When Boston University and Providence College take the ice at TD Garden on Saturday night for the NCAA Division 1 National Championship Game, it’ll be a traditional Hockey East matchup running deep within the New England college hockey bloodstream, two teams with hockey traditions dating back well into the 20th century.
Given the location, however, the game means more than that. Between the two rosters, 17 players have roots in Massachusetts. Of those 17, six players on the teams’ rosters got their feet wet at the high school level with MIAA schools, including Mark Adams (Malden Catholic), Anthony Florentino (Xaverian), Brian Pinho (St. John’s Prep), Nick Roberto (Malden Catholic), Kevin Rooney (Canton) and Doyle Somerby (St. Mary's of Lynn).
All of them grew up watching the Boston Bruins, dreaming of when they would be on the ice looking into the stands at a surging crowd. Now, those dreams are being realized.
No school, though, matches the resounding impact Malden Catholic has on this year’s Frozen Four. While transforming into one of the elite programs in high school hockey, blue and gold runs deep through the skates of the biggest stage of the college season.
Redefining Tradition at Providence
Mark Adams was part of the catalyst run at MC. Playing in the Super 8 Championship in 2008, the Lancers lost to Reading, 3-0. Still, it planted the seeds of a dynasty.
“It means a lot to come from Malden Catholic,” said Adams this week. “Before us, (the school) only really had Keith Tkachuk (class of 1990), but now you look around and you see 10 guys who came out of MC who are at Division I schools.”
For the Boxford native, going to MC was a no brainer. He grew up playing with Tony Serino, who would later play baseball for UMass, and he always knew he would play for Tony’s father, the late Chris Serino.
“Coach Serino really put us on the map,” said Adams, “and I got to play with a lot of great players that were sometimes overlooked. There were a lot of high-end players at MC that loved to compete, guys like Craig Carbonneau and Mike DiMare. Now I look today, and I still feel that pride, especially with my brother (Jack) playing for them.”
A 2009 draft choice by the Buffalo Sabres, Adams joined the Friars in 2010, and he’ll play on Saturday thanks to a 4-1 victory over Omaha on Thursday. “Providence has a rich hockey tradition,” said Adams, “and that’s something we all take pride in. You can tell from all the guys in the locker room that they came here to win championships, and now that’s what we have a chance to do.”
Bringing It Back to BU
While Adams looks to give PC its first national championship, fellow Lancer Nick Roberto is looking to hang another banner in the hallowed rafters of Boston University.
The program oozes history through five national titles and a host of NHL and Olympic alumni. Even after losing 21 games a year ago, they bounced back this year, going 28-7-5. Now they’re hoping win 29 hangs banner six at Agganis Arena.
Three years after MC’s disappointing loss to Reading, Roberto was part of the 2011 Super 8 Champions, part of the Lancer team that defeated St. John’s Prep, 4-3, in overtime. It was an especially gratifying win for the Wakefield native, who almost wound up in Prep blue before he watched, of all games, the MC-Reading game in ‘08.
“My choice was either MC or St. John’s Prep,” he said. “Then I watched the Super 8 Finals that was against Reading, and even though MC lost, I realized I wanted to play for Coach Serino. I had friends from Charlestown, and I wanted to play closer to the city in a city atmosphere as opposed to (on the North Shore).”
Roberto skates on a BU team rife with MC connections. The brother of Terriers Teammate and team captain Matt Grzelcyk, a Charlestown native whose father works at the TD Garden, both attended and played for MC. Strength and conditioning coach Anthony Morando is himself a Malden native and MC graduate of 2002. With 11 Massachusetts players, including Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), BU defeated North Dakota, 4-3, to advance to the title game.
“It’s unreal to get to a national championship game,” said Morando. “This team’s had confidence to get to this point from right after the first practices, which is a credit to our head coach, David Quinn. They’ve skated the whole year so well with great confidence, and they never lost that edge. At the same time, though, we know there’s still work left to do, and we have a job that we have to do (on Saturday).”
Dreams Realized But Business Unfinished
For Morando, Roberto, Adams, Grzelcyk, and so many more, dreams will be realized on Saturday when they play for the national championship, even if they know it’s not just going to be handed to them.
“Every game gets bigger (at the Garden),” said Roberto. “I got to play there with MC, and we always had great support from all the students and the faculty. The Beanpot was awesome, and Hockey East – we were able to beat the defending two-time champions (UMass-Lowell). The crowd is great, and the BU faithful are amazing. But we know we still have a job to do.”
“When I was here with MC,” said Adams, “you kind of catch yourself thinking about how you grew up going to Bruins games, especially when you see the Stanley Cup banners. With PC, we’ve played big games at big houses, even if it wasn’t at the Garden. We played at North Dakota, and we played the regional in Providence with some awesome fans. There’s great atmosphere, but you know the game’s determined inside the glass.”
And at the end of the day, it all comes back to the school where it all began on Crystal St. in Malden.
“You always have Lancer pride everywhere you go,” said Morando. “It’s something you truly believe in - the school’s motto of ‘Plus Ultra’ (Latin for ‘More Beyond’). It’s something that carries with you into any life situation.
“At the end of the day, I’ve been very fortunate to enjoy professional success and growth,” he continued, “but I’m extremely proud of where I’m from, both in MC and in Malden. It’s a sense of accomplishment, and it’s a good feeling to be bringing that with me everywhere I go.”