WASHINGTON (AP) – Good thing Bemidji State University decided not to change its name a few years back. Imagine the collective yawn from those outside hockey if some place called “University of Northern Minnesota” had made the Frozen Four.

But Bemidji State? That’s cool! That’s George Mason in the Final Four – only a lot harder to spell.

“The best thing about it is most people stumble over it at first,” said Bemidji resident Alan Korpi, sitting with his wife on Row 7 of the Verizon Center on Wednesday watching his beloved Beavers practice. “And that’s funny. ‘Bemini, buh-buh,’ you know.”

“I actually have a license plate that has ‘BRMIDJI,”‘ chimed in fellow Bemidjian Scott Robbins, sitting two seats over in his green-and-black BSU hat and sweat pants, “because our temperature is quite often 20 degrees below zero, so that’s a more accurate name for the town.”

For the record, it’s pronounced beh-MIDGE-ee, although a sports nation that loves its out-of-nowhere stories has spent the last week or so calling it other names. The place that’s suddenly on the map – the team that rose from the absolute bottom seed of the 16-team tournament to advance to Thursday’s national semifinal against Miami of Ohio – is the underdog that was missing from the basketball version of this year’s NCAAs.

“I’ve heard ‘Cinderella’, ‘David vs. Goliath’, ‘Miracle’, things like that, so I’m definitely up on my fairy tales,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “I think a lot of people and a lot of different areas of the country have adopted Bemidji State, and we are a feel-good story. That’s gratifying, and hopefully we won’t let them down.”

One word no one is using this week is “dynasty.” The Bemidji State-Miami game features two teams in the Frozen Four for the first time, and each was the lowest seed in its regional. The other semifinal – Vermont vs. No. 1 overall seed Boston University – pits schools who haven’t been this far since the 1990s.

“It’s great for college hockey – you can see the parity,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “You can see the enthusiasm. It wouldn’t surprise me from here on in if you see different Frozen Four teams the rest of the way.”

While outsiders have been pitching the Cinderella line to Serratore, the coach on Wednesday used another fictional character to educate the uneducated about Bemidji, a town with about 12,000 people whose namesake lake was created, according to legend, by a big blue ox.

“Everyone has their identity. Obviously it’s the nation’s capital here and you have the White House and the Capitol and all the monuments. We’re noted for Paul Bunyan and Babe,” Serratore said. “They created the great waterway we have there called Lake Bemidji and the Mississippi River. We’re noted for pine trees, water and Beaver hockey. It’s just a big part of the culture of northern Minnesota and the identity of our community. That’s how people identify with Bemidji.”

In fact, the fan with the “BRMIDJI” license plate said that his grandfather, Buck Robbins, helped build the town’s famous Paul Bunyan and Babe statue in 1937. Sixty years later, the U.S. Postal Service came to town to launch its Paul Bunyan stamp. The local high school teams are known as the Lumberjacks. (The girls’ teams, until recently, were the Lumberjills.)

Such trivia is in high demand this week, just as everyone wanted to know everything about George Mason during the Patriots’ improbable Final Four run three years ago.

Both schools have green as their dominant color, but there are some notable differences. Bemidji State has long been a nationally respected program in the hockey community. The Beavers won 13 national titles (five Division II, one Division III and seven NAIA) before moving up to Division I in 1999.

And, unlike George Mason three years ago, Bemidji State enters its biggest stage under a cloud of uncertainty.

The Beavers’ conference, College Hockey America, shrunk to four teams this season and is disbanding. BSU has applied to join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association next season, an idea WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod calls “problematic” from a scheduling standpoint because it would make for an odd number of teams. Trying to survive as an independent is not a realistic option.

Winning the national championship would help the cause, but Serratore feels it’s a cause that doesn’t need much help.

“We didn’t need to go to the Frozen Four to validate our resume,” the coach said. “We’ve had 13 national titles at the small college level. We’ve had over 20 conference championships. We like our resume. We feel we’ve done a lot for the game.”

At least one potentially contentious issue was settled about a decade ago, back when other Minnesota colleges were changing their names – Mankato State University, for example, became Minnesota State University-Mankato.

But Bemidji State kept its moniker. It didn’t like the idea of “Minnesota State University-Bemidji,” and the proposed “University of Northern Minnesota” went nowhere.

“Before this all happened, you’d kind of think that might be smart – we might get a little more recognized,” Bemidji State assistant captain Chris McKelvie said. “But I think it’s unique that our name has taken off like this. Everybody’s asking where it is, what it is, so it’s pretty cool. You know, ‘Northern Minnesota’ doesn’t sound any different from any other school. But ‘Bemidji’ – that’s pretty unique.”


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