1,200 rally for Frozen Four BSU hockey team
Those who came before them sat high on the stage and said nothing. They didn't have to. Their names said enough.
About 1,200 people crowded into Memorial 100 on the Bemidji State campus Friday evening to rally for the Bemidji State men's hockey team, which opens NCAA Frozen Four action 4 p.m. CST Thursday against Miami of Ohio in Washington, D.C.
The crowd sang the Bemidji Beaver fight song as the team was individually introduced as they entered the hall. While the crowd was inspirational, those who sat silently on the stage were even more so.
Introduced by BSU President Jon Quistgaard, they included former BSU hockey coaches Vic Weber (1960-66) and R.H. "Bob" Peters (1966-2001), current coach Tom Serratore, also a Bemidji State grad, and current BSU woman's coach, Steve Sertich, a former Colorado College player from the Iron Range.
But also on the stage were a gathering of former BSU players such as U.S. Nationals player and former NHL pro Gary Sargent, U.S. Nationals and 1976 Olympian Blaine Comstock and 1976 Olympian Gary Ross.
And on the stage were two members of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic team who now make their home in Bemidji -- Phil Verchota and Dr. Bill Baker.
Having them on the stage spoke volumes for the D.C.-bound Frozen Four Beavers.
"I would suggest next week that we're going to see the second miracle on ice," Quistgaard said.
"This is a tremendous event for the city of Bemidji," Mayor Richard Lehmann said. "The celebration started early this morning and it's going to continue I don't know how long into the day."
Earlier Friday, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the Bemidji Regional Event Center, which will be the new home for the Bemidji State men and women's hockey teams starting in 2010-11.
"You couldn't have written the script any better than this," he said. "I don't care what Hollywood can put together ... it is truly a situation where the real-life situation is by far better than fiction could ever be written."
One script is written, however. Lehmann said he plans to drop the first puck in the new event center.
"To have the Beavers heading to Washington, D.C., representing not only the university but the city of Bemidji is just phenomenal," he said. "Team effort is a partnership, a partnership not only between the players and the staff but between the players themselves."
There is also a partnership between the city and Bemidji State, Lehmann said. "Bemidji State University is very important to the city of Bemidji, and we formed a partnership years ago and that partnership grows and grows."
As a result of that partnership, $23 million was secured from the state Legislature for the event center, " a new home for a phenomenal hockey team, the Bemidji State Beavers, both men's and women's," he said.
"That effort just didn't pay off in St. Paul, by getting the monies to build this facility, it paid off in the community itself by the community pride that's been generated by this," he added.
Despite numerous breaks for applause, cheers and standing ovations, coach Serratore took the rally in stride.
He told the story of Travis Winter, who answered a reporter's question of how could a No. 16 seed beat Notre Dame 5-1. Serratore said Winter resorted to a "Peters-ism" to answer him: "Luck favors those who are most prepared."
He said the Beavers started turning around on Feb. 1, and new the team was clicking to go 13-2-1.
The media are using terms such as miracle, luck and Cinderella team, he said, but it couldn't be further from the truth. "It's a special time, a special run, with a special bunch of guys ... from a special place."
The Beavers were prepared for the Midwest Regional and they won it, he said.
"When you have success, the most important part of that success is just looking at the faces of people and you see the pride in their community, in their school," Serratore said. "The Beavers have created that opportunity for this community."
The Beavers are going to Washington with the expectation to win two games because they have prepared to win two games, he said.
"It's our turn," Serratore said. "We're going to give it everything we have -- you know that."
Serratore also lauded the community for its support, and said the BSU student fans were the best in college hockey. The team really appreciated the welcome they received early Sunday morning -- and said they'd be back about 2:30 a.m. April 12 with the national trophy.
Both the men's and women's teams stayed after the rally to sign autographs for more than an hour.
It was also announced that Beaux Arts Ballroom would be set up as a viewing room for Thursday's game, open to the public.
Most of the fans Friday received "Beaver Bandana" hankies.