike Richter Award for “the most outstanding goaltender in NCAA men’s hockey” was presented to sophomore Connor Hellebuyck of the University of Massachusetts – Lowell, both Richter and Parent were present for the ceremony.

And to square the circle: Just before 6 p.m. on Sat., the night of the Frozen Four Final, Parent’s Flyers beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime to secure a first-round playoff slot against Richter’s Rangers.

Paul Holmgren, a University of Minnesota graduate, former Flyers player and the Orange and Black’s current general manager, dropped the ceremonial first puck at the finals, which matched his alma mater’s Golden Gophers with tiny Union College’s Dutchmen.

So with all those off-the-ice and atmospheric elements as the setting for the Frozen Four, how was the hockey?

Terrific.

The two semi-final games couldn’t have been more different. In the early game, Union played Boston College in a relatively high-scoring and active offensive contest with Union holding on to win 5-4.

The nightcap between Minnesota and North Dakota was a defensive affair that was scoreless for the first two periods. Both teams tallied in the third and regulation was just about done when Minnesota’s Justin Holl scored the winning goal with .6 seconds remaining. You read that right, the game was won at 19:59.4 of the third period, so close to the end of the period that the refs had to review it to make sure the goal was scored before the buzzer sounded.

Two nights later, Minnesota and Union met in an entertaining game that seesawed through the first period until Union scored three goals in 1:54, the fastest three goals scored by the same team in a championship since Colorado College did it in the same amount of time in 1957.

What was most apparent to everyone was the play of Shayne Gostisbehere (pronounced GOSS-tiss-bear) that was, in the words of one veteran sportswriter, the best defensive display he can remember since Bobby Orr was burning up the ice for the Boston Bruins.

Practice your pronunciation Flyers fans, because Gostisbehere has been drafted by the Flyers and may very well be back playing at the Wells Fargo Center for the locals next season.

The Frozen Fall was a terrific event for the city: great spirit, great hockey and great kids. Hobey Baker would be proud.

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