USA Hockey Magazine

June/July 2013

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the Meek Shall Inherit the Ice Parity Keeps Crashing College Hockey's Biggest Party As Small Schools Make Big Waves At The Frozen Four // By JESS MYERS he NCAA Frozen Four is a gathering where childhood dreams come true on an annual basis. When the nation's top quartet of college hockey teams hook up at a neutral site, only one gets to go home with a shiny gold trophy. Going back to the 1950s, when college hockey was a relatively new thing, the "usual suspects" like powerhouses Michigan, Boston College, Denver and North Dakota have dominated the game. But every now and then, a smaller school – one of those institutions of higher learning that doesn't have a football or basketball team playing on national TV every weekend – would crash the party. Tiny Colorado College, with fewer than 2,000 students, won a pair of titles in the 1950s. Michigan Tech, known as much for its geographic isolation as for its renowned engineering school, beat Boston College and Minnesota to claim two of the Huskies' three national titles. RPI, another renowned engineering school of limited enrollment, won a title in the 1950s and another in the '80s. When Lake Superior State beat St. Lawrence in the 1988 title game, the combined enrollment of both schools would've filled less than five percent of Michigan's football stadium. The Lakers would go on to win two more titles in the 1990s, but then head coach Jeff Jackson's teams would be the last of the "small miracles" for more than a decade. From 1995 until the end of the 2000s, the Frozen Four was all but the exclusive property of the "big" schools, as Boston University, Michigan, North Dakota, Maine, Minnesota, Denver, Wisconsin and Michigan State claimed every Frozen Four crown for more than 15 years. It wasn't until 2009 that tiny Bemidji State made a notable splash in the college hockey world, upsetting Notre Dame and Cornell to reach the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. While the Beavers did not advance to the title game, they may have provided a roadmap for smaller schools to compete, and beat, the "big boys" on the national stage. A year later it was Rochester Institute of Technology playing the underdog role, beating Denver and New Hampshire, and 20 June/July. 2013 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM advancing to the Frozen Four in Detroit. In 2011, Minnesota Duluth ended the "big school champs" trend, beating Michigan in overtime for the Bulldogs' first NCAA title. A year later in Tampa it was another set of Bulldogs – the ones from Ferris State – taking their underdog act all the way to the national title game, where they fell to Boston College. This spring it was a "hockey first" party in downtown Pittsburgh with a quartet of non-traditional powers competing for their first national title. St. Cloud State, UMass Lowell and Quinnipiac had never before advanced that far. Yale had been to the Frozen Four just once, in 1952, and eventually prevailed by shutting out Quinnipiac in the title game. Is it a fad, or indicative of the new world of college hockey that so many of these smaller schools are seeing success on the national stage? "I think the parity is here to stay," says RPI coach Seth Appert, who has experienced both large- and small-school hockey programs as a player at Ferris State and as an assistant coach at the University of Denver. Time and again, Appert has seen younger players – those making college commitments when they're 15 or 16 – "make decisions with their eyes" and choose the flash of a high-profile school that they see on TV over the smaller school experience. By contrast, Photos By Larry Radloff

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