In tonight's second semifinal in the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four, the University of Vermont Catamounts take on the top seeded Boston University Terriers.
Dean Strong is Vermont's captain and one of the team's four outgoing seniors. A finalist for the Hockey East's version of the Selke Trophy in 2007-08, Strong isn't a guy that's going to put up impressive numbers, but one that will do the dirty work of blocking shots and winning face-offs. He's also quite durable, having played in over 150 consecutive games for Vermont.
In our chat with Strong, he talks about the crazy game-ending goal in the East Regional Final, what how big of an inspiration fellow smaller-in-stature player Martin St. Louis has been, and the success the Catamounts have when he scores a point.
Q. First off, what's it like to be captaining your team into the Frozen Four?
STRONG: I guess it's pretty cool. To say I'm quote-unquote leading these guys to a championship. That being said, I don't give myself that much credit. There's a boatload of leaders on this team, so it makes my title an easy one keep up.
The East Regional Final (against Air Force) was pretty wild with the game being decided in overtime after a twelve-minute goal review. Did anyone on the team know for sure that the puck went through the net for a goal?
I don't think anyone could tell you they knew for sure. There was a good amount of hesitancy in anyone's voice who said they saw the puck go in. It was kind of like, "I think I saw the net move."
Was that the strangest ending to a game you've ever been a part of?
Going up against a Boston University team that you've taken two out of three from this season ... What's the mindset heading into your fourth meeting with the stakes as large as they are?
First and foremost, we have our game plan and we're very confident within our group, if we execute. They have a pretty high-powered offense, so we just have to be very aware and very stingy on defense and we can't let those guys wheel around. We have to eliminate their opportunities.
Martin St. Louis is one of the famous Vermont alums in the NHL ... how much does his success as a smaller player in the NHL inspire the way you play? (Strong is listed at 5-foot-6.)
He's obviously one of the most elite smaller players out there and he is an inspiration. I love watching him play more than most players, just, you know, you can relate a little bit. The way he handles the puck and how he keeps his feet moving all the time. He's really the prototype of how a small guy can be successful in hockey. He's been unbelievable to watch and very inspirational.
Vermont has been very successful in games when you record a point ... any added pressure for you to pot some goals or get some assists this weekend?
I always feel pressure, in a good way. I think every hockey player does. And yeah, I hope it works out, because I'm planning on getting a couple goals and a couple points in the next couple of games here.
You're somewhat of an iron man setting a team record by playing in your 154th straight game recently. Are you drinking a lot of milk? Is there a good training staff at VU? Does toughness run in the family?
I think I'll give my parents a little credit, but I also think it's shear luck all the way around.
Blocked shots, minutes played, and face-offs are all categories you've led Vermont in this season...how soon into your career at Vermont did you settle in that "dirty work" type of role after putting up big numbers in the BCHL? (British Columbia Hockey League)
I think I've always played that sort of way. I've always blocked shots and won face-offs and I think I did that when I came here my first year, just unfortunately the scoring hasn't been the same, which I'm always working on and trying to get it back up there where I want it to be.
You've been an Academic All-American a couple of times now ... how do you find the balance between a full college hockey season, the travel, and keeping up with schoolwork?
I guess it's not easy. In the early years I was in classes with guys on the team, like Kenny MacAulay and Torrey Mitchell. They showed me the ropes early helping me get my work done and I've got a good group of friends that help me out when I'm on the road and make sure I get all the notes whenever I get back.
What's life like as a college athlete in Vermont? Is there much to do away from the rink?
Four or five years again when I decided to come to Vermont, one of the last things on the agenda was the hockey. We knew it was a premier team, but me and my parents decided this would be the best spot just because it had a great school program and a great hockey program. Not to sound like a tourist, but the area is just so nice and the people, when we were there, were awesome and there's downtown Burlington where there's some good restaurants. There's great things to fulfill a student's life in Burlington and it's been a blast.
Growing up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, what do you think about the job Brian Burke's been doing?
I think that's got to be the best thing going. I don't know too much about GM's in the NHL other than I guess, Brian Burke, because he seems to do a good job of revamping organizations in need, so he's a great guy to have on board.
Were you one of those Leafs fans at the beginning of the season hoping the team would tank in order to help get themselves John Tavares?
No. I don't think I can ever really think that way.
The NHL playoffs are two weeks away, who's your Cup favorite?
I guess I'd like to see the Bruins because I've become a Bruins fan.
Because of Thomas and Steve Montador and [I'm] also a big fan of [Marc] Savard. So I'd have to say the Bruins and also Calgary because of [Jarome] Iginla.
What kind of things do you like to do away from the rink?
When we get time away from the rink, I usually just hang around with the guys on the team, whether that's the local restaurants or just one of the guys houses just hanging out. Also, I can walk up and down Church Street and do some shopping any day of the week.
Your favorite all-time hockey movie?
Would have to say "Mighty Ducks," the first one.
Did you try and emulate yourself as Adam Banks?
Adam Banks, exactly.
Bemidji State and Miami University (Ohio) will face-off in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. ET and Vermont will take on Boston University in the second semifinal at 8:30 p.m. ET tonight.