The hoopla, hype and national media interviews are over. It's time to play hockey.
Bemidji State begins its quest to win the NCAA Division I men's hockey title today, facing Miami of Ohio in the first semifinal of the Frozen Four at the Verizon Center. Game time is set for 4 p.m. (CDT). Boston University will face Vermont in the second semifinal.
The Beavers held a spirited practice Wednesday morning in preparation for the biggest game in the program's history. The Beavers competed so hard in practice, in fact, it took several of the national media on hand by surprise.
"We had a high-tempo practice because that's the way we play," said senior captain Travis Winter. "It feels good to get that practice out of the way, get the nerves out so we can we ready to go (today)."
BSU head coach Tom Serratore said it is a key for the Beavers to practice hard the day before a game. "Every coach, every team has their particular style, I guess," he said. "But we believe you better get after in the (Wednesday) practice. This game is high octane, so you better practice at high octane."
The Beavers (20-15-1) come into the game riding a five-game win streak that stretches back to the regular-season finale and four postseason contests. Serratore reiterated the team played very well in the Midwest Regional to advance to the Frozen Four.
"I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect game," he said. "But we really played well in the regional. We want to parlay that effort into a great showing here."
What will the Beavers do or focus on differently for today's game? "Nothing," said Serratore, who then went to an old standby phrase, "The hay is in the barn."
He added, "Our focus will remain the same as it always has been - control the things you can control. You better take care of the puck, get after it with high energy, play well on special teams and get good goaltending. That's our focus against Miami.
"At this point we are worrying about us - how we play, how we execute and how we compete."
Serratore calls the RedHawks a team that has transformed into an elite program the last 10 years under head coach Enrico Blasi.
"They are very skilled up front and play a high-energy style," Serratore said. "They also back check hard and work hard to take away room from you. They like to pressure the puck."
Winter said after watching game tapes he believes Miami is a "great team. They are playing very well right now," he said. "They have good team speed. Actually we play pretty similar styles; it should be an exciting game."
Miami (22-12-4) advanced to the Frozen Four by winning the West Regional in Minneapolis, topping Denver 4-2 and UMD 2-1. The RedHawks advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 as an at large bid, after being knocked out of the CCHA tournament by Northern Michigan.
Miami has been among the nation's elite teams the last four years. Since 2005-06, Miami has the best winning percentage among all Division I teams. Over the last four seasons the RedHawks have compiled a record of 105-43-14 (.691).
Sophomore forward Carter Camper leads the deep and talented RedHawks up front. He paced the team in both goals (20) and points (40). Andy Miele was second in goals with 15, while Justin Mercier had 14. In all the RedHawks feature six players who scored 10 or more goals on the year.
Cody Reichard has taken over as Miami's top goalie down the stretch, winning both games in the regional after splitting time during the regular season with Connor Knapp. Reichard currently stands with a record of 9-7-2, featuring a .914 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average.
Blasi said he knows what to expect from the Beavers come game time. "We know they are well coached," he said. "Tom does a good job and he's good friend. He has always been the type of coach that gets after it and that is exactly how his players play.
"They have some skill upfront and everybody talks about (Tyler) Scofield , but they are not the only weapons they have - their forwards are very good and their defensive corps is very good. We know we will have to play our best."
In looking at the stats, one very interesting matchup will be the BSU power play against the Miami penalty kill. The RedHawks rank second nationally in the penalty kill at 89.8 percent. The Bemidji State power play ranks sixth in the nation at 20.4.
"We have been using the penalty kill scheme for about five or six year," Blasi said. "In order to do it right you have to have goaltending, you have to block shots, and you have to do a lot of things our program stands for."
After Bemidji State snuck up on a couple of national powers in the Midwest Regional, the Miami players said that won't be the case this time.
"I think teams took them lightly in the first two games, obviously," said forward Brian Kaufman. "I don't think there is an underdog, especially not in Bemidji. They are a team of great skill. That showed when they put up nine goals in the regional against two of the best defensive teams in the country."
For the third straight time, the Beavers will be playing a team that takes pride in its defense. The RedHawks allowed just 2.1 goals a game, while scoring 3.1
The Beavers have allowed 2.6 goals per game, while scoring 2.9.
"We ready to get out there and play the game," Serratore said. "Our focus has been and will continue to be playing the very best game of our lives."