Two of the strongest teams in college hockey will be practicing this afternoon. Vermont and Maine, the "other" two schools in the Hockey East semifinals, will be getting in their final skates before Friday's games.
College hockey fans in Boston look at the championship field and assume Saturday's 28th Hockey East final will pit BC and BU against one another for the 25th time.
Why not? BU is the defending national champion, and BC won it all the year before that. Each hoisted the Lamoriello Trophy en route to an NCAA title.
The two Comm. Ave. rivals met in the Beanpot final this year. They played one another at Fenway Park. They play in all the big games, don't they?
To meet again this weekend, they'll have to get through two tough teams. Vermont has a lot of experience on its side. Last year, the Catamounts made it all the way to the Frozen Four. They were beaten there by BU.
Two years ago, Kevin Sneddon's club made it to the Hockey East championship game. They were beaten there by BC.
Starting Friday night, Sneddon's team could exact its revenge on both Boston schools and ruin any thoughts of another BC-BU meeting at the Garden, one that many fans inside of Rte. 128 might have.
There was a time when Maine fans planned their March trip to Boston before the season even began. In fact, just making it to the conference final four was not considered much of an accomplishment. Anything short of an appearance in the championship game was a disappointment to Black Bear fans. Maine once made it to the championship game six straight years (from 1988-1993), winning three of those six titles.
This year, Tim Whitehead brings the Black Bears to the Garden for the first time since 2006, a four-year rebuilding stretch that had folks in Orono singing the blues instead of the Stein Song.
"It has been a while for us," said Whitehead. "It is even more special to advance this year after what we’ve fought through. The guys are very excited to make this trip. Our coaching staff is very happy for our guys and very excited to go down to Boston, not just for a banquet, but also for at least one hockey game. It is going to be a lot of fun, but certainly a tough challenge for us in our opponent. It is a very good step for us, a very important step in our climb back up to where we want to be.”
Whitehead and Sneddon are both hoping their teams are still standing after Friday night's doubleheader. With the experience of BC and BU, it won't be an easy task for either team. Still, making the trip from the North Country is a statement in itself. Don't think for a moment the Catamounts and Black Bears are ready to roll over in our provincial hockey version of March Madness.
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