Yale, UMass Lowell have little history at Frozen Four
Yale and Massachusetts Lowell, opponents with only a brief history at the Frozen Four, aren't satisfied just to be playing in Thursday's national semifinals at Consol Energy Center.
Yale (20-12-3) is making its second appearance in the NCAA hockey championships. The Bulldogs also played in the 1952 national semifinals.
“We've come close to making the Frozen Four, and actually doing it is a great accomplishment,” Yale senior forward Andrew Miller said. “But not just being here is not OK. We're here to win.”
UMass Lowell (28-10-2) is making its first trip to the Frozen Four. The River Hawks lost to Union, 4-2, in last year's East Regional final.
“Our goal was trying to improve upon last year,” said second-year UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin, whom Wednesday was named the Division I men's college hockey coach of the year. “It's a strong buy-in by the whole club. And we're still trying to improve.”
This year's Frozen Four is missing traditional powers such as Boston College, Wisconsin and Michigan. Yale, UMass Lowell, Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State have a total of one Frozen Four appearance.
“It's not putting the big five or six teams in the country, but it's putting the other guys on the map,” said UMass Lowell junior defender Chad Ruhwedel. “I wouldn't say the other teams are falling off. I think everybody else is starting to catch up.”
Last year, Bazin scripted the largest turnaround in Division I history, taking UMass Lowell from five wins in 2010-11 to a 24-13-1 season in 2011-12.
UMass Lowell has won 14 of its past 15 games.
“We're definitely playing our best hockey right now,” said River Hawks junior forward Scott Wilson, a seventh-round draft pick of the Penguins in 2011 who is tied for the team lead in scoring.
Yale also has flirted with playing for a national championship in recent years. It advanced to within a game of the Frozen Four in 2010 and '11, losing to the eventual national champion each time.
The players agree that renewed individual commitments, along with intense offseason workouts, contributed to the Bulldogs advancing to the Frozen Four for the first time in six decades.
“Every time we don't get to compete for a national championship is a disappointment,” Miller said. “The season started the day after we lost.”
“We really wanted to get to the Frozen Four,” said Yale junior center Jesse Root of Mt. Lebanon. “We spent five, six days a week in the gym getting ready, and a lot of guys stayed in the summer.”
Although UMass Lowell's players spoke in generalities, they clearly hold Yale in high regard.
“I know a couple guys on the team just from playing with them,” junior forward Joseph Pendenza said. “They like to play fast, quick transition. It's kind of all we really know about them.”
“It's been our mindset all year to focus on us and not any other team,” added senior forward Riley Wetmore. “Any team that makes it this far is doing something right.”