WASHINGTON, DC -- There was a moment in the second period of Bemidji State's 2009 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal game against Miami University when the slipper was slowly beginning to fit college hockey's nationally-recognized Cinderella.
Down 2-0, Beavers sophomore center Matt Read slipped the puck past sprawling goalie Cody Reichard, and the Verizon Center crowd popped as loudly as it does when Alex Ovechkin pots a goal for the Washington Capitals; a combination of the Bemidji faithful who made the trek from the unassuming Minnesota campus and the thousands who came to cheer on the underdogs.
"They had the Cinderella story, so they had the fan backing with them," said Redhawks left wing Justin Vaive.
A one-goal game with both the crowd and the Beavers energized ... and it lasted all of a minute. Miami's Bill Loopee scored to the side of the Bemidji net at 9:46, giving his team a 3-1 lead and dispelling the magic of Bemidji's Cinderella story.
It was a bad habit Read's team had fought through before Christmas; it resurfaced at the worst time for the Beavers. "It's been a reoccurring thing all year. We score goals, and the next shift is the worst of the game," he said.
After that, they weren't the same team. They were pressing. Their nerves were showing, and Miami wasn't doing anything to let them back into the game. The Redhawks would add another goal in the third period for a 4-1 win, and advance to the NCAA Div. I men's hockey championship game (as a No. 4 seed) on Saturday night against the winner of Boston University and Vermont.
"They're a really good team. I expected it to be closer, to be quite honest," said Vaive. "But we really played well, didn't turn it over much."
Read acknowledged that the pressure of the championship round, the pressure of the spotlight and the expectations of their fans weighed on the Beavers.
"I thought maybe the nerves took place a little bit. We played a good first period, and after that we were on our heels. And we never got back on our toes," Read said outside the Bemidji State locker room, as the players emptied out. "The hype of it ... being a 16 seed and coming here. We didn't want to disappoint our fans. It was nerve-wracking altogether.
The first period was evenly played, with Beavers sophomore goalie Matt Dalton making a few key glove saves to the delight of the crowd.
The second period, however, saw Miami carry the play. Tommy Wingels's power-play goal at 3:56 opened the scoring, on a killer screen by teammate Gary Steffes. Alden Hirschfield made it 2-0 at 8:35, beating Dalton on a 2-on-1. Read's goal, and Loupee's response, closed the scoring in the second period. Wingels added an empty netter to ice the game in the third.
Before that definitive goal, the Bemidji State cheering section rose to its feet and saluted their players. And the players would reciprocate after the game, raising their sticks in honor of their backers.
"I remember coming out in the second period. I was in the Verizon Center. We were on ESPN," said Dalton. "It's pretty special. Twenty years from now, I can tell my kids I was on the first BSU team to go to the Frozen Four. And about the way we did it, too. We didn't dodge any teams."
It's a point the sophomore goalie wanted to stress: That for all the underdog chatter in the media and the hockey community, his team deserved their spot in the Frozen Four and the prestige that accompanies it.
"We don't think we're a Cinderalla story. We think we're good enough to be here, and that we deserve to be here. We beat Notre Dame. We beat Cornell. Two really good hockey teams. We talked about it as a team; that we'd be seen [as a Cinderella story]. But it was just another game for us."
The Beavers probably won't have to hear the "Cinderella" label for quite a long time. Recruiting will be boosted by their newfound national attention; and the next time Bemidji State qualifies for the tournament, it won't be as a Frozen Four newbie.
What this Bemidji State team did, with its six seniors, was place the small university on the mainstream sports map. Even falling short of a title, the 2008-09 Beavers don't fall short in making history for their program.
As Read said after the game: "Everyone in the room knows this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us."