Tradition-rich Frozen Four aims for national attention
DENVER -- Andrew Orpik is only 22, but the junior forward for Boston College can still remember when the Frozen Four had the feel of a backwater event.
"When my brother played for BC in the Frozen Four, it was in Albany [New York, in 2001]," says Orpik, whose brother, Brooks, now plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. "Nothing against Albany, but here we are in Denver, in the Pepsi Center. Growing up you see that hockey isn't the major sport, you see how its gets only one little section in the back of Sports Illustrated. But you can see now how the Frozen Four is getting bigger and bigger."
Make no mistake: the Frozen Four is not the Final Four. Denver is not overrun with fans as San Antonio was a week ago. You can still get a seat in a restaurant without waiting an hour or scalp a ticket without missing a mortgage payment. With the exception of the rabid North Dakota fans, who migrate south to the Frozen Four each year like a boisterous flock of green geese, Frozen Four attendees are a tame brood. But there is something to be said for a familial and friendly vibe. The Final Four can feel like a corporate junket, with sponsors and job-hunting coaches prowling every lobby. The Frozen Four feels like a large family reunion.
On Thursday, kids posed for pictures with the championship trophy in Section 142 of the Pepsi Center, taking as long as needed to get the perfect shot. Earlier, children and parents lined up to touch the Hobey Baker Award, which sat on a table off the lobby of the Grand Hyatt. There are kids everywhere, most sporting the sweater of his or her favorite school. It is one of the events signature images.
Among the 18,544 fans at the games, Thursday was a solid percentage with no allegiance to Boston College, North Dakota, Michigan or Notre Dame. They showed up at the Pepsi Center wearing the jerseys of Ohio State, Minnesota, Denver, Colorado College, and that was just fans in a single row of seats. Imagine a fan showing up for the Final Four at the Alamodome wearing a Syracuse jersey and rooting only for pretty play. That is what happens at the Frozen Four.