The Grand Rapids Press, Delbridge Langdon Jr./AP
Bemidji State's Matt Dalton

Bemidji State Reaches Frozen Four in Unpredictable NCAA Hockey Tournament

March 31, 2009 01:44 PM
by Denis Cummings
While the NCAA basketball tournament has lacked drama, the NCAA hockey tournament has been unpredictable and full of exciting finishes.

Bemidji State, Air Force Pull Upsets

Northern Minnesota's Bemidji State Beavers, the lowest-seeded team in the 16-team NCAA men’s hockey tournament, advanced to the Frozen Four this weekend with upsets over Notre Dame and Cornell. The Beavers, reaching the Frozen Four in just their 10th season in Division I, headlined a weekend full of upsets and wild finishes.

Three of the four No. 1 seeds—Notre Dame, Michigan and Denver—lost in the first round, with only top-seeded Boston University advancing to the Frozen Four. Overall, lower seeds won eight of the 12 games played, with No. 3 seed Vermont and No. 4 seeds Bemidji and Miami of Ohio joining BU in the Frozen Four.
Three games went into overtime, with two of those games being tied with under a second remaining in the game. Two games were won with under 20 seconds remaining, including BU’s win over New Hampshire that sent it to the Frozen Four. BU forward Jason Lawrence was credited with the winning goal after his pass deflected off the glove of a UNH player and into the net.

But the most bizarre finish occurred in the East Regional final between Vermont and Air Force, who opened the tournament with a stunning upset of Michigan. With the game tied at 2 in overtime, UVM defenseman Dan Lawson’s point shot appeared to fly over the net and play continued for about five minutes before a whistle.

The referees were called over to review the play on replay, which showed that the puck actually traveled through the side netting. After a 12-minute review, the goal was awarded and the Catamounts celebrated their belated victory.

The unlikely field caps an unpredictable season in which powerhouses such as Minnesota, Colorado College and the last three national champions—Boston College, Michigan State and Wisconsin—all failed to make the tournament field. Of the remaining four teams, only BU has won a national championship. Vermont is appearing in just its second Frozen Four, while it is the first for Miami and Bemidji State.

The Frozen Four begins Thursday, April 9, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., with the championship game played the evening of Saturday, April 11.

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Analysis: The effect on Bemidji State and college hockey

Bemidji State’s victories may have secured the future of the program, which is unclear as its conference—College Hockey America—is set to disband after next season. Bemidji State has been lobbying for admission into the powerful Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the same conference as fellow Minnesota Division I hockey schools Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato. Bemidji State's application will be discussed in late April. The university's women's hockey team already belongs to the WCHA.

Their performance this weekend “will give Bemidji State the national credibility it needs to convince any WCHA representative that the Beavers do indeed belong in the WCHA,” writes the Bemidji Pioneer.

The performance of Bemidji State and Air Force, which plays in Hockey Atlantic, also proves that there are legitimately strong teams outside of the “big four” conferences. Many in college hockey questioned why the Atlantic Hockey and the CHA were given automatic bids into the tournament earlier this decade, arguing that they were not good enough to warrant a bid.

Several Atlantic Hockey and CHA teams came close to pulling upsets before Holy Cross completed the feat in 2005 with a shocking overtime win against Minnesota. The win served to justify the inclusion of both conferences and this year’s performance has shown that these teams can not only pull off first round upsets, but legitimately compete for national titles.
Their success illustrates the parity in college hockey and will likely lead to even greater parity. Bemidji State’s win, says Cornell coach Mike Schafer, will inspire other schools to invest in their hockey program, knowing that they can compete on the national stage.

“It’s tremendous in college hockey right now. … An even bigger statement, looking at the college hockey skyline, I think that Bemidji legitimizes some people that make the right decisions,” said Schafer. “Some presidents and ADs are looking at teams and they can say, ‘Hey, Bemidji got the job done here.’ They do things right and now they have a tremendous opportunity to go on and compete for a national title.”

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