TAMPA — Denver and North Dakota have played each other so frequently through the decades — a total of 275 times — that their fan bases could sing one another’s fight songs without missing a note.
Boston College and Quinnipiac, on the other hand, have never played one another. Like Denver and North Dakota, they’ll face off Thursday night here in the Frozen Four, but the Eagles and Bobcats might have to buy a program when they look across the ice and ask, “Hey, who are those guys?’’
“Yeah, it’s kind of weird,’’ said BC captain Ted Doherty, noting how playing in Hockey East breeds familiarity among opponents. “I feel like I know pretty much a guy on every team we play. Quinnipiac, I can’t say that I do.’’
They may know one another through game film and coaches’ notes, but all that is theory until the puck is dropped at 5 p.m. at Amalie Arena. Denver and North Dakota tangle in the late game, then the winners meet Saturday night for the national title.
“So that first period is going to be essential,’’ said Doherty. “We’ll try to match up with their intensity and their compete level.’’
The 31-3-7 Bobcats, the only club here without a national title, arrived as the No. 1 seed after dumping RIT and the pesky UMass Lowell River Hawks in the East Regional.
It has been nearly 20 years since anyone reached the Frozen Four with only three losses, and Bobcats coach-for-life Rand Pecknold oversees a club that, despite its No. 1 seed status, is still vying for the type of national recognition accorded the other three clubs in the tourney.
Pecknold, who began coaching Quinnipiac well before it upgraded to Division 1 play 17 years ago, made a revision in the program in 2009. If the Bobcats wanted to be included in the discussion nationally, he recalled, he and his staff had to make fundamental changes, particularly in day-to-day training habits. Day in and day out, there had to be focus and intensity, a sense of seizing the moment.
“Our practices are awesome,’’ said Pecknold, who grew up in New Hampshire and played his high school hockey at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass. “Monday it’s awesome. Tuesday it’s awesome. Wednesday, Thursday . . .
“I think that’s why you see so many players within our system evolve — kids that other programs don’t want, and all of a sudden that kid might be going to the NHL.’’
The Eagles (28-7-5), meanwhile, have long churned out NHLers, particularly during Jerry York’s 22 years behind the bench. Their wins over Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional punched their ticket to the 12th Frozen Four during York’s tenure. They are fast and offensively prolific.
“It’s a pretty good club,’’ said York, who is hoping to win his fifth NCAA title with the Eagles, adding to the one he won at Bowling Green. “Now, to win it, you have to be an outstanding team. So I am hoping that we can connect one more step to become an outstanding team.’’
It helps the Eagles immensely to have arguably the nation’s best goalie in Thatcher Demko. A Hobey Baker finalist (winner to be announced here Friday), Demko has a 27-7-4 record, a 1.85 goals-against mark, and a .936 save percentage.
A Vancouver draft pick with a year’s eligibility remaining, Demko could be heavily enticed to leave for the pros, especially if he departs here with an NCAA trophy and the Hobey Baker (though Harvard senior Jimmy Vesey appears to be the favorite).
North Dakota and Denver will be playing one another for the sixth time this season, after going 2-2-1 against each other. While BC-Quinnipiac is expected to be more of a defensive battle, the two Western reps are more likely to open it up, each boasting a prolific No. 1 line.
North Dakota attacks with its “CBS’’ trio of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, and Nick Schmaltz, while the Pioneers, coached by former Maine star Jim Montgomery, have an equally prolific “Pacific Rim Line” of Trevor Moore Jr., Danton Heinen, and Dylan Gambrell.
In a game too often dominated by defense and shot-blocking, Montgomery would like to see the clubs match up their powerhouse lines, something that rarely happens anymore.
“I’ve already kind of publicly tried to challenge Coach Berry to let’s go head to head,’’ said Montgomery, referring to Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry. “It would be a hell of a show. But he wants to go with his defensive line against [the Pacific Rim]. Maybe he’ll bite halfway through the game.’’