WASHINGTON - As Bemidji State cruised through the Midwest Regional two weekends ago, coach Tom Serratore thought back to an early January series that helped the Beavers prepare for it.
Bemidji State lost twice to UND in a home-and-home series, but Serratore said those games made a huge difference for his team in the postseason.
"I guarantee that helped us," the coach said. "Those North Dakota games get us battle-tested. We've been playing them a couple of times a year. We've been an eyelash away. We haven't come out on top yet, but those games and those battles we've had with them helped us, no doubt."
A couple of weeks after the UND series, Bemidji State started a 12-2-1 run, which it carries to today's national semifinal game against Miami in the Verizon Center (4 p.m., ESPN2).
"North Dakota has been to the Frozen Four the last four years," Bemidji State forward Tyler Scofield said. "They are always one of the elite programs. And almost every time we've lost to them, it has been a one-goal game. That's always good for your confidence.
"Every year, we always get together and watch the Frozen Four on TV, and we always see them there. You sit there and watch them play a close game in a Frozen Four and you have to chuckle about it a little bit because we were right there with them."
Now, it's Bemidji State's turn to make the trip. And the Sioux continued to be of help this week. Serratore said he called UND coach Dave Hakstol to ask him about certain things that have worked and others that haven't in preparing for the NCAA Frozen Four.
"Hak's been great, everyone over there has been great," Serratore said.
This is the first time in Hakstol's five-year coaching tenure that his team hasn't been at the Frozen Four. He offered congratulations to Bemidji State last week.
"I'm sure it's a very exciting time on their campus and in their town," Hakstol said. "They experience they are going through is a very exciting one for their program, their first time making that step.
"The way I evaluate them is that they are a good team that plays on their toes. They play a very aggressive style that leads to high-end play from their team. It allowed them to win two games and puts them in position to be two wins away from a national championship. So congratulations to coach Serratore, his staff and his team."
George Mason's band backs Beavers
Moments after winning the NCAA Midwest Regional and earning a spot in the Frozen Four, Serratore compared his team's run to that of the George Mason men's basketball team in 2006.
George Mason made the hoops tourney as a No. 11 seed and beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut on the way to a shocking Final Four appearance, much in the way that the Beavers made this year's Frozen Four with wins over Notre Dame and Cornell.
So it may be perfectly appropriate that George Mason's band has decided to play for Bemidji State's band, which couldn't make the trip to Washington.
The 'Mean Green,' as they're called, has been researching information on the Bemidji State hockey program and will play the Beavers' fight song during today's semifinal. Mason's colors also match Bemidji's and band director Doc Nix is typically noted for wearing an extravagant green suit.
George Mason, which is located in nearby Fairfax, Va., earned its trip to the Final Four by beating UConn in this same Verizon Center.
Serratore defends CHA, schedule
Serratore's press conference became the most passionate when his team's schedule was questioned.
Serratore stuck up for his team's league, College Hockey America, which will disband after next season. He also pointed to Bemidji State's strong nonconference schedule, which has typically included about 10 games against Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams.
"A lot of people don't do their homework," Serratore said. "You take a look at who we've played. Our league's good. Our league kind of gets disrespected and that kind of bothers me.
"You take a look at what we've accomplished nonconference - not only this year - take a look at our record, guys, over the last six years. Take a look at our nonconference record. Take a look at who we've played. We're a battle-tested program."
Scofield also pointed out that Robert Morris was an overtime goal away from winning the CHA postseason championship and earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"This could be Robert Morris sitting here right now," the senior forward said. "A lot of time we don't get the recognition we deserve in the CHA."
Notes and quotes
*Three of the four teams at the Frozen Four will start a freshman goalie. Bemidji State is the only one that won't. The Beavers will go with sophomore Matt Dalton. Last season, Boston College freshman John Muse helped the Eagles win the title.
*Three of the four teams in Washington had a week off before the NCAA tournament began. Vermont and Miami failed to make their conference tournament, while Bemidji State won the CHA title during the first weekend of March. Boston University won the Hockey East postseason title.
*Despite the fact that no WCHA teams are at the Frozen Four, a stack of WCHA media guides wound up on the media table. Commissioner Bruce McLeod said he plays to be in Washington this week, even though none of his teams made it for the first time in 10 years.
*Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon on his team's sendoff: "We had a sendoff at the University of Vermont, some students, staff, faculty stood out in the pouring rain cheering the Catamounts on as we got on the bus to the airport. We got to the Sheraton to have a lunch and we were greeted by 19 former players ranging from the 1970s all the way up to more recently. We drive two miles further and pass a middle school and every kid from that school was standing outside cheering. We get to the airport and the air traffic control as a "Go Cats Go!" banner hanging from it. I think they're enjoying the moment."