BY TAMMY STABLES BATTAGLIA
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
No matter who wins the Frozen Four hockey championship this weekend in Detroit, Lex Sleeman is just darn glad to be here.
Sleeman, the NCAA compliance officer for the Rochester Institute of Technology, is proud of his team for its first appearance in the men's national college hockey championship in only five years as a Division I competitor. He's also proud that RIT paid nearly half of students' $189 ticket cost, so about 600 of them could pile onto three buses to cheer at Ford Field.
"It's been an exciting ride, and we accomplished way beyond what we thought we would in five years," said Sleeman.
Hanging out at RIT's designated fan home base at Angelina Bistro, he was one of many folks in town to support their teams before Thursday's games for RIT, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Wisconsin and Boston College.
Matthew Koch, 30, of Northville took a break from his job at General Motors to visit the NCAA Frozen Four FanFest in the Renaissance Center's Wintergarden. The 2001 graduate of Boston College planned to attend the games, but first wanted to check out the free activities at the FanFest.
"I couldn't help but wander down," Koch said.
As Miss Michigan Nicole Blaszczyk, 23, of Novi signed autographs and a DJ revved up the latest hit tunes, young fans took turns shooting pucks at a light-up board or the hole of an open dryer.
A third shooting station offered the chance for future goalies to don a full-mask helmet and leg pads to see whether they could fend off shots.
Among the crowd at the Wintergarden stood Lester (Gramps) Smith Sr. -- a Frozen Four fan divided. His grandson and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Brendan Smith plays for Wisconsin. Grandson Reilly plays for Miami of Ohio.
"This is hard. I don't know which way to go," the Toronto resident said.
The Smith family planned to make the rounds before the games at Ford Field, hitting Wisconsin's official fan location at the Detroit Beer Co. and Miami's at the Hockeytown Café.
They also planned a stop at Cheli's Chili Bar in honor of Chris Chelios, the ex-Red Wings defenseman now with the Atlanta Thrashers organization.