Frozen Four shows off 'hockey city'
Karin Larson feels at home in a sweatshirt, a heavy hockey sweater and a coat.
She lives in St. Cloud, Minn., where a winter storm warning is in effect through Thursday night and up to a foot of snow is forecast.
“I'm not used to this,” Larson, 30, said Wednesday outside Consol Energy Center in a lightweight St. Cloud State University hockey shirt in temperatures hovering around 80 degrees.
St. Cloud State is one of four teams vying for the NCAA Division I men's ice hockey national championship in Pittsburgh. The Frozen Four tournament, which starts Thursday and ends Saturday, also features Quinnipiac University and Yale University, both in Connecticut, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Yale is the only participant to have played in a Frozen Four before, in 1952. It's the first time the tourney's been held in Pittsburgh.
“I think we're as ready as we can be,” said Marty Galosi, senior associate athletic director at Robert Morris University in Moon, the tournament host.
The parking lot across Centre Avenue from the arena will hum with festival-like activity in the hours leading up to the games. Workers erected multiple stages, miniature hockey rinks, tents and other displays Wednesday afternoon.
At Frozen Fest, fans will be able to play interactive hockey games such as “top shot,” in which participants shoot pucks toward targets and win free merchandise at one of the many corporate booths in the lot. Cheerleaders, mascots and pep bands will make appearances. The band No Bad Juju will perform Thursday, and Tres Lads is scheduled to play Saturday.
Galosi expects the tournament to draw up to 15,000 out-of-towners, plus thousands of fans from the region. A limited number of tickets remain, he said. Participating teams returned about 600 tickets they were allotted.
Out-of-town fans — including ones whose teams aren't competing — ambled around the arena, many wearing shorts and T-shirts.
“I'd rather have 34 (degrees) and rainy, but I'm not complaining. From what we've seen so far, this seems like a hockey city to us,” said Jeff “Bratman” Sisak, 52, a meat cutter and sausage maker from suburban Milwaukee who roots for the University of Wisconsin.
Sisak and his wife Linda, 48, have attended about 20 Frozen Fours, including last year's in Tampa.
“It was hot and muggy with palm trees and sandy beaches. I hated it,” Sisak said before asking directions to the nearest Primanti Brothers so he could order the restaurant's signature slaw-and-fry-filled sandwich.
Randy Cooper, 55, of Medicine Hat, Alberta, is rooting for Yale. His son, Carson, is a freshman center for the team.
“It's a long way to come from a small town to Downtown Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four. The city, and this arena, are phenomenal,” Cooper said, noting former Penguins winger Troy Loney, who played on the 1992 and 1993 Stanley Cup teams, is from Bow Island, Alberta.