Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jack Parker has coached hockey at Boston University for 36 years, made the NCAA tournament 23 times, won two national championships and will make his record 13th trip to the Frozen Four next week.

All of which means nothing for the favored Terriers.

“I’ve seen it all, but I’m not playing,” Parker said.

Parity is the buzzword for this year’s Frozen Four, which starts April 9 at Verizon Center with two games: Bemidji State (20-15-1) against Miami of Ohio (22-12-5) and Boston University (33-6-4) against Vermont (22-11-5).

No player has any Frozen Four experience, Bemidji State and Miami are making their first trips to the national semifinals and BU and Vermont return after absences of 12 and 13 years, respectively.

Although BU is the only No. 1 seed remaining, Parker contends the tournament remains wide-open.

“There’s no advantage,” he said. “The fact we’ve been here a lot of times - that has no effect whatsoever. The fact we’re a brand-name college hockey school - that’s out the window. Bemidji likes beating brand-name college hockey schools, and Vermont and Miami are in brand-name leagues and play brand-name schools every week.”

Since this format (16 teams, four regions) was instituted in 2003, this is arguably the most bizarre field because of the upsets last weekend. Consider:

• Bemidji State and Miami are only the second and third No. 4 seeds to make the Frozen Four. Top seeds Notre Dame, Michigan and Denver were eliminated in the first round.

• For the first time in 10 years, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (one of the three power leagues with Hockey East and Central Collegiate Hockey Association) isn’t represented.

• A team (Bemidji State) from outside the power leagues has reached the event for the first time since Cornell in 2003. It’s been 20 years since a team not in the WCHA, CCHA or Hockey East has won the title.

“It speaks to the growth of college hockey,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “It’s fantastic that programs like us and Bemidji State and Miami are going. New faces are good for college hockey.”

Despite the parity in this season’s field, the Terriers are likely the team to beat. Parker’s roster includes 13 NHL draft picks and the nation’s best defenseman, senior Matt Gilroy.

The Terriers dispatched Ohio State 8-3 in the regional semifinals, one of only two games the higher seed won in the opening round.

“It seemed everybody wearing white [jerseys] was getting beat,” Parker said. “We hadn’t even started our tournament, and Michigan was out, which was considered a huge upset until Bemidji won. That helped us get ready for Ohio State.”

BU advanced by defeating New Hampshire 2-1 on a goal with 14.4 seconds left in regulation. But that seemed boring compared with Vermont’s 3-2 win over Air Force in double overtime. Dan Lawson’s slap shot went through the net, and the officials didn’t review until the next stoppage of play several minutes later.

The Catamounts swept BU early in the season but entered the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak.

“It’s a credit to our team that they took the time to get rid of the negative emotions and rebuild,” Sneddon said.

Like Vermont, Miami didn’t advance to the second week of its league tournament but squeaked in. The RedHawks boast winning streaks of eight and five games and tied for second with Michigan in the CCHA. Miami defeated Denver and Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.

Bemidji State has been the story of the tournament. The Beavers play in the four-team College Hockey America league, which is disbanding because Niagara and Robert Morris are joining the Atlantic Hockey Association. Bemidji State officials are awaiting word whether it will be admitted to the WCHA. A run to the Frozen Four only has helped the case.

The Beavers won their tournament games by a combined 9-1 over Notre Dame and Cornell.

“It’s boring to have the same teams in there all the time - just look at college basketball,” coach Tom Serratore said. “There’s something special about Bemidji State advancing because people want to know who this team is. … Everyone realizes it can be them someday.”

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