LOVERRO: Facts mean underdogs get the ax

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Legend and lore, as it turns out, do not beat size and speed. Bemidji State had the former going into Thursday's NCAA Frozen Four semifinals at Verizon Center - the legend of Paul Bunyan's homeland combined with the Cinderella story of the small school making it to the big stage.

Miami (Ohio), though, had the latter - the bulk and quickness to wear down Bemidji State in a 4-1 victory where nearly all the scoring took place in a seven-minute span in the second period.

Until then, Bemidji had hung tough with some strong goaltending by Matt Dalton, including one grab with about two minutes left in the period that was the highlight of the game and sent a buzz through the crowd. It was the kind of stop that made you think Bemidji State indeed may be one of those teams of destiny carving out a legend.

Then the facts got in the way of the story.

Miami's Tommy Wingels got one past Dalton 3:56 into the second period, and then nearly five minutes later, Alden Hirschfeld scored Miami's second goal on a pass from Wingels.

The game quickly had the feel that Bemidji was wilting on the national stage. But with 9:45 gone in the second period, the Beavers got on the board with a power-play goal by Matt Read, who put a nice move on Cody Reichard to cut Miami's lead to 2-1, and it felt like a game again.

But just like that, Miami took control again a minute later on a goal by Bill Loupee for a 3-1 lead. Wingels added an empty-netter with less than two minutes left, sending the RedHawks into the final for a matchup with Boston University.

“Miami was strong,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “They were quick. Every facet of their game was good. We couldn't get on track. … We had a nice run. There have been a lot of kind words over the last couple of weeks, and Bemidji State really appreciates it.”

Bemidji, though, may have gotten more out of the game - even with a loss - than Miami did with the win.

Bemidji is a town of only 14,000, which means that if the entire population had showed up, Verizon Center would not have been full. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Minnesota who had ever heard of Bemidji State. That certainly will change now. The school has made its presence felt. On Thursday, the Bemidji fans in the arena were loud and very visible, a much bigger contingent than the Miami faithful. The school had sold its allotment of tickets and had to go back and ask for more. Chants of “Let's Go Beavers” filled the arena.

Serratore said he hopes the Frozen Four appearance helps bring the program long-term benefits.

“You hope that you can parlay this into more success,” he said. “But what I can say is that it gave people in Bemidji a lot of pride in the Beavers and the people in the region. And we have a wonderful group of alumni. It gave them a sense of pride. So from that standpoint, it was a success. It was a feel-good story, but I can't tell you what will happen as a result of that.”

Bemidji State came a long way to get here - both figuratively and literally - traveling 1,300 miles from the banks of Lake Bemidji and climbing to a level of competition that is traditionally reserved for the big boys of college hockey. Bemidji is George Mason, the first mid-major to reach the Frozen Four. They got this far with a stunning upset of powerhouse Notre Dame in the regional finals, defeating the Irish 5-2.

Then Bemidji State upset Cornell, another traditional powerhouse, the alma mater of Hall of Fame NHL goalie Ken Dryden and a team that figured to be on its way to the Frozen Four after defeating Northeastern in the first round.

Bemidji State plays in a conference with the likes of Niagara and Robert Morris. In fact, the Beavers played Robert Morris seven times this season. And the conference they play in is disappearing.

Bemidji State has a long history of success in Division II, III and the NAIA, winning 13 national championships. It became a Division I school in 1999 but never made it to the Frozen Four until it got an automatic bid from the College Hockey America conference. The Beavers will have to find a new place to compete, though, because the conference is planning to disband after next season.

If it weren't for Bemidji State, its opponent Thursday night would have the Cinderella crown. This is the first trip to the Frozen Four for the RedHawks (formerly known as the Redskins), though, unlike Bemidji, it plays in the much stronger CCHA.

Miami coach Enrico Blasi said he believes the presence of the two first-timers in the Frozen Four will only enhance the popularity of college hockey.

“It wouldn't surprise me from here if you saw different Frozen Four teams the rest of the way,” he said before the game. “Coaches across the country do a great job. They recruit quality players, and they all work hard. I think it is great for college hockey to have programs like Bemidji and Miami University in the Frozen Four.”

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