For pretty much every single player who steps on the ice tomorrow, it will represent the biggest hockey game of their lives so far. They'll be playing in front of a packed house in an NHL arena with a national championship on the line. Big enough stakes for you?
"Obviously, it's going to be a little different I think," Yale forward Kenny Agostino said. "There's going to be a decent amount of people in the stands. You're playing in an NHL rink, which is always cool. I think it's important for us, as a team, to settle in the first three minutes. If you want to look around in warmups a little bit, that's great, but we have a hockey game to play."
The royal treatment for the four teams here this weekend started with a charter flight into Pittsburgh (when you're flying from St. Cloud, Minn., that's pretty noteworthy), and Robert Morris rolled out the red carpet with a pep band and cheerleaders to greet the teams off their flights. Today, they got a police escort from the hotel to Consol Energy Center for practice and press conferences.
"The hoopla, coach [Bob Motzko] loves that word," St. Cloud State senior Ben Hanowski said. "He loves using that saying. We're excited to be here. We drove in and you see Heinz Field and PNC Park, pretty cool view, and driving in on the bus, and seeing the CST [logo] up there next to the Frozen Four pin [on Consol Energy Center] and everything like that is pretty special, something I know I'll always remember being a part of it."
After a day of press conferences and, yes, "hoopla" today, it's down to business in tomorrow's semifinals.
"I think when you have good leadership you can get over some of those distractions, and we've done a fairly good job, I believe, as a coaching staff, trying to eliminate a lot of these distractions over the course of the week, introducing some of the things that they may see here," Massachusetts Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. "I think once tomorrow comes, it will be business as usual."
Some players, though are still waiting for the realization to totally hit.
"I'm kind of waiting for that moment like, 'Oh I'm in Pittsburgh,'" Quinnipiac forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas said. "I haven't had it yet. I think once I have that moment and I get a couple minutes to take it in, it kind of goes back to what I was saying before that it's still the same game I've played my whole life and once I'm in the glass it doesn't matter whether I'm in Pittsburgh or playing back in TD Bank in Hamden, it's still all the same."
The River Hawks have implemented a team-wide "wow factor" rule, where today was about taking in the scene and enjoying being at the Frozen Four, but tomorrow is all about hockey.
"They've done a lot here and they've done a great job of welcoming us," River Hawks goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. "It feels professional and we really feel welcome here. I think we're kind of putting that 'wow factor' away now and going back to business.
"We made that a point to just let it all sink in one day, but then the next day it's all business and we're focusing on the two games at hand."
All the players had the same response for how to handle the scene tomorrow night, though. Maybe they glance around during warmups, but once the puck drops, it becomes just like any other game, as much as a Frozen Four game can.
"I haven't thought about it too much, but I know it's going to be the funnest thing I've ever done, hockey-wise," Hellebuyck said. "I know it's going to be a blast. It's going to be great and all 20 guys are just going to enjoy it."