NCAA men's hockey players react to Frozen Four experience at United Center

NCAA men's hockey players react to Frozen Four experience at United Center

For the first time ever, Chicago hosted the NCAA Men's Frozen Four tournament and it was a huge success.

The championship game between Denver and Minnesota Duluth drew a record-setting crowd of 19,783, which was the largest attendance in a college hockey championship game in a National Hockey League arena — only 2010 had a higher number at Ford Field in Detroit.

The overall attendance across the two days was 39,409, and among them were Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who's nephew Luke Esposito plays for Harvard, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and former Blackhawks defenseman and USA 1980 Olympic gold medalist Jack O'Callahan.

Blackhawks legend Tony Esposito was also honored by performing the ceremonial puck drop before the national championship game. It was a terrific event.

Now let's hear from the players about their experience, some of whom were in awe of skating on the United Center ice, home of the six-time champion Blackhawks.

Evan Ritt, Denver senior forward:

"Coming in this locker room, it's unbelievable. They've been treating us unbelievable, it's been great. Did you see the banners up there? So cool. They're all old school.

"I mean, look right here (pointing to picture frames inside Blackhawks locker room), you got all the most famous NHL players of all time here, it's unbelievable. It's cool to be a part of history. The Blackhawks logo right there (in the center of the locker room), it's really special. Really fortunate. I never would have thought as a kid growing up that I would've made it to this point. It feels really cool."

Tanner Jaillet, Denver junior goaltender:

"It's awesome. Obviously the Blackhawks, pretty awesome franchise. So much history in this building. It was awesome to go out there and be able to pull one out for our program."

Alex Iafallo, Minnesota Duluth senior forward:

"It was really cool, watching NHL games it's a dream come true, especially playing Saturday, it's going to be awesome. A lot of Bulldog fans out there. We owe it to those guys."

Dennis Gilbert, Notre Dame sophomore defenseman and Blackhawks prospect:

"Yeah you can tell it's a very passionate fan base. Hats off to the Blackhawks, they're a class act. They did a heck of a job this weekend putting this on, for all four teams, it's been spectacular. They're definitely deserving to get it back in years to come, I think."

Blake Hillman, Denver sophomore defenseman and Blackhawks prospect:

"It's awesome. I can't say enough. The Pioneer fans, like you said this is the largest crowd we've had outside of Denver, and I don't even know what to say. I'm speechless."

Blackhawks release team statement, stand by name and Native American logo

Blackhawks release team statement, stand by name and Native American logo

In light of the news that MLB's Cleveland Indians and the NFL's Washington Redskins are considering name changes, the Blackhawks released a team statement on Tuesday standing by their name and Native American logo.

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The full statement reads:

The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public.

We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.

We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation.

Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.

We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve. Our endeavors in this area have been sincere and multi-faceted, and the path forward will draw on that experience to grow as an organization and expand our efforts.

Why Blackhawks won't be at a disadvantage facing Oilers in Edmonton

Why Blackhawks won't be at a disadvantage facing Oilers in Edmonton

The NHL and NHL Players' Association took a significant step forward on Monday, announcing that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on the Return to Play plan and Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that also includes transition rules. It's not official until the owners and players ratify the entire package, but there's little reason to believe it won't get approved.

If all goes as planned, the qualifying round will begin on Aug. 1 in the two hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. Each conference will stay in their respective regions, which means the Blackhawks will be anchored down in Edmonton.

The NHL was originally planning to send the Western Conference teams to the Eastern Conference hub and the Eastern Conference teams to the Western Conference hub to avoid giving a Return to Play club any sort of competitive advantage, but the league and players decided against that due to the geographical complications.

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So will the Blackhawks be at a disadvantage in their five-game play-in series against the Oilers on the Oilers' home surface? The simple answer is, no.

For one, there will be no fans in attendance and that's half the battle in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks may be considered the road team as the No. 12 seed taking on the No. 5 seed, but the only thing that's going to be different throughout the series is their jersey color.

Where the home-ice advantage would really come into play is off the ice, but the Oilers won't exactly be in the comfort of their own environment.

All 12 teams are required to stay inside the bubble — which the NHL is calling its "Phase 4 Secure Zone" — and any individual that leaves without permission may be subject to consequences up to and including removal. The team could also be punished in the form of hefty fines and/or loss of draft picks. That should be enough for players to take things seriously, in case there's any temptation.

But the overall point is, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and the rest of the Oilers won't have the luxury of sleeping in their own bed or being in the comfort of their own home during off-days. They have to pack multiple suitcases and stay inside the designated boundaries that includes hotels, dining destinations, the arena, practice facilities and demarcated areas (indoor and outdoor), just like everyone else. That's how life would have been for the Blackhawks had Chicago been chosen as a hub city.

In some ways, this could actually play in the Blackhawks' favor. There aren't any expectations when you're the road team going into a game, let alone a series in this unique situation. The Blackhawks had nothing to lose to begin with, considering their playoff chances were all but over prior to the NHL suspending its season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though they had a better win percentage at home, the Blackhawks played some of their best hockey this season when they were on the road, so it wouldn't be surprising if they upset the Oilers by sticking to their road mentality.

“On the road, you’re kind of naturally an underdog," Connor Murphy said in February. "Going into those games, you just seem to rally with each other even more and have some more of that desperation, knowing they could gain momentum with a goal and or a big chance. When you have a little bit of that underdog mentality, I think that can be good, and it gives a little more fight and bite in your game.”