PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Due to the pandemic, the NCAA limited PPG Paints Arena to 25 percent of normal capacity, meaning that about 4,500 were allowed in the building on Thursday. The Frozen Four is an event that routinely draws fans of nearly every program in college hockey, who wear their team jersey whether or not their team has actually played in the tourney, recently or ever.

While there were plenty of fans of the Minutemen, Bulldogs, Mavericks and Huskies filing into the building for Game 1, a lap of the arena concourse showed that many of the “every year” fans were able to still get tickets and attend.

We saw jerseys from the following teams: Alaska Anchorage, Boston College, Boston University, Bowling Green, Clarkson, Ferris State, Harvard, Maine, UMass-Lowell, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio State, Omaha, Penn State, Princeton RPI, Robert Morris, Wisconsin and Yale.

As usual, the best represented of the non-participating teams was North Dakota. A surprising second place was Michigan, which last appeared in a Frozen Four in 2018.

Long road home from the regionals

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Paul Allan flew to the Frozen Four with the contingent from Minnesota State Mankato. He started work as the sports information director at the school in 1985, more than a decade before Division I hockey would become a reality there, so it’s not like he was going to miss the Mavericks’ first Frozen Four trip.

Two weeks earlier, when the Mavericks traveled to Loveland, Colo., for the regional round, he and Mavericks radio voice Mike Sullivan made the 12-hour trip through South Dakota and Wyoming to see MSU get its first two NCAA playoff wins.

All fine and good, until they got an hour or so east of the Black Hills on the drive home. Grass fires near the interstate had visibility reduced to the point where I-90 was closed for a time to prevent car accidents. Undaunted, Allan and Sullivan got off the freeway and made a southern loop that was an hour or so out of the way, through hamlets like White River, S.D. (population 574) and down a few gravel roads to get back

The Frozen Four was a special occasion on a few levels for Allan, who not only got to see his team play in the tournament for the first time, he got a little family reunion in the pressbox. Allan’s son, Sean, is in his first season handling hockey sports information duties for Minnesota Duluth.

Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay (29) makes a glove save during the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game at PPG Paints Arena Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay (29) makes a glove save during the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game at PPG Paints Arena Thursday, April 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

First time purple pride

Of the 61 teams in Division I college hockey, only three wear any shade of purple — Niagara, Holy Cross and Minnesota State. Niagara in 2000 and Holy Cross in 2006 (sorry, Gophers fans) have both made it to a regional final, but the Mavericks are the first team in purple to get to the Frozen Four.

The odds of that happening will increase next season with St. Thomas joining the Division I ranks. And consider this an open invite to the purple-clad likes of Kansas State, Washington, Northwestern and TCU to come join in the college hockey fun.

Take me out to the puck game

Across the river from downtown Pittsburgh, the Pirates played their home opener under sunny skies on Thursday afternoon, falling to the Chicago Cubs. The weather was less cooperative in Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Twins got a home-opening win versus the Seattle Mariners, but rain delayed the action.

The precipitation left the crowd of nearly 10,000 in attendance at Target Field with nothing to do but...watch hockey. The rain delay coincided with the first period of Frozen Four play between Minnesota State and St. Cloud State, which was shown on the baseball field’s massive centerfield video board while they waited for the skies to clear.

PPG an appropriate rink name

In Thursday’s first game at PPG Paints Arena, there were three penalties called and all three resulted in a power play goal. In the late game, UMass scored on the only power play of the first two periods. Maybe at this rink, PPG means more than just the name of a paint company.

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