For all the teams in the national semifinals, the Frozen Four has been a long time coming.
After a crazy first weekend in the NCAA Tournament that saw three of the No. 1 seeds go down in the first round, the four remaining teams share the same inexperience on the national level.
The Catamounts opponent, and conference foe, Boston University boasts the most recent trip to the Frozen Four after making an appearance in 1997 — just one year after Vermont made their one and only previous appearance.
While the two Hockey East squads have had to wait for over a decade, the teams in the other semifinal, Miami and Bemidji State, are both making their first appearance in program history.
In knocking out No. 1s Denver and Notre Dame, both the RedHawks and Beavers — No. 4 seeds entering the tournament — have made their mark and one will find themselves playing for a national championship.
In the second semifinal the Cats are matched up against a familiar adversary in BU. The two teams met three times this season and four times last season including a Vermont victory in the Hockey East semifinals.
With the puck set drop on Bemidji State and Miami on Thursday at 5 p.m. and on the Cats and BU at 8:30 p.m. (both games are on ESPN2) here is a breakdown of what to look for from the two semifinal games.
Vermont Catamounts vs. Boston University Terriers
These two teams are traveling further than usual to face a very familiar opponent. But while the opponent may be similar, the stage is completely new and both teams will have to bring their best if they have any hope of advancing the final.
While the teams have played a relatively even series over the last couple of years, this year the Cats got the better of the Terries taking two of the three games — both in Boston when BU was ranked second nationally.
These two wins away from home put the Cats on the national map after they got off to a slow start in league play that including a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the Terriers.
“We’ve had some great games with BU,” Cats head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “We’ve had a couple of stinkers with BU, too where they wouldn’t share the puck with us at all and those were hard games to stomach.
“For the most part our games have been excellent games with Boston University. We have been fortunate to come away on the positive end of those a few times as of late,” he said.
When the teams meet on Thursday it will have been nearly five months since the teams last met and Sneddon is aware that while the teams are familiar, this is different.
“Those games that we played this year, in particular, were a long time ago so our team is a lot different and there team is a lot different,” Sneddon said. “We’ve got to play our best, it’s plain and simple. But at this of the year that’s what you have to do anyway.
“Whether it is BU or somebody else we would have to play our best to keep moving on. It will be an incredible, incredible challenge — the hardest thing our team has ever had to do — but at the same time it is a wonderful opportunity for us,” he said.
While at first glance the matchup with the Terriers could be seen as negative, the Cats say the familiarity as well as the underdog role will be beneficial.
“I don’t know if [being familiar with them] is an advantage, but you are at least more comfortable on the ice,” sophomore defensemen Dan Lawson said. “You know that a team like BU is gonna be all over you all night so you got to be at the top of your game.
“As uncomforting as that is to know that it is going to be that hard, it is also comforting to know that you can mentally prepare yourself.”
Freshman goalie Rob Madore got his first taste of Hockey East rivalries this season but already has understanding of the importance of the rivalry.
“It is just another game, but at the same time it is Boston University they’re No. 1, maybe overshadowed some of the success we have had all year, and I guess that is maybe a little in the back of your mind,” Madore said. “Hopefully, we can just stay composed and stay calm and get after it right from the drop of the puck.
“I think that in everybody’s eyes, except for hopefully the Vermont supporters, were probably the underdogs,” Lawson said. “I think that fuels the fire for everybody.
“We know that we beat this team twice and we know that we can beat them again. This time it’s on the big stage and we are out to prove it to everybody.”
Players to watch:
Both teams have gotten to where they are because of great play from their goalies — both of who are freshmen.
Madore lead the Cats into the final four by only allowing one goal against Yale and stopping 46 of 48 shots against Air Force.
BU is lead by backstop Kieran Millan who has been solid all season and never seems to crack under pressure.
Millan was named the Hockey East tournament MVP after leading the Terriers to the championship where he stopped 32 shots to shut out UMass-Lowell.
Madore had some ups and downs towards the end of the season but seemed to regain some of his confidence in the East Regionals with two strong performances.
Teams in the NCAA Tournament go the way of their goaltender and that is surely the case with BU and UVM.
Saying that it is the matchup of freshmen goalies may be going too far, but the play of these young men will decide which team is playing for a National Championship.
Miami RedHawks vs. Bemidji State Beavers
The RedHawks come into the tournament after taking a similar path to the Catamounts.
Just like Vermont, Miami backed into the tournament after falling in the first round of the CCHA tournament.
But just like the Cats, Miami surprised many by making the Frozen Four by knocking off No. 1 Denver and No. 2 Minnesota Duluth.
The RedHawks traveled to Burlington at the beginning of the season for two games against the Catamounts — they lost the first game before securing a tie in the second.
The Beavers of Bemidji State are probably the last team anyone expected to see in the Frozen Four.
They were matched up with many peoples tournament favorite, Notre Dame, in the first round where they immediately proved they are a team to be reckoned with, knocking off the Fighting Irish, 5-1.
The Beavers were the first team to book their trip to the NCAA Tournament when they won the CHA Tournament Championship all the back on March 13.
After finishing the season 18-15 and needing overtime to defeat Robert Morris to advance to the tournament, few expected Bemidji State to be anything more than a speed bump for Notre Dame.
Both of these teams have been playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude and have proved that on any given day they can beat anyone in the country.
Both teams like to play with speed and score goals so look for an exciting game. The teams are in uncharted territory and it may come down to which one deals better with the tough situation.