BUFFALO, N.Y. - By the time Jenny and Jeff Cates' airplane landed in Detroit Thursday, they were well on their way to formulating Plan B: rent a car, drive to New York. The Stillwater couple had already been through a cancelled flight out of Minneapolis, followed by a delayed flight, which led to missing their connecting flight.
The Cates' sons, freshmen Noah and Jackson, were about 7 hours from the start of the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal between the University of Minnesota Duluth and Providence College at the KeyBank Center. And the Cates themselves were a handful of states away from the arena.
But they did it. They were in the building for the national anthem, and in their seats soon after.
"We missed 2 minutes," said Jenny Cates. Their luggage was headed to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, but that could wait.
Cates said they shared the ride with a man they met on their flight to Detroit who also needed to get east. His presence eased some pregame jitters.
"He kept our mind off the game," she said. "Otherwise I'd be throwing up."
The Cates were among a contingent of hockey families who found a way to Buffalo - whether it meant driving in from Grand Rapids, Minn., or flying from Irma, Alberta - to see the Bulldogs top the Friars 4-1 to advance to Saturday's championship game for the third consecutive year.
Jeff Cates was so wrapped up in efficient travel that he said he didn't have time to consider the game. It hit when he got to his seat.
"Then I got nervous," he said.
Having two kids playing Division I hockey is one thing, he said. Tack on playing in the Frozen Four.
"It tops anything that you can imagine," he said. He's got a bit of background. Twenty-five years ago, he was part of the Wisconsin-River Falls team that won the NCAA Division III tournament in Superior.
Parker Mackay's fan section includes 15 members of his family - including a 1-year-old cousin - who are all from Irma, population 500.
As the season has progressed, his mother, Kristal Mackay, has honed her game-day uniform to the same clothes, same tiny ponytail.
"I'm superstitious," she said, admitting that she had changed seats a few times during the game when things weren't working out on the ice. She will be back in the same outfit on Saturday, count on it.
"I can't believe that they've just done this again," Mackay said.
Terri Shepard didn't even bother with a seat. Her son, Hunter Shepard, is the Bulldogs' goalie. She left the family section when it was tied 1-1.
"I was in the lobby the whole third period," Terri said after the game. "I just want the boys to do so well. It's such an awesome group."