After years of talking about wanting to go to the WCHA Final Five, I’ve finally got the opportunity to go. For such a trip, I had to book it in advance knowing full well that more personal entanglements might have to be sacrificed in order to go. For one, there was the chance that RPI could advance to the ECAC Semifinals. That didn’t happen.
Secondly, there was the distinct possibility that Oswego State would end up in the Division III Frozen Four in Lake Placid and get to play on the 1980 Rink. That will happen as Oswego throttled Bowdoin 9-2 in the quarterfinals and the Lakers move on to face the St. Norbert’s Green Knights in the National Semifinals. I have to admit, the more I read notices and messages from the Alumni office about alumni meet-and-greets in Lake Placid it’s twisting my alumnus innards to pieces to not be there to watch them, potentially, win a National Championship in person. The fun twist is when Oswego State won the National Championship in 2007, they did so in Superior, Wisconsin located near Duluth, Minnesota while I was parked nervously in front of my television watching everything unfold on CSTV as the Lakers lost a third period lead against Middlebury to send the game to overtime where Garren Reisweber scored the game winning goal by wheeling around the Middlebury defense and deking the goaltender out badly.
Enough talk about that, you can still watch the title game highlight reel here.
Anyhow, this time around Oswego is in the Frozen Four in New York and I’ll be the one away in Minnesota. Being that far from the team worked out pretty well last time, so perhaps my lack of presence within an immediate drive of the games helps. After all, Oswego lost in the National Championship game in 2003 against Norwich while I was in attendance at Kreitzberg Arena in Northfield, Vermont. That’s one somber ride home.
Aside from all of that, still, there were even more activities going on including a great Montreal Tweet-Up event over the weekend that’s being hosted by the folks at All-Habs. So with all of these other things going on, I bit the bullet and bought my plane tickets for Minneapolis, Minnesota because it was high time I made the pilgrimage to what’s described as college hockey’s greatest conference tournament.
Usually when folks throw out plaudits like that, I take them with a grain of salt because they’re generally coming from folks who are fans of teams in the conference and they’re a bit biased. WCHA folks in particular are very proud of their conference and how they perform and hell, why not? Just take a look at the Pairwise rankings right now and you’ll see that four of the top six teams are from the WCHA.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Pairwise, it’s the ranking system used to slot out the teams for the NCAA Tournament. It’s not like the bogus rankings the BCS does in college football, there’s actual science to these and while some folks do have issues with Pairwise, the math and methodology is sound behind it and there’s no poll objectivity mixed into it to skew the numbers.
This trip to Minnesota, however, does offer me some grand opportunities aside from seeing potentially five awesome college hockey games (and one NHL game on Sunday, but that’s neither here nor there now). I’ve come up with a list of things I’m going to try and find, capture on a video camera and share with the rest of you later this week.
1. The Jucy Lucy
If you’re not familiar with what the Jucy Lucy is, then you need to go introduce yourself to The Travel Channel and the show Man vs. Food. In his adventure to Minneapolis, host Adam Richman (Twitter) checked out a handful of places including the Minneapolis war of madness between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club who have a contentious war over who the originator of the Jucy Lucy was.
What’s the Jucy Lucy? Picture a cheeseburger with the cheese melted inside the beef. Hungry? Mortified? Feeling ravenous for all things melted and wonderfully beefy? Yeah, I know you are. Ever since I’ve heard about the Jucy Lucy I’ve been fiending for one and one of the first things I’ll be doing in Minneapolis is heading to Matt’s Bar (which has been recommended to me over the 5-8 Club by most locals) and sampling the molten cheese beauty. Believe me, by no means am I a foodie of any degree, but Man v. Food has stoked my curiosity to check out places like these and hell, how do you go wrong with a cheeseburger with the cheese on the inside? You don’t… Unless you try to eat it too soon after it arrives at your table, then you might burn your mouth out like crazy to which you’ll need to stop by place number two…
2. Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit
Yes, that’s German and yes it’s a beer hall. I am a big fan of the German biergarten we’ve got in Albany (Wolff’s Biergarten) and while we’re not exactly going for food at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit, it was the featured place on Man v. Food so it’s got that street cred going for it.
