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Greg Wyshynski

What's Bemidji State? NCAA hockey's amazing Cinderella story

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Sometimes, it takes a miracle for hockey to receive mainstream sports attention. Like back in 1980, when a bunch of college kids from the U.S. shocked the Olympic world by defeating the Russians; or like in 2009, when a bunch of college kids from Bemidji State University upset Notre Dame and Cornell to qualify for the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four in Washington, DC next weekend.

Bemidji what now? The question is being asked around the sports world as the liberal arts university from northern Minnesota -- home to around 5,000 students -- enters the semifinals of college hockey's Div. I championship tournament for the first time, in what some are calling "the equivalent of Morehead State going to the Final Four."

The Beavers (20-15-1) were a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional that shocked the No. 1 seed Fighting Irish, and then upset No. 3 seeded Cornell in the following round. Bemidji State is scheduled to play Miami of Ohio on April 9.

The Beavers are the first No. 16 seed to make the Frozen Four, and the first team to ever make the Frozen Four from outside college hockey's top four conferences. Coach Tom Serratore told the Pioneer Press that battling higher seeds without regard for their lofty standing eventually wore them out:

"I don't want to sit here and say we weren't surprised. But we go into every game thinking we're going to win. We're a battle-tested team. I think we were prepared for our regional. I think people are disrespecting our league (College Hockey America). You know when you're playing the No. 2 team in the country (Notre Dame), it's going to be a battle. But if you get in a rhythm early, as the game goes on, you gain more confidence. And the opposition loses confidence."

So now we're in the first moments of Bemidji-mania. The Washington Post is locating alumni within the Washington Capitals hockey community for short feature stories. Bemidji State fans are being put into the spotlight for following their team around the nation for tournament games. The Wall Street Journal went as far as to say that if the Beavers won the Frozen Four, it could be the greatest upset in college sports history:

Bemidji State is by far the lowest-ranked team in this year's hockey tournament, plus the Beavers hail from a four-team conference that is in danger of disbanding. So if they keep their run going, they may become the biggest surprise of all.

In speaking with the Grand Rapids Press, Coach Serratore compared his team to Rocky Balboa or the George Mason University basketball team that reached the Final Four. But there was boxing before Balboa and basketball before the Patriots. What Bemidji State is in the midst of doing is putting an entire sport's championship tournament in the mainstream conversation with its remarkable run. As Serratore said: "This is what the sport needs and it's good for it. It gives everyone out there a good feeling that it can be them some day."

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