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Bob Ryan

Frozen Four breaks from tradition

The eyes and ears of millions will be trained on the Georgia Dome Monday night, when Louisville and Michigan meet for the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

But to a feisty slice of the collegiate sports fandom, all that basketball nonsense is a foolish exercise that is diverting America’s attention from a far more relevant matter, which is, of course, the Frozen Four that will commence Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

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And what a Frozen Four it is. If there’s anything that speaks to the almost amusing nature of the Frozen Four, as opposed to the Final Four, it is the identity of the four schools comprising the 2013 Frozen Four: UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac, Yale, and St. Cloud State.

It’s the anti-Final Four!

And I love it.

Never mind the fact that there are three schools from New England, and the next time there will be three schools from New England in the Final Four — men or women’s — is the Twelfth of Never. But there are two schools from New Haven.

New Haven.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I think hockey, I don’t think New Haven.

In addition to which, the whole Quinnipiac-Yale juxtaposition is juicy. Quinnipiac is a comer, a hard-charging, ambitious school eager to raise its profile. Yale is, well, my God, Yale is Yale, and no more need be said.

This is almost a town-gown deal, and I can only imagine how exciting this must be for the Quinnipiac community. When I visited their magnificent athletic facility in February of last year, a superb edifice in which you enter and turn right for the hockey rink and left for the basketball court and which happens to be perched high on a hill, director of athletics Jack McDonald was telling me that the little Quinnipiac joke is that from their elevated height they can “look down on Yale.” And indeed, they can. Imagine if they were to wind up defeating Yale for the national championship.

But first things first. We’ve got a horse in this race, and for once, it’s neither BC nor BU. Nope, it’s the River Hawks of UMass-Lowell. There’s nothing I can say about why all local sports fans should be pulling for them when they take the ice Thursday against Yale that wasn’t said better by Kevin Cullen in the Friday Globe metro section. The River Hawks already have done themselves proud just by advancing to their first Frozen Four.

Oops, I’ve been burying the lead.

Did you know that the term “Frozen Four” was coined by one of our own?

The man who came up with it was Ed Carpenter, the longtime (now retired) sports information director at Boston University, and in a far more just world he would be off on an island somewhere spending the residuals for coming up with an idea the NCAA has trademarked. Instead, I had to drag the story out of him.

“We were sitting around at one of the championship sites, in the mid-90s, I think, trying to figure out what we should start calling the championships,” he recalls. “I said, we can’t call it the Final Four. How about calling it the Frozen Four? That’s how it all happened.”

Bingo. Why not?

To me, the man should be thrown a testimonial dinner, have his picture hung in the lobby of the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, and, of course, be handsomely compensated with many thousands of Benjamins. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring consultant firms that come up with ideas far less prescient than this one. I mean, the NCAA has run with this baby. But as far as I know, he has gotten squat. That’s borderline criminal.

Being Ed Carpenter, however, he does not seem very upset about it. “It was kind of innocent,” he says. “It wasn’t as if there was a puff of white smoke.”

All I know is that if it were me, I’d have a billboard on the Turnpike and a pack of lawyers demanding my share. Ed Carpenter has made a lasting contribution to the game of college hockey.

As I said, the composition of the 2013 (registered trademark and Ed Carpenter-coined) Frozen Four is the anti-Final Four. It speaks to a far different world. The grouping perfectly reflects the trend of 21st century college hockey, in which the traditional Midwestern state school powers such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State have been threatened by the emergence of a seemingly endless stream of battling underdog schools with rather limited athletic budgets.

Consider that since 2000 such schools as St. Lawrence, Colorado College, Bemidji State, RIT, Ferris State — go ahead, tell me what state it’s in — and Union have all been to the (registered trademark and Ed Carpenter-coined) Frozen Four. That’s in addition to Miami of Ohio, far better known as an incubator for great football coaches, and Minnesota-Duluth, a much larger school than you might think, and the 2011 champion. Now we have this delightful quartet.

The (registered trademark and Ed Carpenter-coined) Frozen Four has been going about its business since 1948, when Michigan defeated Dartmouth for the title. The first 10 championships were held in Colorado Springs, and Michigan, coached by Vic Heyliger, was there every year, winning it all in 1948, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’55, and ’56. Heyliger, who died at the age of 94 in 2006, was likewise one of us, born and bred in Concord and a graduate of Lawrence Academy in Groton. No one has matched his record of six titles. The late Murray Armstrong of Denver had five, and so does Boston College’s Jerry York, the latter being far from finished.

You’ve got to love a sport where, in addition to the BCs, BUs, Minnesotas, Wisconsins, Michigans, and Michigan States, schools such as RPI, Lake Superior State, Colorado College, Bowling Green (coached by Jerry York), and Minnesota-Duluth have won. You’ve got to love a sport where North Dakota is a legend (seven titles). You’ve got to love a sport where Harvard skates off as a national champeen (1989).

Keep in mind that this isn’t basketball, with its 13 full, no-strings-attached, scholarships. Hockey scholarships are a tricky mix-and-match, with halves and weird stuff like that. I don’t profess to understand the recruiting process, with the prep schools and the juniors, and all that. It’s a weird process, but it’s their process.

I’ve been fortunate enough to cover a bunch of these things at venues ranging from the University of North Dakota, to Albany, N.Y., to the Garden, to the strangest of them all, the 1999 (registered trademark and Ed Carpenter-coined) Frozen Four in Anaheim, Calif., with Alaska-Anchorage as the host institution, both before and after Carpenter came up with his idea. By way of shameless self-aggrandizement, I am reasonably certain that I am the only writer in America who on more than one occasion shuttled directly from one FF to the other.

And when is someone going to wake up and fly Ed Carpenter to Pittsburgh in order to drop the ceremonial first puck? Do I have to get a petition?

Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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