Heart & Talent: A BU Terrier on what it takes to make the Frozen Four
This is a guest post from Jill Cardella, a senior captain for the Boston University women’s ice hockey team.
Making the Frozen Four is not easy. In NCAA women’s ice hockey if you have a pretty good season, if you are consistently one of the top eight teams, or if you are playing well at the end of the season and win your conference, there is a fairly good chance you’ll make the NCAA field of eight teams. You are lucky enough to be one of a few that get to extend their season a little longer. The group that I entered Boston University with as a freshman has been able to do just that for four years in a row, thanks in large part to steady play throughout each of the four seasons.
On two occasions we had to win our conference to make it in, and we did, both in overtime. Those games are two of the ‘big ones’ that I have played in. They’re the sort of games that you reminisce about years later, the ones we will always remember. After you make it into the NCAA championship field, you must win another game before you get to the Frozen Four. These games are pressure packed. Win, and you are a step closer to the National Championship. Lose, and your season is over, right then and there.
In these situations, the teams that I have been on are 2-2, including, probably, the most memorable game I have or will ever play in: an 8-7 triple overtime loss to Cornell, in which both teams held three goal leads. Like I said, making the Frozen Four is not easy. In 2011 we needed to beat a Mercyhurst team filled with Olympians and national team members who were fighting to play in the Frozen Four that they were hosting in Erie, Pennsylvania. That time, we came out on the positive end, but it was not easy.
And so, this year when we beat Clarkson in the NCAA quarterfinal to earn our spot in the Frozen Four, we knew we had accomplished something we could be proud of. We also knew though, that we didn’t just want to make the Frozen Four, we wanted to win the whole thing. We had been planning on playing on March 24 for the national title since before the season started. We were excited, but also focused.
The same day that we earned our spot in the Frozen Four, our crosstown rival, Boston College did the same. In fact, they have made it the past three years and it was our second time in those three years. Though there is an intense rivalry on the ice when we play BC, there is also a sense of camaraderie and pride when you represent the same city and conference.
The Frozen Four was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the campus of the Minnesota Gophers, who were also in the tournament. Before our game in the semifinal against Mercyhurst, we got to watch BC play the undefeated Gophers. BC gave Minnesota everything they could handle, and even held a 1-0 lead into the second period, but ultimately, they came up short. Watching the way BC played them gave me confidence that we could give the Gophers a game if we had to play them in the final. Their perfect record didn’t matter in a one game, do or die situation.
We ended up beating Mercyhurst in the semifinal, 4-1, and we played well. Everyone was playing confidently and we knew all the work we put in over the course of the year was for that one last game on March 24. We had practice on the Saturday before the big game, and it’s pretty awesome knowing that you are one of two teams left playing in the whole country. Everyone was loose, excited and ready to go.
On Sunday, the day was finally here. I knew it would be my last game as a Terrier, and we were prepared to leave everything on the ice. When the puck dropped the standing room only crowd was roaring, heavily favoring the hometown Gophers. We held our own, and had plenty of chances, including the first breakaway of the game.
But they scored. And then scored again. The crowd thought they would run away with their second straight national championship, but we weren’t going anywhere. We scored a few seconds later and finished the first period down 2-1. We were in good shape. After two more Gopher goals in the second period, we found ourselves down 4-1 against a team that hadn’t lost yet this season. Between the second and third periods, we looked each other in the eyes and promised that we wouldn’t stop fighting and wouldn’t give up, that we would play for one another in these last 20 minutes no matter what the score was.
And we did just that. We ended up scoring two goals in the third period, but so did they, and when the time ran out on the clock, we weren’t victorious. They scored when they needed to, and they scored more than us. We didn’t win, but I saw the heart of every single one of my teammates that day, the courage and fight to step onto the ice every single shift no matter the result on the scoreboard. Sure you need talent, because winning big games is not easy. But to be really successful you need more than that, you need that indefinable quality called ‘heart’, and after that game I have never been more proud to say I played for Boston University on a team with so much of that.