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Back home: Fans flock to airport to greet Beavers

Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper Mike Herbert, left, and his wife, Cindy, were the first to greet Bemidji State goalie Matt Dalton as the Beavers arrived Friday at the Bemidji Regional Airport.

The green-clad crowd began to gather about 9:30 a.m. Friday at Bemidji Regional Airport.

By the time the plane landed nearly an hour later, the gathering had increased to close to 200 people waving Beaver Pride hankies and carrying "I love the Beavers" signs.

All the chat was about the great season the Bemidji State University men's hockey team has had and the fun and excitement they have given the community.

Cheers, whistles and applause greeted the players as they deplaned. By the time team members walked across the tarmac and reached the Bemidji Aviation gate, a spontaneous receiving line had formed up. Everyone wanted to shake the hands of, and some to give hugs to, the first BSU team to compete in the Frozen Four.

"I was very surprised, really," said center Matt Read. "I didn't think there'd be a lot of people here. We love our fans."

"Pretty cool - the support has just been phenomenal," said forward Matt Francis.

The team members signed autographs and accepted congratulations for their wins against Notre Dame and Cornell to move up and compete against Miami of Ohio Thursday afternoon. Miami will compete against Boston University today.

"What's exciting about this is they got past those two teams," said Todd Haugen. "What they accomplished is noteworthy."

"It's unbelievable - you couldn't have scripted something like this," said Joe Vene, Beltrami County commissioner. "This is the stuff of which legends are made. I think we'll remember this for the rest of our lives."

Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann agreed.

"The excitement isn't going to die down for a while," he said. "They're coming back as heroes."

Vic Weber, men's BSU hockey coach for six years during the 1960s, commended coach Tom Serratore's honing of the players' skills.

"I think they really have developed into a really good team," Weber said.

"They've been winning as a team, not as individuals."

Many who waited for the team's arrival commented on how BSU's hockey success "put Bemidji on the map." James George said he meant the phrase literally, as the map of Minnesota frequently flashed on the TV screen with the city of Bemidji starred.

"They represented Bemidji very well and the whole state of Minnesota," said George of the team.

Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the national attention will draw visitors to the area the same way Olympic curling fame has.

As the crowd of well-wishers counted down the minutes until the Allegiant jet was announced at a 10-mile approach, they scanned the sky for the plane. Soon the sun glinted off a speck in the south. "There it is!" came the shout. Some tried to capture the plane's image on in-phone cameras.

A few people expressed regret that BSU didn't take the championship.

"I just wish it didn't end the way it did," said Gini Sande of the 4-1 loss to Miami.

She attended the homecoming with her husband, Wally Sande, who was a BSU athletic trainer during Bob Peters' hockey coaching years.

But several, such as Randy Tisdell, said they expect to be standing at the airport again next year, but then, he said, the players will be bringing home the trophy.