Frozen Four berth has Mass. appeal for Providence – Boston Herald

Frozen Four berth has Mass. appeal for Providence - Boston Herald
ESPNs John Buccigross praises college hockey, compares it to punk rock
BUFFALO, N.Y. — While UMass certainly brings a high-profile Bay State flavor to this year’s NCAA Frozen Four, Providence offers its own Massachusetts connection with seven home-grown talents sprinkled across the Friars roster.

Sophomore defenseman Ben Mirageas of Newburyport, said the underdog Friars (24-11-6), who face defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth (27-11-2) in the national semifinals Thursday (5 p.m.) at KeyBank Center, are well prepared.

It’s unbelievable but we can’t just be happy to be here. It was always a dream when I was a kid but now that we’re actually here, it’s a business trip. We have a trophy to win,” said Mirageas, a third-round pick of the New York Islanders. I think two weekends ago at the (East) Regionals, I hadn’t seen it all year with our group, but we all just came together. We formed together as one and started playing our best hockey and that’s what we need going into this week.

Freshman Michael Callahan of Franklin, who played at Roxbury Latin, had his eyes wide open with the Frozen Four practice experience Wednesday. The defensmen is a fifth-round draft choice of Arizona.

It’s really cool. This whole experience is great. Playing two games at the ‘Dot’ (Dunkin’ Donuts Center) was awesome. Hopefully, well get the same support (Thursday),” Callahan said. “For me, coming from juniors (USHL), this is a bigger stage. There’s more people watching. Obviously, the level of play is a lot higher, so obviously, there’s a little bit of an adjustment at the beginning. But I’m really comfortable going into the weekend. We spent a lot of the past week working on things for this weekend.

Video: NCAA Frozen Four Pre Tournament press conference (4/10/19)

“I think we just have to stick to our game and be patient, play smart, and stick to doing what we do well and hopefully it will work out for us.

Providence junior Jacob Bryson will be skating in front of his future employers — the Buffalo Sabres, who drafted the London, Ontario, native in the fourth round in 2017. PC coach Nate Leaman, who has called Bryson the best defenseman I’ve ever coached, spoke of his development.

He’s learned to use his feet to defend. When you’re Jacob’s size (5-foot-9, 177 pounds), you’re not always going to be able to use your body or your muscles all the time,” Leaman said. “You’ve got to use your feet, be quick to areas. … He has the potential to be the best player on the ice. He doesn’t force the game. He doesn’t try to do something that isn’t there.”

Tonight’s game could feature an all-freshmen Sweden-Finland matchup in net between DU’s Filip Larsson (13-5-3, 1.87 GAA, .935 SP) of Stockholm against UMass’ Filip Lindberg (10-3-0, 1.42 GAA, and .939 SP) of Espoo, who helped the Finns win gold at the World Junior Championships.

UMass coach Greg Carvel would not tip his hand on either Lindberg or sophomore Matt Murray (20-5-0, 2.11 GAA, .919 SP) as starter and will rely on the advice of assistant coach Jared DeMichiel.

I hold my breath and don’t look at goalies. We’ve got two good goalies. I just ask Jared, ‘Who should play?,” Carvel said. …

Providence roommates Bryson and junior star left wing Kasper Bjorkqvist were asked who was the better cook?

Denver coach David Carle on UMass sensation Cale Makar: He’s a good hockey player. We see good hockey players in our league. Scott Perunovich (Minnesota-Duluth) and Jimmy Schuldt (St. Cloud State), both elite defensemen that our team has had to face. Cale, is he another step beyond that? Yeah, potentially. He’s an elite player at this level and he’s going to be an elite player in the NHL,” Carle said of the No. 4 overall pick by Colorado in the 2017 draft. I am an Avs fan. I think he would have helped them.” …

Denver (24-11-5) has won all three previous meetings with the Minutemen (30-9-0). The most recent came during a roaring snowstorm in Amherst on Dec. 17, 2013 when a brave crowd of 428 turned up for the Pioneers’ 5-3 win. …

The penalty-kill units for both squads are elatively close with UMass at 87 percent and DU at 83 percent. The Minutemen hold a huge edge in power play accuracy at 28.5 percent success compared with DU’s 14.9 percent.

ESPNs play-by-play man working Thursday nights semifinals in KeyBank Center compares the popularity of college hockey to that of musical bands before they become mainstream.

I was a huge R.E.M. fan at a young age when they were a very small band before The One I Love, said Buccigross in a telephone interview. They grew to be a worldwide phenomenon. To me, they will always be that little band that I knew before anybody else did. So, I kind of look at college hockey like punk rock … it is a small audience, but it is a passionate and intimate audience and they are really into it.

