The Bemidji State men's hockey team knew one thing prior to the NCAA selection show Sunday morning -- the Beavers would be facing one of the top teams in the country in the opening round of the national tournament.
The only real question was where the game would be played.
The Beavers have been placed in the Midwest Regional of the 2009 NCAA Ice Hockey Championships and will play Notre Dame in the first round. The Midwest Regional will be held at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., Saturday and Sunday.
Bemidji State (18-15-1; 12-5-1 CHA), the automatic qualifier from College Hockey America and the No. 16 seed in the 16-team field, will tackle Notre Dame (31-5-3; 21-4-3 CCHA), regular-season and tournament champions from Central Collegiate Hockey Association and the No. 2 overall seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Opening faceoff for the game is slated for 6:30 p.m. Central time and will be televised locally on ESPN Classic (Ch. 53 for Paul Bunyan Television subscribers and Ch. 73 for Charter expanded basic customers).
Bemidji State is making its third trip to the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier out of College Hockey America. The Beavers captured their fourth CHA regular-season championship in the last six years and earned the league's NCAA berth by winning the CHA Tournament. BSU rallied from a one-goal deficit early to take the tournament championship, 3-2, with a goal 8:05 into overtime.
Notre Dame won the CCHA regular-season title by posting 21-4-3 mark for 28 points in league play. The Fighting Irish's road to the NCAA Tournament comes by way of the CCHA's automatic bid. Notre Dame blanked Nebraska-Omaha in its CCHA quarterfinal match up before earning a 2-1 victory over Northern Michigan in the semifinals and a 5-2 win over Michigan in the tournament championship.
The Fighting Irish come into the regional semifinals riding the nation's longest winning streak--10 games.
Joining Bemidji State and Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional are No. 2 seed Northeastern (25-11-4; 18-6-3 Hockey East) and No. 3 seed Cornell (21-9-4 /13-6-3 ECAC).
The winner of the Bemidji State/Notre Dame matchup meets the Northeastern/Cornell winner in the Midwest Regional Final at 7 p.m. Central on Sunday. The regional champion advances to the 2009 Frozen Four in Washington, D.C., April 9-10.
Bemidji State will face Fighting Irish for the first time in the program's history. Since the Beavers made the move to the NCAA Division I ranks, they are 5-12-1 against CCHA squads.
The 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance is BSU's third as a Division I program, but is its 16th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time. The Beavers made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances at the Division II and Division III levels in a 16-year period from 1983-98, which included six national championships.
The official announcement of the tournament pairings Sunday morning did include some minor surprises. It had long been speculated that as the tournament's 16th seed, the Beavers would face top seed Boston University in the first round.
That turned out not to be the case because of the NCAA priority of not scheduling inter-conference matchups in the first round of the tournament.
There ended up being two CCHA teams among the number one seeds (Michigan and Notre Dame) and two among the number four seeds (Miami and Ohio State).
As a result, the top seed BU had to play either Ohio State or Miami. In the end BU was paired with the lowest available seed -- No. 15 Ohio State.
"We knew going in we would be playing one of the top two teams in the country," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "Notre Dame has proven over the course of the season they deserve a top seed. We have the utmost respect for Notre Dame and know the team will provide a major challenge.
"At the same time, we feel good about ourselves going into the tournament. We've had a strong six weeks of games and practices. We enter the tournament with a good feeling about our team."
Bemidji State sophomore forward Matt Read, the team's leading scorer and All-CHA selection, said the Fighting Irish will provide a stern test. "They have the type of team that capitalizes on mistakes," Read said. "We know any mistakes we make can end up in the back of the net in a hurry.
"At the same time, we feel this is a pretty good match up. The game's on an NHL-size rink and we're playing with confidence. We also know we'll have to play our best 60 minutes of the year in order to have a good chance."