In October, 59 college hockey teams began their 2013-2014 schedules with one dream. For some, that dream was more realistic than others. For some, it felt like a chance to make a dream come true or a chance to finish unfinished business, a first chance or a last chance. On that day in October, 59 teams were 0-0-0, and everyone was eyeballing a chance to put on a hat, pull on a t-shirt, and kiss a trophy as national champions.
Six months later, four teams still harbor that dream. And by the time the work week begins on Monday of next week, one team will realize that dream.
This is one of the most gloried and storied Frozen Fours in history. Over 65 Frozen Four appearances exist between the participant schools, each with their own story to tell. There's the State of Hockey in Minnesota, a land where the game isn't so much a game as it is a religion, as close to Canadian passion as it gets in the United States. Like Indiana and basketball, there is nothing bigger in the state of Minnesota than the high school hockey championship. 19,000-plus fans pour into the state's professional arena, creating an atmosphere that is unrivaled and unparalleled. The state's collegiate hockey team is an institution unto itself, boasting a pride and a recognition for being the resource to grow the sport within its borders and within its nation. Despite this history and despite this pride, it's been 11 years since a Gopher team hoisted a national championship.
Then there's North Dakota. Located 100 miles from nowhere, Dakota is one of those teams that has a mystique created by college hockey. If Minnesota is the State of Hockey, then North Dakota is America's best example of college hockey flourishing in a place where there isn't a whole lot else of anything. It's a lot like Mystery, Alaska - a hockey wonderland carved out of the ice and cold of American winter. Their arena is a gold standard Taj Mahal, a Mecca for hockey fans to pilgrimage to, even as the mighty Sioux head was purged from most spots. The question is always asked - what do people do for fun in Grand Forks? The answer is always simple: North Dakota hockey.
But there's also Union. Union - the plucky new kid on the block. The team that, in the face of the other three, "shouldn't be here." There's no history to Union, at least none that anyone would brag about. It's not from a place boasting hockey tradition, and it's not a school known as having ancient rivalries like the Sioux, the Gophers, or the city of Boston. It's simply the new school that's providing a glimpse into how to build a program over a generation. In the end, though, they're possibly best team out of recent memory at the Frozen Four, the team that's been more consistent than anyone else has been the Union Dutchmen. While there isn't tradition, there's something to this team, in one year, that belies anything of tradition.
And is our team - Boston College. The team of the 2000s. The dynasty. The greatest head coach in college hockey history. If history before 2000 belonged to Boston University or Harvard in these parts at any time with their national titles, the time period after has made Boston's college hockey scene about BC. No team in the last 15 years can expect success at this level in quite the way as Boston College. It's a wonderful pressure to have. BC doesn't come to this point to lose. If the term "recruiting generation" defines the four-year recruiting cycle, BC's had sustained national championship success for more generations in the 21st century than anyone else. That's what makes this time of year so great for Eagle fans; before 2000, there was one lonely national championship banner. There was a great tradition but nothing like what a recruit or fan can see with the banners in the rafters now, the stars on the back of the uniform.
There's something to this year for Boston College fans that is so great. It's a time for BC fans to thump their chests and get behind their school because, quite simply, this is our time. Nobody, and I mean nobody, owns this time of year quite like BC. Does that mean the Eagles will win this year? Not by a long shot. Nothing from the past can make a team in the present win a championship. But it does provide a mystique claimed by all the game's greats.
This is the time of the year when Boston College Eagles everywhere can sit back and remember their time. 2008. 2010. 2012. It's the time of year when Eagle players reconvene their fraternity that's so exclusive yet hopefully still growing. The images and the legacies can create themselves and link through the years. Brian Gionta can link to Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe, who in turn can link to Joe Whitney. The next link can be created by Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold, and it can create the link that could reach to the future to guys like Thatcher Demko, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Adam Gilmour.
Take a moment during the anthem or before the teams take the ice and realize what could be accomplished and root so hard for it. This might be one of the most storied Frozen Fours in history, but only one can be left standing at the end.