Buccigross plans to be really into it calling the two games Thursday night – Denver versus Massachusetts and Minnesota-Duluth versus Providence.

He doesnt change his approach because college hockey doesnt have the viewership of college basketball or multiple other sports.

I dont, said Buccigross, who will be calling his seventh Frozen Four alongside analyst Barry Melrose. You walk that fine line between wanting to respect the hardcore fans, especially the hardcore school fans, who certainly know his or her team. So, you dont want to be too patronizing. You also want to inform the casual hockey fan or even the alumni who obviously havent been following all year but is now tuned in because his or her alma mater is on television.

For the most part, I like to treat it as a hockey game and I want to call a game so when the family and friends of the players watch, they like the broadcast. So thats the audience I play to – the players, the family members and the friends who are watching. I say everybodys name, I work very hard to say everybodys name. I want to respect the athletes.

I dont want to miss a goal call, he said. For some of these kids, it will be the biggest goal theyve ever scored in their life. It will be the biggest game they ever scored in their life. For most of the kids, it will be their last shot of true glory when they are a key player on a championship team. I want to nail the calls for them because they are going to have them for the next 50-60 years playing for the kids and their grandkids.

We only have so much time to do things, he said of consuming entertainment. And college hockey for many is just down on the list.

It is safe to say many people watching Thursdays semifinals and Saturdays final probably cant name five players in the tournament and may not know some of the rule differences between the pro and college games.

Buccigross noted that there is no penalty in college for hitting the puck in the stands, and a college player committing a penalty will serve his minutes even if the opposing team scores on a delayed penalty call.

I like that, especially for an elbow or a violent penalty, said Buccigross. The player should still serve time for the infraction. Why should a goal absolve him of his sins?

Buccigross, who does extensive homework that includes watching replays of games, provided a scouting report of players to watch. He said there are probably 20 or 30 players who will at least get into a NHL game.

Tops on the list is defenseman Cale Makar of UMass, who was picked fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2017 NHL draft. Buccigross said there is speculation that he could join the Avalanche for the playoffs right after the Frozen Four.

He would step right into their lineup,” said Buccigross. “He could have played in the NHL this year. He is the star of college hockey this year.

Buccigross sees Denver goalie Filip Larson, a sixth-round draft choice of the Detroit Red Wings in 2016, as another potential NHL player.

He also expects Minnesota-Duluth defensemen Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg to make it in the NHL.

This is the year of the defensemen in college hockey, said Buccigross. It is a defensive-minded season, a defensive-minded Frozen Four. There are no real superstar forwards like weve had in the past.

Buccigross saw his first Frozen Four when he worked at a Providence TV station before joining ESPN in 1996, was immediately hooked and thinks Buffalo hockey fans will be too if they head to KeyBank Center.

It is a little bit of a different hockey experience than an NHL game, he said. It is a different atmosphere with bands, all of these different hockey sweaters. If you are a hockey fan, I really think if youve never been to one before I would definitely take it in for the same reason you go on a sightseeing tour on vacation. To see something and experience something you havent had before. I would do it if you were a sports fan, but certainly if youre a hockey fan I would give it a shot.

The big bummer for me is the Stanley Cup playoffs will be going on through the Frozen Four, said Buccigross, who hosted NHL 2Night when ESPN carried the leagues games. That usually doesnt happen. That certainly will hurt our ratings.

Of course, choosing between a Frozen Four game and a Buffalo Sabres playoff game wont be a problem since the Sabres failed the make the playoffs again.

I didnt think they were ready to make the playoffs before the season, said Buccigross. I want the Sabres to do well. I root for good hockey markets to do well. I think it is good for the game, it is good for the interest, it is good for the ratings. But I just didnt think they were ready. I just didnt think they had the full arsenal of talent and their goaltending was still unproven.

He drove from his Connecticut home in 2014 to see Sabres star Jack Eichel play his first college game at Boston University and instantly determined hed be an NHL star. He sees big things ahead for Eichel, who played in the Frozen Four in 2015 called by Buccigross when BU lost to Providence in the title game.

He is shouldering the whole thing in there much like Connor McDavid in Edmonton, said Buccigross, noting McDavid has only been in the playoffs once. It is terrible for them, terrible for us (not to be in the postseason).

But Eichel is a complete player. I do think he should score more, whether it is trying to figure it out himself or talking to coaches, the analytics to figure out how they can get him in position to score more. He has an unbelievable shot. He should be a 35- to 40-goal scorer.

He is the real deal. He is going to win an MVP one year, and a scoring title. I do think in the end he is going to develop into an all-time great Hall of Famer, number-retired Sabre.

Of all the things Buccigross said in the interview, I imagine Sabre fans would be singing thats “The One I Love.

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