- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Frozen Four has come to the District - and I don't mean the Nationals' starting rotation, either.

The NCAA hockey championships begin Thursday at Verizon Center with Boston University, Miami (Ohio), Vermont and Jumanji State… Benetton State… Bimini State.

Oh, wait. Bemidji State.

The small school from the shores of Minnesota's Lake Bemidji is the team D.C. area hockey fans should adopt for the Frozen Four. It is the Cinderella of the event, the little Minnesota school no one had heard of until the Beavers beat Cornell in the regionals to get here.

For local fans, the Beavers are a better choice than any of the other schools.

Boston University? Just think Boston Red Sox. That should turn you off.

Four national championships. Twenty Frozen Four appearances. The Terriers have won more than half of the Boston Beanpot tournaments and 12 of the past 15. They are Goliath.

I was sick of Boston fans, and they weren't even here yet.

Vermont? The District has a loose connection to the alma mater of Martin St. Louis. The school is located in Burlington, the home of the Nationals' New York-Penn League farm club, the Vermont Lake Monsters. Vermont even plays its home games on the school's campus.

But then, the school plans to drop baseball after this season, canceling out any reason to pull for Vermont.

What about Miami? This one is dicey. Washington Redskins fans could feel allegiance to Miami because the school's nickname for many years was Redskins. Note the word “was.”

This would be a no-brainer if they still were the Miami Redskins. But in 1997, under pressure, the school changed its nickname to RedHawks. That politically correct move probably will turn off most fans in this town.

RedHawks, it turns out, was just one name under consideration. Another was Miamis. Yes, the Miami Miamis. That would have gotten attention, but not as much as if the school had picked this nickname: Vice. Think of how many jerseys they would have sold.

But there really is only one choice for D.C. area fans: Bemidji. How can you not root for a team from the birthplace of Paul Bunyan?

According to the legend - the school's version, at least - Lake Bemidji was formed in Bunyan's footprint. Many communities claim Bunyan, but only Bemidji has statues of both Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

“That's kind of our identity as a community,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “Everyone has their identity. Obviously, it's the nation's capital here, and you have the White House and the Capitol and all the monuments. We're noted for Paul Bunyan and the Babe. They created the great waterway we have there called Lake Bemidji.”

I'd trade the White House and the Capitol for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in a Bemidji minute.

The Bunyan tale was started, of course, by a newspaperman. (Who will make up the myths when we're gone?) James MacGillivray collected stories from lumberjacks, then came up with the tale of the giant who, with his pet, Babe the Blue Ox, dug the Grand Canyon with his ax and performed other legendary feats - such as Bemidji State being here.

This is the school's first trip to the Frozen Four. More than half its players are 6 feet tall or under. They are the George Mason of college hockey, the first “mid-major” to make it this far.

“All I know is that it is all about fairy tales right now,” Serratore said. “I've heard Cinderella, David versus Goliath, miracle, things like that. So I'm up on my fairy tales.”

He would love nothing better than for all that to make his Beavers the area's adopted team. They'll need the help Thursday when they take the ice against the team that used to be the Miami Redskins and nearly became the Miami Miamis but should have become Miami Vice.

“I think a lot of people and a lot of different areas of the country have adopted Bemidji State because we are a feel-good story,” Serratore said. “I think that's gratifying, and hopefully we won't let them down.”

Let them down? With Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox? How can they lose?


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