090219 nu/bemidji hockey3

090219 nu/bemidji hockey3/sports DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Lewiston - Niagara center Chris Moran skates up ice against Bemidji center Chris McKelvie in first period action at Dwyer Arena.

Consider the odd discrepancy in postseason rooting interests when it comes to Niagara University’s two major sports programs — the men’s basketball and hockey teams.

Both saw arch-rivals advance in their respective NCAA Tournaments. But while Siena’s basketball win over Ohio State brought notoriety and a lump of cash to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Bemidji State’s appearance tonight in the Frozen Four (5 p.m., ESPN2) is more a sign of what College Hockey America could have become.

The league will officially fold at the end of next season, and while Niagara will need to reduce scholarships to comply with the standards of Atlantic Hockey, Bemidji is hoping to gain acceptance into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, one of college hockey’s elite conferences.

Upset wins over Notre Dame and Cornell certainly helped the Beavers’ sales pitch.

“The mood is one of mixed emotions, that’s for sure,” said Ed McLaughlin, who has the precarious perch of balancing posts as Niagara’s athletics director and the lame duck commissioner of the CHA. “It’s one of those things where you say, ‘why couldn’t this have happened five years earlier?’ It might have helped some of the programs inside the CHA, and maybe the whole CHA itself.”

Tonight, when Bemidji State (20-15-1) takes on Miami (Ohio) in the early semifinal contest from Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center, the Beavers won’t be an overwhelming underdog. Although the RedHawks (22-12-5) enter as the favorite, they were the 13th seed in a 16-team tournament. Bemidji was the lowest seed.

But the Beavers rolled through top-seeded Notre Dame by a 5-1 count, then hung the same score on Cornell.

“I think it’s great for college hockey,” McLaughlin added. “It’s like a 64 seed getting to the Final Four in basketball. College hockey is such a different world, for a team from the outside to get in, it really is something special.”

Bemidji led Niagara all season in the CHA points standings, but the Purple Eagles held a pair of games in hand. The Beavers swept Niagara in a two-game set played at Dwyer Arena in February, however, and the locals never really recovered. Niagara won just one of its last six regular-season games, then got unceremoniously dumped by Robert Morris in the opening round of the CHA Tournament.

Meanwhile, the Beavers used the goaltending of sophomore Matt Dalton to put together an 8-2-1 run through the final weeks of the regular season.

Dalton won just a single game last year and saw action in just five as senior Matt Climie — who made his NHL debut with the Dallas Stars on Tuesday — logged most of the minutes.

“(Dalton)’s really been consistent,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore told USCHO.com. “Take away the first month of the season, where we obviously struggled — we started off 1-6 — he’s been a rock. Overall, our team defense has been good. Our guys have bought in. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.

“I don’t know if he’s experienced — he’s a sophomore. He only played five games last year. But talent is talent, and if it’s young talent or old talent, you lean on those guys, and we really lean on Matt.”

As for Bemidji’s plight to find a new conference, McLaughlin said he’s still offering the school his support, even though the programs will part ways after next season. McLaughlin will be on hand for tonight’s action, bending the ears of other conference commissioners in hope that the Beavers will find a permanent home.

“People are taking notice of (Bemidji) right now,” McLaughlin said. “Never did I think at the beginning of this year, that the WCHA would have nobody in the Frozen Four, and that I’d be there as a commissioner with one of our schools there. It should be fun.”

Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.



GAME NIGHT

Bemidji State (20-15-1) vs. Miami (22-12-5)

• WHEN: 5 p.m., tonight

• WHERE: Verizon Center

• TV: ESPN2



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