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Underrated Bemidji, Miami will provide excitement

by Michael Blinn
If there was any doubt that lowly seeded Notre Dame's run to the NCAA Men's Hockey Final last season was a sign of the parity in college hockey, just ask the Irish about it now.

As a top seed in the Midwest regional, they fell victim to this year's version of themselves: Bemidji State.

The Beavers did them one better, however, becoming the first 16-seed -- the lowest possible in the tournament -- to advance to the Frozen Four. While some may argue that their appearance in the NCAAs was the result of winning a weak (and soon to be defunct) College Hockey America, their wins over Notre Dame and Cornell, two of the top-5 defensive teams in the country, have legitimized their campaign to the Frozen Four.

While the trip to Washington D.C. will be a first for Bemidji's Division I program, it's important to note that the school has a strong history in college hockey; seven NAIA titles, as well as six championships at the NCAA Division II and III levels. Factoring in that amount of success, it was only a matter of time before the school with the highest winning percentage in college hockey history was able to translate it to the D-I level. The Beavers achieved this season due to a spread out offense (only three players have double-digit goal totals and two are averaging a point-per-game or better), a strong pressure system and some good old-fashioned goaltending from freshman Matt Dalton, who stopped 59 of 61 shots in two regional games.

Keys for Bemidji State:

One thing that upcoming foe Miami of Ohio will have to be on the lookout for: the tandem of sophomore Matt Read and senior Tyler Scoefield. The duo teamed up for six goals and 10 points on the weekend, with Read getting helpers on three of Scoefield's four tallies (the fourth was unassisted). Their performance earned spots on the Regional All-Tournament Team (along with Dalton, Brad Hunt, and Ryan Adams, the Beavers took five of the six awards), with the slick, speedy Scoefield sniping his way to the MVP. Junior defenseman Chris Peluso, draft property of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has anchored the 18th-ranked defense in the country while adding 13 points from the blue line.

How the Beavers win:

The element of surprise has taken Bemidji this far. The Beavers employ a game filled with speed and pressure, and were able to take their Regional opponents by surprise. They must sustain that follow-the-bouncing-puck pressure and keep Miami off its game for a full 60 minutes.

A fellow Cinderella

If the Beavers were a secret before the tournament, you can bet that the Redhawks have been doing their research.

Another low seed (No. 13) making its first Frozen Four appearance, Miami has had plenty of success in recent years, making the tournament in the last four seasons, but never advancing past its Regional. Despite having lost some NHL-caliber talent in Ryan Jones, Jeff Zaktoff, and Nathan Davis, this year's squad was able to take the Miami of Ohio show where its predecessors could not. The RedHawks put a hurting on the West Regional, taking out top seed Denver handily, and then ending fellow Cinderella-hopeful Minnesota-Duluth's chances with a 2-1 win.

Keys for Miami:

The team was labeled a bit of a question mark coming into the season, starting four freshmen on defense and two first-year men in the net. Goalies Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp changed some minds, combining to go 25-12-5 with a 2.09 GAA and .908 save percentage in the regular season, though Reichard has securely grabbed the reins in the postseason, stopping 41 of 44 shots to take the West.

Defenseman Chris Wideman has silenced critics as well, leading the No. 8 defense and nation's best penalty kill while also quarterbacking the 16th-ranked offense and 14th-ranked power play with 26 points (all assists). He's got some help from a trio of sophomores: Carter Camper, Pat Cannone and Andy Miele finished 1-2-3 in team scoring, while senior and Colorado Avalanche draft pick Justin Mercier was named West Regional MVP after scoring three times over the two games, including both tallies against UMD (one on the power play, the other shorthanded).

How the RedHawks win:

While 17 different Beavers have scored at least once during the season, they rely heavily on Scofield, Read and senior Matt Francis, a trio which accounted for 49 of the team's 105 goals. While that worked in the four-team CHA, their non-conference schedule against bigger, deeper teams ended up at 4-10. Miami's top-notch defense (8th in the nation) must lean on the Bemidji offense and force all four of its lines to contribute.

While Bemidji coach Tom Serratore knows several of the names on the Miami roster, you can be sure his counterpart at Miami, Enrico Blasi, has been studying up as well, and it will pay off in what will definitely be an exciting, if underrated, game.

April 9, 2009 - 5:00 PM ET
Bemidji State Beavers TEAM Miami University (Ohio) RedHawks
20-15-1 (Unranked) Record/Rank 22-12-5 (#13)
 20.3% (#6)/ 86.3% (#19) Power Play/Penalty Kill
 18.7% (#14) / 89.8% (#1)
Chris Peluso (PIT)

NHL Draft picks Will Weber (CBJ), Trent Vogelhuber (CBJ), Justin Mercier (COA), Justin Vaive (ANA)

0 Frozen Four Appearances
In the Midwest Regional, the Beavers rolled over favored Notre Dame, 5-1, and then showed Cornell the door, 4-1. How they got there In the West Regional, the RedHawks demolished heavily favored Denver, 4-1, and then slipped by Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1.

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