The "Other" Final Four

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Every March we fill out our NCAA tournament brackets. This year my last four teams were Yale, Miami (Ohio), Boston College, and North Dakota. At the end of the line, North Dakota was my national champion.

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North Dakota? I’m talkin’ Frozen Four, the most overshadowed postseason event that the NCAA has to offer. But overshadowed doesn’t mean less intense. This simple 16-team tournament lives in the shadow of the NCAA basketball tournament every year. So, how did this thing get started and what’s the point of it?

The NCAA men’s hockey tournament was started in 1948. (The basketball tournament was founded in 1939). Back then, the hockey tournament was just a four-team battle between the best teams in the country. In 1977 the tournament changed to a five-team format (though they had six in ‘78) with the same single knockout. Then in 1981 the tournament expanded to eight teams, and in 1989 to 12 teams.

They stayed at  that size until 2002, when the tournament switched to a 16-team bracket, which is where it stands today. The majority of Division I and powerhouse NCAA hockey teams aren’t from the SEC, the Big Ten, the Pac-10, the ACC, or the Big 12. They’re from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State), the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (Minnesota, Wisconsin), and Hockey East (Boston College, Maine). This is crazy stuff.

Over the years the Frozen Four has produced some games that were more exciting than the NCAA Hoops Final Four. For example…

2009: The Boston University Terriers won the National Championship in a thrilling overtime battle with Miami (Ohio). They were trailing 3-1 with a little over a minute remaining in the game.  Scoring two goals within 42 seconds, BU sent the game into overtime and eventually won. That same year, everyone else was watching Tyler Hansbrough and the North Carolina Tar Heels easily handle Michigan State by a final score of 89-72 in a game that seemed to last about 15 minutes. ADVANTAGE: FROZEN FOUR

2008: The first two games of the 2008 Frozen Four were on completely different ends of the intensity spectrum. First it was Notre Dame over Michigan in a 5-4, OT extravaganza. However, Boston College rolled over North Dakota 6-1.  In the championship game, Boston College proved too much for the Irish, who had a goal disallowed early. BC won 4-1. In basketball, Memphis and Kansas won their Final Four matchups by a combined 33 points.  When they met in the final game, admittedly it was a great game. It was an overtime battle with Kansas edging Memphis 75-68. ADVANTAGE: TIE

2007: WOW!!!  Michigan State was trailing Boston College 1-0 going into the third. Tim Kennedy tied the game midway through the period.  With just 19 seconds left, Michigan State scored the game-winning goal and added an insurance goal on an empty net. In hoops, the Florida Gators rolled through the competition and won their second straight national title by beating Ohio State by nine. It was a game that they clearly controlled from start to finish. ADVANTAGE: FROZEN FOUR

Now, for 2011. Obviously, with underdog VCU making it in, the Final Four gained some thunder. But the Frozen Four ahad thunder of its own. If we just look at the championship games, disregarding the sports, would you rather watch a game won by nine points, runs, or goals, or a game won in sudden death OT? My vote… Frozen Four 2011. Congratulations to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, first-time national champions!