I’ll not be having the Meterwurst and going for the challenge but I will be partaking of their $10 liters of beer and will do so even more if I lose a layer of skin from molten cheese at Matt’s. I’ve got a touch of German blood roaring through my veins and one of the things that blood cries out for is fantastic beer. Consider me sold, especially with the kind of setting they’ve apparently got at Gasthof’s.
Yeah, that’s exactly what it looks like. Siouxbacca is very real, he was even mentioned by Inside College Hockey last year and I’ve seen a photo of him. It’s truly one of the most wonderous sights I’ve ever seen on the Internet and is somehow a thousand times cooler than this.
What is Siouxbacca? He’s simply an incredible North Dakota Fighting Sioux fan who dresses up as Chewbacca and throws an old school Fighting Sioux jersey on over top of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear it was actually Peter Mayhew all cracked out and wearing a stolen Chewie costume but I don’t think he’d even be that dedicated. Maybe. I realize that if you’re not familiar with college hockey and how some fans might be this might seem crazy to you, but believe it. I’m going all Steve Irwin on this one and will be praying that Siouxbacca comes out to play this year but don’t worry, I won’t be challenging him to any games of hologram space chess, I should remain safe.
4. Honest-To-God Real Tailgating
It exists in college football and is legendary for the cookouts and alcohol consumption in mass quantities but a lot of folks don’t know it also happens in college hockey and boy does it ever at the Final Five. Thanks to some well connected friends I’ll get a good up close look at how the folks from Gopher Puck Live do things at the Final Five. I’m planning on being hazed a little bit for being the guy with the Eastern Bias but even without the Gophers being at the Final Five, the folks at GPL still get out there and still have fun and can throw down with the best of them.
I’ve heard rumors of games called “beer darts” being played and any number of other sorts of beer-related games but most of all it’s a chance for everyone to come out and treat it like the end of the year convention. I’m sure there’s some major shenanigans that go on out there, it wouldn’t be a college-like event without them, but things like this just don’t exist here in the east.
At the ECAC Tournament, team fans generally don’t mingle too much and the locations of the tournament don’t lend themselves very well to do any actual in the parking lot tailgating. Piling into a bar and downing overpriced slop beer is easy to do. Downing cheap beer in a parking lot while someone cooks a hundred pounds of meat on a grill is so much more satisfying.
5. Really Great Hockey
I know, it seems like such a sappy thing to say but it’s true. Look at what you’ve got set up in the other conference tournaments this weekend and you tell me which one you’d like to be in attendance for:
- Atlantic Hockey: RIT vs. Canisius; Sacred Heart vs. Air Force
- CCHA: Northern Michigan vs. Ferris State; Miami vs. Michigan
- ECAC: Brown vs. Cornell; Union vs. St. Lawrence
- Hockey East: Boston College vs. Vermont; Boston University vs. Maine
- WCHA: North Dakota vs. Minnesota-Duluth; UND/UMD winner vs. Denver; St. Cloud State vs. Wisconsin
Sure, maybe some of you might want to check out the Hockey East tournament but with the WCHA sending the top five teams in the conference to their Final Five it sets up to be a huge war for bragging rights and to see who can take home the largest trophy I’ve ever seen in my life – the MacNaughton Cup. (Editor Note: Thanks to Mike in the comments for pointing out my ignorance here: Denver already won the MacNaughton Cup by being the regular season champion. Now they’re playing for the Broadmoor Trophy which is… Not as fun looking. Thanks Mike.)
You can probably see that trophy from space.
Winning the WCHA is a big deal for sure. You’re essentially the best team of the tournament in the best conference in college hockey. Sure that may not translate into National Championships for WCHA teams, but winning the MacNaughton Cup is a tremendous point of pride for teams in the WCHA. A lot of the teams in the WCHA have National Championships and those arguments amongst fans can be both silly and petulant but getting to wrap up the tournament with this trophy means a lot.
With this year’s field of teams being one of the best in years, it turns out I really lucked out to get my first taste of what many have been telling is the best experience you’ll have all year outside of the Frozen Four. Besides, if things do live up to the hype, the Frozen Four is in St. Paul next year and booking my trip to go a year from now might happen instantly.
Just so long as I don’t get mauled by Siouxbacca.