Bemidji State found itself in a precarious position Friday night following a 4-1 loss to Lake Superior State in the WCHA semifinals.
Gone was the Beavers’ chance to advance and have a shot at the WCHA postseason title, and the accompanying automatic bid. The fact NCAA shoo-in and regular-season league champion Minnesota State was knocked off by Northern Michigan in the other semifinal complicated matters further.
Would the NCAA selection committee take three WCHA teams? If NMU won Saturday, would Lake State get an at-large bid and leave BSU on the outside looking in?
The Lakers’ 6-3 win in the league final, possibly the last WCHA game ever played, might have helped Bemidji State’s case.
In the end, it turned out the Beavers were safe all along anyway.
Committee chair Mike Kemp indicated Notre Dame was the last at-large team selected for the tournament, and that Omaha was the second-to-last team in. That means BSU was considered the best No. 4 seed, and therefore the third-to-last team to earn an at-large bid. The Beavers will face the fourth overall No. 1 seed Wisconsin on Friday, March 26, in Bridgeport, Conn.
The Bemidji State faithful needn’t have sweated it out after all.
None of this drama would have happened in a normal year, of course, when the Pairwise ratings are used to select the 10 at-large teams. The lack of nonconference games this season rendered the ratings useless, however, and the selection committee suddenly had more work on its plate.
Bracketologists did their best to predict the field, and we all got some entertainment out of the added uncertainty.
The build-up to the selection show grew even more dramatic Sunday afternoon.
St. Lawrence had upset Quinnipiac in the ECAC title game Saturday, potentially snatching away a bid from a bubble team like the Beavers.
But only hours before the field was revealed, St. Lawrence announced it would have to pull out of the tournament due to its head coach Brent Brekke testing positive for COVID-19. Quinnipiac was awarded the ECAC’s autobid instead.
The Fighting Irish benefited and received the final at-large bid.
Once the selection show began, BSU had some nervous moments.
When ESPN anchor John Buccigross revealed American International was headed to Fargo as the region’s No. 4 seed, and then read Notre Dame had surprisingly snuck in as the No. 4 seed in Albany, the Beavers’ odds didn’t look good.
The selection committee had previously said it wanted to keep teams close to home, and geographic proximity would be more of a factor than usual. Surely if Bemidji State made the tournament, it’d be going to Fargo. At least that’s what many thought.
Moments later, BSU learned it was in the tournament and headed to the East Regional.
Geography turned out to be unimportant to the committee, instead placing more emphasis on fair matchups.
That perhaps helped the Beavers in one way, as the committee didn’t feel pressured to place them in the Fargo regional where they could have faced No. 1 overall seed North Dakota.
At the same time, it is a bummer BSU was sent out east to Bridgeport, Conn., the regional farthest from Bemidji. Scheels Arena in Fargo is allowing 25% capacity, or about 1,250 people, to attend Midwest Regional games, so at least some Beaver fans could have had the chance to be there in person.
Even if BSU fans decide to make the long haul to Connecticut, they’d be unable to get into Webster Bank Arena anyway. No fans are allowed due to local pandemic restrictions.
Regardless, if you bleed green and white, you can’t complain too much when Bemidji State is going dancing.
Fans can tune in to ESPN2 at noon central time on Friday, March 26, to see the Beavers clash with the Badgers in the East Regional semifinals.
2021 NCAA men's hockey tournament
Fargo, N.D. (Friday, March 26-Saturday, March 27)
1. North Dakota (21-5-1) vs. 4. American International (15-3-0), 8:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN3)
2. Michigan (15-10-1) vs. 3. Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2), 3 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)
Saturday's championship, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Bridgeport, Conn. (Friday, March 26-Saturday, March 27)
1. Wisconsin (20-9-1) vs. 4. Bemidji State (15-9-3), noon Friday (ESPN2)
2. UMass (16-5-4) vs. 3. Lake Superior State (19-6-3), 5:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)
Saturday's championship, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Albany, N.Y. (Saturday, March 27-Sunday, March 28)
1. Boston College (17-5-1) vs. 4. Notre Dame (14-13-2), noon Saturday (ESPNEWS)
2. St. Cloud State (17-10-0) vs. 3. Boston University (10-4-1), 5:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNEWS)
Sunday's championship, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Loveland, Colo. (Saturday, March 27-Sunday, March 28)
1. Minnesota (23-6-0) vs. 4. Nebraska Omaha (14-10-1), 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
2. MSU-Mankato (20-4-1) vs. 3. Quinnipiac (17-7-4), 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3)
Sunday's championship, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)