Lehrke, Bemidji State look to make more history at Frozen Four
Tyler Lehrke and the Bemidji State University men's hockey team are looking to make more history in the program's first trip to the Frozen Four.
BSU became the first No. 16 seed and the first team from College Hockey America to advance to the Frozen Four.
The Beavers opened the NCAA Division I Championship by upsetting No. 2-ranked Notre Dame 5-1 March 28 and advanced to the Frozen Four with a 4-1 victory over No. 9-ranked Cornell March 29 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Winning the Midwest Regional sent BSU to the Frozen Four, which begins Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The Beavers (20-15-1) face Miami of Ohio (22-12-5) in the first semifinal at 4 p.m. while Boston U (33-6-4) plays Vermont (22-11-5) in the other semifinal at 7:30. Both games will be televised on ESPN. The championship game is set for Saturday night at 6 on ESPN.
"I didn't know what to expect since this was my first time in the NCAA Tournament," said Lehrke, a junior forward/center for the Beavers who graduated from Park Rapids Area High School in 2004. "When I decided to go to Bemidji, I knew I had a good chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament. I never thought I'd have a chance to play in the Frozen Four. This is a dream come true."
Even though the Beavers have won national titles before, upsetting two of the nation's top teams put Bemidji State University on the national hockey map.
BSU has a storied history on the ice, winning seven NAIA titles, one Division III title and five Division II titles. After moving up to Division I in 1998, the Beavers earned two trips to the NCAA Tournament as the CHA champions in 2005 and 2006. The Beavers lost to Denver 4-3 in overtime at the 2005 Northeast Regional and lost to Wisconsin 4-0 at the 2006 Midwest Regional.
The CHA hadn't had much success in the NCAA Division I Tournament since the conference received an automatic berth in 2003. CHA teams were 0-6 during that time. Niagara's 4-1 win over New Hampshire in 2000 was the lone victory for a CHA team in the NCAA Division I Tournament.
That changed this season.
BSU, which opened the season with an 8-13 record, closed the regular season with an 8-2-1 mark to win the CHA regular season title with a 12-5-1 record. The No. 1 seed then defeated Alabama-Huntsville 4-1 and Robert Morris 3-2 in overtime to claim the CHA Tournament title and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
"We had a rough first half of the year. We started out pretty slow, but we played pretty well in the second half," said Lehrke, who missed six games with a separated shoulder in mid-December. "We played well down the stretch. Coach (Tom Serratore) liked the way we were playing and liked our chances. He told us to just play our style of hockey and give it all we had. We were prepared. We knew we had a shot."
The Beavers received the No. 16 seed in the 16-team field and drew Notre Dame, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional and No. 2-rated team in the nation with a 31-5-3 record.
Chris McKelvie's goal just 1:42 into the game set the tone for the upstart Beavers. A goal by Tyler Scofield in the first period, a second-period goal by Ben Kinne and a goal by Matt Read early in the third period gave BSU a 4-0 lead. Scofield's empty-net goal sealed the win as goalie Matt Dalton finished with 34 saves.
"In a 16-team tournament, you can't take any one too lightly," said Lehrke, who played on BSU's penalty killing unit and served as a center and forward on the third line in his NCAA Tournament debut. "We went in confident, but not overconfident. Getting the early lead was huge for us. We gained more momentum and played with more confidence."
After defeating the top seed, the Beavers were looking for another fast start against Cornell. That didn't happen as Cornell opened the scoring midway through the second period.
However, Ryan Adams' goal tied the game before two goals by Scofield (who was named the regional's MVP) and another by Matt Francis in the third period led BSU to the Midwest Regional title. Dalton made 25 saves in that game.
"When we knocked the best team in the region out, we had quite a bit of confidence," said Lehrke. "Cornell was bigger and stronger, but we used our speed against them."
The Beavers will be looking to use their team speed and relentless defensive pressure to defeat Miami of Ohio in the national semifinals. Miami, which is ranked No. 13 in the nation, won the West Regional as the No. 4 seed.
"Miami is quite a bit like Notre Dame. They play the same style," said Lehrke. "If we play like we did in Michigan, I think our chances are pretty good."
A win over Miami would send BSU to the national title game against either Boston U or Vermont. Boston U, the No. 1 team in the nation, won the Northeast Regional while Vermont won the East Regional as the No. 3 seed. Vermont is rated No. 11 in the country.
"When we won the conference tournament, we said we weren't going (to the Midwest Regional) for one game. We went there to win," said Lehrke. "It's the same thing here. We're going there to win."