Bemidji State's Future Remains Murky Despite Frozen Four Run
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. Bemidji State had the proverbial magical, Cinderella run to the Frozen Four this year.
A program steeped in a long college hockey tradition at the small-school level, the Beavers upgraded to Division I a decade ago, and joined the then-fledgling College Hockey America — billed as a home for many schools of its ilk, and a home for potential future startup programs.
Since then, Bemidji State has earned three automatic NCAA bids by winning CHA championships, including this year. But now, with the CHA on the verge of disbanding after next season because it couldn't maintain enough member schools, BSU's options are severely limited.
As a result, the Beavers have made a well-known run at gaining acceptance into the WCHA. That move was first boosted by the WCHA lifting its moratorium on expansion, meaning the member schools would at least consider applications from new programs. Then, Bemidji got final approval for a new rink. That was followed by the run to the Frozen Four, further buoying everyone's hopes — the idea being that WCHA schools would be more welcoming to Bemidji now that the program's viability has been further enhanced.
But Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore downplayed that idea in the aftermath of his team's 4-1 loss to Miami in the NCAA semifinals on Thursday.
"You know, who knows. That's a good question," Serratore said, reflecting on what the run might mean to the WCHA bid. "You hope that it does, obviously. You hope that you can, again, parlay that into more success in recruiting and have the situation where when your kids are playing in big games it becomes easier the next year.
"But, again, it's hard to predict. But what I can tell you, what it did, it gave the people, again, the people in Bemidji, just a lot of pride for the Beavers. And the people in the region, alumni — our alumni, they're just a — we have a wonderful group of alumni and gave those guys a sense of pride.
"So, you know what, from that standpoint it was a feel-good story. But, again, I can't sit there and tell you, again, what's going to happen as a result of this."
All that's known right now, according to WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, is that Bemidji State will make a formal presentation at the annual coaches' convention in Florida at the end of April. WCHA members will then convene about what to do. This could include taking a vote, or it may be delayed pending more study.
Certainly, a Bemidji State bid would have been easier for the WCHA to swallow had another school come along. But rumors of possible interest from CCHA schools like Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan never materialized into a formal application. And, just as the CHA had trouble finding new programs, no credible new school has stepped up to get involved.
That makes it more difficult for BSU to gain sentiment. The Beavers already had skeptics, just based on it being a smaller program from a smaller town, along with the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" philosophy. But an 11-team league is also a logistical nightmare, particularly with the WCHA schools so spread out geographically.
So that's where Bemidji State stands. The jury is still out.