April 8, 2009

 

By Amy Farnum Novin
NCAA.com


Last week, my father and I were having a conversation about college sports and the subject veered to the Men’s Frozen Four.   My dad is an avid college sports fan, although not particularly knowledgeable about ice hockey. 

For fun, I asked him to guess which teams were in this year’s field.  Minnesota?  Wisconsin? Boston College?  Michigan?  No, no, no, and no, I answered.  I told him he would never guess, and well, he never did. 

Of the four teams that remain in the NCAA Division I Championship, two – Bemidji State and Miami University – are making their first appearance at the Men’s Frozen Four, while Vermont and Boston University – the only top seed left standing – have not been there in awhile. 

The Catamounts landed only their second berth in program history, and first since 1996 when current NHL stars and former All-Americans Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas were on the roster.  The top-ranked Terriers, who have claimed four NCAA titles in school history, have not advanced to the national semifinals since 1997.

“It’s great for hockey,” said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore.  “It’s boring to have the same teams all the time.  This is good for the game because everyone out there who plays college hockey can realize it can be them someday.  We can do this a lot in this sport, because there a lot of mid-major schools playing and there is a lot of parity in college hockey.”

The two first-timers – Bemidji State and Miami (Ohio) – will face each other on Thurs., April 9 at 5 p.m., at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., with an opportunity to play for the NCAA title on the line.

Both teams are coached by former players, Serratore and Enrico Blasi from Miami, and have a special kind of passion coaching at their alma maters.

“(Serratore) does an unbelievable job in recruiting,” said Blasi.  “(Bemidji is) a team that plays very similar to his personality.  They are very passionate and get after it.  It’s great for college hockey to have Bemidji State and Miami in the Frozen Four, and we’re looking forward to it.  It’s going to be a heck of a game.”

Although BSU’s run to the Frozen Four may seem a bit more unlikely as a No. 4 seed coming out of a small conference as the College Hockey America champion, the Beavers have a long-standing winning tradition in the sport. BSU has won 942 games, 13 national championships and over 20 conference championships in its history, and with national championships at the NAIA, NCAA Division II and III levels, the Beavers could become the first program to ever win national titles at each level of college hockey.

“We believe in ourselves,” said Serratore.  “Unless you’ve ever worn a Beaver jersey or been in a Beaver locker room, it’s hard to understand or fathom what we’re talking about.  We talk about championships and about how special it is to play for this program, and how many times we’ve won games when people didn’t think we could.  I think the media to a certain degree looks at this as David vs. Goliath or a Cinderella story, but we believe in ourselves so much that it wasn’t a surprise to us (to win the Midwest Regional).”
 
Bemidji State dominated top-seeded Notre Dame, 5-1, and then followed it up with a 4-1 victory over Cornell.

“They beat the No. 2 team in the country and a pretty darn good Cornell team,” said Blasi.  “I don’t know if there’s an underdog or a favorite going into a national semifinal.  I think both teams are pretty equal and it should be a fun game.”

Blasi, who became the youngest head coach in Division I college hockey when he took over the RedHawks’ program in 1999, has built Miami into a national contender during his tenure.  The RedHawks have earned four consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and have advanced to the postseason in five of the last six years, but this is their first trip to the Men’s Frozen Four.  They topped two Western Collegiate Hockey Association foes – Denver and Minnesota-Duluth – to get to the school’s first national semifinal appearance in any sport.

“It’s a special feeling on campus right now,” said Blasi.  “The student body, the community – everyone currently associated with the program and everyone in the past.  There’s a sense of pride that they were the building blocks of Miami hockey.”

Both coaches are savoring the new experience, and hope to make an impression on college hockey fans when they have the national spotlight this weekend.

“It is going to be great to get national recognition,” said Serratore.  “It’s good for hockey.  People are going to know where Bemidji is and get excited about it.  There’s going to a lot of people who want us to win.  It’s good exposure and gives our community and university a little notoriety and anytime you have that, I don’t think you can put a price tag on that.  It is a special time for us, and being on this stage will let as many people as possible learn about Bemidji State.”

Boston University and Vermont will battle in the second NCAA semifinal on April 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET.  The winners of both games will meet on April 11 7 p.m. ET.  The semifinal contests will be broadcast live on ESPN2, while ESPN will carry the national championship game.