The stage at WCHA Final Five may be the biggest in college hockey outside of the NCAA Tournament and the Frozen Four.
It may be the first Final Five for these Bemidji State Beavers, but there was no feeling of nervousness among the players. The BSU men's hockey program has played meaningful postseason hockey over the last three years which includes a pair of NCAA Tournaments and run to the 2009 Frozen Four.
Now the Beavers are in the WCHA Final Five semifinal round.
"We've played in a lot of big games over the course of the last 10 years and these kids over the course of the last four years have played in a lot of big games - a lot of big games," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "It's not new to these guys. We're battle tested this year and we've been battle tested in the past."
BSU captain Matt Read compared the feeling of Thursday's Final Five quarterfinal game against Minnesota-Duluth to that Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.
"Certainly it's quite similar," Read said. "If you lose you're done in our books. We've got to show up every night, come out every shift and we can't have any mistakes out there. Having the experience of the Frozen Four and you must win every night to get there to get to a national championship - it's the same thing in the WCHA here in the Final Five. We know that we're the underdogs and we've got to take it to the opponent every night and hopefully we win."
An total of 13,131 fans showed up for Thursday's two-game session at the Xcel Energy Center, with the BSU-UMD game in the afternoon drawing the most fans.
"To me it's the best tournament in the country because of the energy in the building," Serratore said. "Everyone is rooting for somebody. "The difference between this and the Frozen Four is everyone is going because of the event but they're not really passionate about a particular team like there is here. That's what makes it so exciting."
That excitement was in the air as a St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown St. Paul jammed the streets and sidewalks around the Xcel Energy Center before the afternoon game. Some were wearing green to celebrate Irish heritage and some wore green to celebrate the Beavers. Green was also a school color for other Final Five participants North Dakota and Alaska-Anchorage.
North Dakota had a large contingent of fans at Thursday's game and when the Beavers scored, Fighting Sioux fans joined in the celebrations.
"The green are going to stick with green especially on St. Patrick's Day," Serratore joked as he tugged on his green blazer.