This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Jack Connolly of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
It's been seven years since the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs have been in the Frozen Four. It wasn't an easy road to get to St. Paul this week, but the Bulldogs earned their spot.
In their opening round game against No. 2 seed Union, UMD shutdown the nation's top power play, who were a ridiculous 31-percent success rate going into the game. Duluth killed all nine penalties they took and won 2-0 to set up a date with top-seeded Yale where a four-goal second period sent them to the upset 5-3.
Leading the charge is junior center Jack Connolly. Leading the Bulldogs in points with 58, Connolly was the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year, a returning All-American and one of the ten finalists for this year's Hobey Baker Award.
A communications major, Connolly has been keeping a blog on the UMD athletic department's website giving fans updates on the team's progress as the season progressed. Connolly plans to blog while in St. Paul during the Frozen Four.
We spoke with Connolly last week about staying home in Duluth to play college hockey, what's on his iPod before games and why the Bulldogs decided to dye their hair blonde.
Growing up in Duluth, what was it about the Bulldogs' program that made you want to stay home?
I think it was just I always wanted to play for them. I always wanted to play in the WCHA. Growing up in Duluth I was always a Bulldog fan. My parents took me to the games whenever they'd get a chance. I love the atmosphere and I loved everything about the UMD hockey program. I didn't really realize that I'd have an opportunity to play college hockey until late in my senior year of high school. When they gave me the opportunity to come and play for them I just jumped all over it because there wasn't a place I'd rather be playing hockey. To be able to play in front of my hometown friends and family is just a dream come true and I'm glad I've been able to have such a great experience up here.
Has there been any extra pressure you've put on yourself playing in front of your friends and family at home all the time?
Maybe a little bit, but I don't really like to think too much about the pressure. I just like to go out there and play the game of hockey the way I know how to. I just kind of put it in my mind to go out there and have fun and try to do the best that I can to help our team get a win. There's definitely some pressure situations, as far as your hometown friends and family. They obviously want to see you do well and you want to perform well for them, so there's a little bit of pressure there, but I don't think too much into it and I just like to go out there and play the way I normally do it and have fun with my teammates.
Those two players are phenomenal hockey players. Definitely makes things a lot easier when you're playing with a couple of guys that think the game the same way as I do. I'm more of a pass first type of guy, so I try to look for them, try to find them in the open areas and they do their part and put the puck in the net. I think that's the reason why us three are so good together because we feed off each other and try to work the defense in low and work little give-and-go plays and get pucks to the net. I think we have the skill and the ability to make those short little plays and create some offense that way.
Your thoughts on making it to the Frozen Four this year.
It's amazing feeling. This is what our team has worked for all season. I think the guys have battled hard all year. We've have some ups and downs, but we've come out the other side successful. Playing down in St. Paul couldn't be more exciting moment for our team.
Tell me about this Notre Dame team that you're currently preparing for.
I think a lot of the guys watched their game against New Hampshire. They've got a great team, a great goaltender. They've got a lot of firepower up front with a couple of big time freshman in T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee, and a few other guys that can put the puck in the net. They've got some solid d-men back on the blueline, too. We think they're a good team and we're expecting to have a hard-fought battle next Thursday.
Since the WCHA playoffs the team has been on a roll. What clicked at that points that's helped get you to the Frozen Four?
We didn't want our season to be over after the Final Five. There was an unfortunate loss against Bemidji [State] there; it was definitely disappointing, but we tried to regroup ourselves and get ready for the national tournament and that's what we did. We went out to Bridgeport and played two phenomenal games; special teams and our goaltender won those games out there. I just feel like we're trying to get better everyday at the rink, trying to get better in a couple of different aspects of the game when we're practicing. We're just having good, up-tempo practices this week and into next week heading into the Frozen Four.
Speaking of Kenny Reiter, he's been a rock in the net for you guys. Talk about his play over the last month.
Yeah, he's definitely been our backstop back there. We're confident in his abilities to keep us in games and make the big saves when he has to. Out in Bridgeport he was phenomenal, he was our MVP obviously with the shutout against Union and only letting in three against Yale and most of them were power play goals. He definitely made the big save, made the first save, even the second and third save sometimes that you wouldn't expect a goaltender to make. He's been phenomenal for us in the past 8-10 games or so and hopefully we can continue to have him be standing on his head heading into St. Paul.
What do you have on your iPod to get you going before games?
There's a mix of stuff. Some rock, maybe some classic rock, maybe a little Eddie Money. I also like my Metallica and maybe a little upbeat techno type stuff, a little hip hop. Whatever I'm feeling I go with variety to get me going before the games.
What's the story behind the entire team going blonde?
The past couple years we went with mohawks, a couple guys did a mullet. It didn't take us as far as we wanted to go. We always like to try and do something during playoffs to kind of do a team-building exercise or activity and this year some of the upperclassmen decided maybe we should try the bleach blonde hair and give it a go. Most of the guys bought in and it's worked out for us so far, so we just wanted to try something new and just go with it. It's been good so far and hopefully that can come down with us to St. Paul and get us a couple of wins.
So beards or crazy mustaches weren't in the discussion?
There's only maybe a handful of guys, maybe four or five guys, that can really grow a pretty good beard or mustache. A lot of the guy try, but it doesn't come out the way they want it to, so I think we just kind of did something with the hair so everybody could play along.
Coming up tomorrow: Carl Hagelin from the University of Michigan.