The first-ever Frozen Four played in Chicago kicks off Thursday, and for seven players who grew up in and around the city – it’s a little overwhelming.
“I caught myself looking up at all the Blackhawks banners up there, and looking around at all the Frozen Four stuff and I was like, ‘oh no, don’t look up there, don’t look up there,’” said University of Notre Dame defenseman Tory Dello, a native of suburban Crystal Lake.
“You grew up coming to games and watching the Hawks and you want to be on the ice,” added University of Denver goalie Greg Ogard, originally from Wilmetter. “You know, I probably won’t be there as a Blackhawk but I’ll be there as a Pioneer.”
Three of the seven players from the Chicago area attend Notre Dame, who are slated to take on top overall seed and 7-time national champion Denver on Thursday.
After spending much of the season doubting that they’d even reach the tournament, the Fighting Irish were feeling free and easy headed into the big game.
“You know they have a really good team, they have a lot of skill, but we think that if we keep playing the way we’re playing, we could have some success,” said Notre Dame defenseman Bobby Nardella, of Rosemont.
Workouts at the United Center were also special for a pair of players who were drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Both Blake Hillman and Dennis Gilbert said it was definitely a special experience skating in what could be their future home arena – but that’s not what this weekend is about.
“Maybe I can focus on that later down the line, but right now it’s just we’re trying to win a national championship with these guys,” said Hillman, a defenseman for Denver. “I love these guys and I want to do the best for them.”
Hillman will face off against his fellow Blackhawks prospect Gilbert, a Notre Dame defenseman who was also trying to maintain perspective.
“The big thing for me and for our team in total is just going to be to make the game small, just not take it off this big stage, bring it back to the ground floor and just remember that we’re a good hockey team and it’s just another hockey game,” Gilbert said.
That game could give Notre Dame a shot at its first-ever national championship.
Puck drops for Harvard University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth at 5 p.m. CST Thursday, and the Denver-Notre Dame match-up begins at 8:30 p.m.
The national championship, also at the United Center, was scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m.