The Bemidji State men's hockey team believed; the BSU coaching staff believed; a small cadre of team supporters believed. The vast majority of the college hockey world did not.
They are all believers now.
Bemidji State pulled off a major upset Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., defeating Notre Dame 5-1.
Notre Dame was the No. 2 ranked team in college hockey and the No. 1 seed in the regional.
Bemidji State was not ranked entering the tournament and were the No. 4 seed in the regional.
It was undoubtedly the biggest win the in the Division I era for the Beavers, if not all time.
Bemidji State University is now 60 minutes away from a trip to NCAA Frozen Four.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys right now," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "This was a great, great win for our program. A win like this is extremely gratifying."
Bemidji State now advances to Sunday night's Midwest Region final against Cornell (7 p.m., ESPNU), who defeated Northeastern 3-2 earlier in the day. The winner will advance to the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. April 9 and 11.
Notre Dame came into the game with a record of 31-5-3, winning both the CCHA regular season and playoff crowns. The Fighting Irish defense allowed only 64 goals the entire season, an average of 1.64 per game.
One of the BSU concerns entering the game was if the Beavers could generate offense against the highly regarded Fighting Irish.
That was answered early and with an exclamation mark.
The Beavers scored a pair of first period goals and added another in the second to take a 3-0 lead. The partisan crowd, the vast majority who traveled from South Bend, Ind. to cheer for Notre Dame, was stunned. But there was still the belief the Irish would fight back.
Not this time.
Bemidji State started the first 1:58 of the third period a man short following a Cody Bostock penalty for holding with two seconds left in the second.
It was a key juncture in the game.
"We felt if we could kill the penalty we would be in pretty good shape," Serratore reported. "We ended up getting way more than that."
In the opening moments of the period, Tyler Scofield found Matt Read with a break out pass at the Fighting Irish blue line. A Notre Dame defender was angling toward Read, who teed it up and rifled a shot from the top of the face off circle. It rocketed past Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce, giving the Beavers a 4-0 lead 49 seconds into the third.
"That was a huge goal," Serratore reported. "You know what I always say, the first team to four in college hockey wins. I don't care who the team is, coming back from four goals down is very tough."
Read said he saw that Pearce was a little off on his angle and picked a spot. "I caught it clean and it went in," he said.
Bemidji State got off to a dream start, taking a 2-0 first period lead. The Beavers struck first early as Pearce misplayed the puck behind the net, then fell when entering the crease. BSU senior forward Chris McKelvie was there to rap the home the loose puck unassisted at 1:42.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said the goal shook up Pearce.
"On that first goal, the puck took a weird bounce off the boards and came right to Pearce," Jackson said. "It got stuck between the goal post and his skate. BSU forced the issue with their fore check and scored. The goal threw (Pearce) off."
The Beavers made it 2-0, connecting on their only power play opportunity of the period. Freshman defender Brad Hunt took a shot from the point, but only caught a piece of it. The slowly sliding puck was then tipped in front by Scofield past Pearce at 11:03.
Overall it was an evenly played period with Notre Dame holding an 11-7 shot advantage.
BSU goalie Matt Dalton came up big on a couple of occasions, the biggest save coming with about five minutes left when he denied freshman Billy Madday from close range.
The Beavers also had a coupe more opportunities.
Scofield nearly converted a ND turnover at 13:00, whistling a shot just wide from the blue line. Freshman Shea Walters had a good chance from the top of the far circle, again on a turnover. Pearce made a nice glove save on that one.
That set a pattern that would carry to the whole game - the Beavers applying heavy puck pressure and creating turnovers, then making plays.
"From the start, they created turnovers," said Jackson. "They created their opportunities; congratulations to them."
The Beavers extended the lead to 3-0 with the only goal of the second period. The BSU mantra is any shot on net is a good shot and freshman Ben Kinne proved the point. Racing to a loose puck at the near face off circle, Kinne funneled a shot toward the net. The puck deflected off a Notre Dane defenseman and past Pearce five hole with just over six minutes left in the period.
Again, the second period was evenly played with the Fighting Irish holding an 11-8 shot advantage. BSU applied good pressure early when Kinne won a race to a loose puck just across the Irish blue line and got off a good shot that was stopped. Walters then came close on a wraparound attempt about two minutes later.
Dalton continued to be rock solid in net, stopping a handful of strong Notre Dame opportunities. The best came when Notre Dame's Ryan Thang beat a BSU defender wide and bore down on the BSU goal. Dalton stood his ground and made the big save, keeping the Irish off the board.
That led to Read's big shorthanded goal and a 4-0 BSU lead early in the third. The Fighting Irish trailed Michigan 2-0 in the third period in the CCHA championship game a week ago and came back for a 5-2 win. But it wasn't to be this time around; the Beavers made sure of that.
Notre Dame got on the board at 6:02 of the third as Dan Kissel connected off a nice cross ice pass from Ryan Guentzel. Dalton didn't have a prayer on the bang-bang play.
The Beavers iced things for good when Notre Dame pulled Pearce for the extra attacker with about four minutes left. Scofield battled for a loose puck at mid-ice then ripped an empty netter with 3:27 remaining, giving the Beavers a 5-1 lead.
Game, set and match. That's the way it ended.
Dalton had an excellent night in net for the Beavers, stopping 34 of 35 Notre Dame shots. Pearce ended the night making 14 saves on 18 shots.
"We knew they were a skilled and fast team that played tough defense," Scofield said. "We knew we'd have to back check hard and disrupt their plays. I think we did a good job of that."
Jackson agreed. "BSU plays a tough style," he said. "If you don't make a play, they'll come right back at you. They frustrated our team with their style of play - it worked.
"I don't know how many times this week people asked me, 'who is Bemidji State?' Well, they know now. I didn't do a good enough job preparing my team to play a team like Bemidji State. I take full responsibility for that."
Scofield said the team was very happy after the win, but also took the huge victory in stride.
"Yes, it was exciting. Yes, it was a big game. We'll enjoy it for a few minutes, but we still have business to take care of," he said.