TAMPA, FLA. - When the Gophers' charter flight landed here Tuesday night, the men's hockey team was greeted with a red carpet, a band, the NCAA trophy and youth hockey players.
"It's important to have [the Frozen Four] in traditional areas," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, "but I think it is great to have it in some nontraditional areas at times, too, because it does open up some eyes. It's a great market with Tampa here. [The Lightning] won a [Stanley] Cup not too long ago."
This is the first time the Frozen Four has been held in the South, and it is close to a sellout.
"There's a great nucleus of [8,000] or 10,000 fans almost, it seems like, who make it an annual event," Lucia said. "And it's become a real treat for your players. Obviously, you have more media attention and everything like that, but what the host community does and the arena does, that's where I really think it's really grown."
Defenseman Chad Billins, the Ferris State co-captain, said it best among players in this Florida Frozen Four. He was excited by the weather and the people.
"We weren't expecting the arrival we had with the young hockey teams," he said, "walking through the tunnel [they made] with their hockey sticks. You do feel kind of like an ambassador" of college hockey.
Billins' Bulldogs play Union in the first semifinal on Thursday.
"I couldn't ask for a better place to play," he said.
Looking in a mirror
Boston College coach Jerry York said the Gophers are similar to his Eagles. "The pace of the game and the way they play, it's not a rock fight," York said. "This is a hockey game. Lots of skill. Lots of good, hard checking, and they play the way we want to play. So I guess we play each other in practices all the time. So [Thursday there] won't be any surprises, you know."
• Boston College will play in the Mariucci Classic, the Gophers' holiday tournament, next season. The two traditional powers, York said, have a tentative agreement to play the following four seasons, too, starting in 2013-14 when the Gophers join the Big Ten Conference.
• Lucia is keeping freshman Travis Boyd as the center on the Gophers' third line on Thursday for the third consecutive game. In the West Regional final, Boyd and linemates Taylor Matson and Nate Condon each had a goal and an assist in the Gophers' 5-2 victory over North Dakota. "If [Boyd] struggles," Lucia said, "we can easily move Taylor back to the middle as a senior [who] has been through it a little bit more."
• Bob Daniels, in his 20th season at Ferris State, was named winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as Division I national coach of the year. Lucia was among the six other finalists.
• Union goalie Troy Grosenick on how his approach to every game never changes: "We could be playing a mites team or we could be playing [the] Vancouver [Canucks], and I'd try to prepare the same way."