This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. and Puck Daddy will be on hand to cover the festivities. As a precursor to our coverage, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Matt Read from the 'Cinderella' story of the tournament so far, the Bemidji State Beavers.
The story of the 2009 NCAA Men's ice hockey tournament to this point has been the crazy amount of upsets within the first two rounds: Three No. 1 seeds -- Denver, Michigan and Notre Dame -- were all ousted in the first-round.
The 'Cinderella' so far has been the tournament's No. 16 seed, Bemidji State out of Minnesota, who eliminated the Fighting Irish 5-1. The Beavers are playing in their third NCAA tournament as automatic qualifiers out of College Hockey America (CHA).
Matt Read, a sophomore forward on Bemidji State, was the CHA's Rookie of the Year and a member of the conference's All-Rookie team in 2007-08; as well as an all-CHA selection this season. For the second season in a row, Read is leading the team in scoring. It was his overtime goal in the CHA championship game against Robert Morris that put the Beavers into the NCAA tournament.
Read talked to Puck Daddy about making an immediate impact as a freshman, beating Notre Dame, and college life in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Q. Since you upset Notre Dame in the opening round of the tournament, how much more confidence is there now in the locker room?
READ: There's a lot more confidence now. You can tell within our practices now, a lot of us are all excited and having a good time now. We're starting to get a little bit stressed out now going to Washington next Tuesday, but right now our whole team is confident and it's fun to be around the guys and we're just having a great time.
How strong is the feeling around the locker room now that "Cinderella label be-damned, we can win this thing?"
I've never been in a locker room where there's such a good feeling going around and, all of us, we know what we have at stake and what we can do. It's an unbelievable experience right now and I don't know how to put it into words.
Having a chance, coming to Bemidji, you never think of even in a national tournament of coming to the Frozen Four and now you have the opportunity we've got to make the best out of it. It's just exciting right now.
Which underdog cliché would best describe you guys -- Miracle on Ice, George Mason in the NCAA tournament, or Rocky Balboa?
[Laughs] I'd have to go with Miracle because it's a hockey story. Beating Notre Dame was a huge start for us and we've just been rolling since then.
So is coach [Tom Serratore] as tough as Herb Brooks was?
He doesn't have you skating until you're throwing up does he?
No, no, but our practices are very intense and it's go-go-go and we don't get many breaks and it's all beneficial as when we're playing the games and we don't get as tired and can play Beaver hockey for a full 60 minutes.
You've been playing pretty good of late, catching some fire in the tournament, what's been the secret to your recent production?
I guess I have to give credit to both my linemates, they've been working really hard and all three of us have been connecting. Our whole team's been playing well and our line has been cashing in on the points and stuff like that and we're scoring on our opportunities. It's a team thing right now, we're all getting opportunities and I think several lines are doing better at scoring on their chances.
At the beginning of the New Year, Bemidji State was on a six-game losing streak and since then have gone 14-2-1. What's contributed to the turnaround?
Before Christmas, we had a lot of turnover and weren't playing as fast as we should be. When we came back from Christmas, we started focusing on a couple different things, limited our turnovers and forwards flying in the zone and playing a lot quicker hockey. It's been paying off for us.
You scored the overtime winner over Robert Morris to put Bemidji State into the NCAA tournament. In your hockey career, is that atop the list of best moments?
Oh, definitely. I've maybe scored one overtime goal before in my career and that one was really special getting us to the tournament and having us get to where we are now.
You've led the team in scoring your first two years at Bemidji, did playing on a team with a lot of underclassmen last year help speed up your development?
Yeah, for sure. Having a younger team, you're put in roles that some people don't see until later years in college and it helps out a lot to grow as a hockey player, so it's been good for me.
You were recruited by a couple of big name schools like Maine and New Hampshire among others. How did you wind up at Bemidji State?
It's just one of those things that you think is the right fit for you. I wasn't too sure about college hockey coming from Canada, I didn't know much about it. When I talked to Tom [Serratore] and (assistant coaches) Bert [Giling] and Teddy [Belisle] for a scholarship, it just felt right coming here. And the opportunity where I can come in here and play and try and be an impact player my first couple years.
Be honest. How many times were you asked, "Where the hell is Bemidji State" after you signed there?
A lot of the time actually. Back home you say you're going to Bemidji now and [people] are "Oh, is that a Division I school?" and it's like "Yeah".
So, you're a 22-year-old college-athlete ... what the are the parties like in Bemidji? What does a college kid do up there?
Um, ice fishing. [Laughs] There's not much here in Bemidji , but we have our fun. We like to play cards once in a while. Trying to think, we don't do much up here really, just do what we can. Spend a lot of time at the rink and just goofing around on campus.
From 1-10 how would you rate yourself as a card player on the team?
[Laughs] Bottom ten.
So you're losing a lot of money?
No, I just donate money to the team and let them go play with it.
How do you find the balance between a full college hockey season, the travel, and keeping up with schoolwork?
School and being at the rink for 2-3 hours everyday, it's hard to manage but you have to put your time in when you have the time, and some nights you have to stay up pretty late but that's all part of being a student-athlete. You're expected here in Bemidji to have good grades and you don't want to be one of the guys that doesn't. You get called out kind of in the locker room for not doing good, so you've got to find the time to do it. A lot of us we take the same classes together, which helps a lot, too.
You grew up in Ontario; you a Leafs fans?
Well, my dad was in the military. I'm more of a [Colorado Avalanche] fan and we lived in Colorado for four years when they went on some good Stanley Cup runs.
What do you think about their downfall this season?
They've lost some impact players. Every team goes through those years where they struggle and they a have a lot of young players there that hopefully some day that can lead them deep into the playoffs again.
You think Joe Sakic comes back next year?
It's hard to say. He's getting up there in age, but who knows, some people's hearts don't go away. They can fight through all the adversity they face be a top performer in the NHL.
We're two weeks away from the NHL playoffs, who's your Stanley Cup favorite?
I'd have to say the Sharks. We don't get many games right here in the States watching hockey, but I try to watch as many games as I can and I love how the Sharks are playing right now. They're fun to watch; they're exciting and a very talented team so hopefully they can go far. That's who I'll be rooting for.
Your favorite player growing up?
Probably Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg.
Last movie you saw?
"Role Models." I loved it.
Your favorite hockey movie?
Do you think it's sacrilegious that they're going to remake it?
It's going to be hard to follow up from the first one.
You're currently undrafted: What are your future plans in the game? Are you looking to enter the Draft in the next year or two?
Right now, I haven't really been thinking about the future, I'm mainly focusing on this year, but if the opportunity comes, I'd love to go tryout and play in the NHL.
Coming up on Tuesday: Puck Daddy chats with Boston University defenseman and Hobey Baker Award finalist, Matt Gilroy.