Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl was a freshman on the 1983 Bemidji State University Beavers 31-0 Division III national championship men's hockey team.
But even he can't imagine what former Brainerd Warriors assistant hockey coach and current head Beaver's coach Tom Serratore or former Warriors player Chris Peluso are going through.
After defeating No. 2 University of Notre Dame 5-1 Saturday in the Midwest Regional semifinals, the BSU men's hockey team downed No. 9 Cornell Sunday to advance to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history. BSU, the first No. 16 seed to win a regional championship, opens Final Four play vs. West Regional Champion Miami (Ohio) 4 p.m. April 9 at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
Chris Peluso will be the second former Brainerd Warriors boys' hockey player in three years to play in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament when his Bemidji State University Beavers face Miami (Ohio) in the semifinals. Andy Visockis
"They certainly don't know what to expect," said Dahl, a defenseman during his playing days. "We had some people that had been in that position before. These guys are in a different division. They've never been there so it will be a little tougher for them. They know that they are by far the underdogs and have been through the whole tournament. They've really played some good hockey. Hopefully they pull the whole thing off. We'll be rooting for them in my family."
So will many in the Brainerd lakes area. Dahl said he attended a hockey banquet Monday night and everyone was jumping on the Beaver Bandwagon. But the Brainerd connections are deep.
Serratore, who is in his eighth season at Bemidji State, started his coaching career in Brainerd.
"I was walking through graduation ceremony and my college coach Bob Peters shook my hand and said he needed to talk to me afterward," Serratore said. "After the ceremony he gives me the number for Ron Stolski. He said, 'They need a hockey coach. Here is the number to the AD.' Within a couple of days I had an interview and later I was hired as a young, green assistant coach. I taught at Lincoln Elementary and worked with Chuck Whalen."
After four years in Brainerd, Serratore picked up his first head coaching job at Henry Sibley in St. Paul. Two years later he was in the college ranks as an assistant at St. Cloud State University.
Former Brainerd Warriors assistant hockey coach Tom Serratore is the head coach of the Frozen Four bound Bemidji State University Beavers men's' hockey team. The Beavers will play Miami (Ohio) in the semifinals. Andy Visockis
He said he still has fond memories of Brainerd. One of the many phone messages on Serratore's answering machine upn returning to Bemidji was from Brainerd softball coach Mike Zauhar.
"I didn't get to talk to him, but he left me a message," Serratore said. "That was nice of him. I have wonderful memories of Brainerd. I met my wife, (Cindy Hennessy) there."
Serratore had been answering phone calls most of the day Tuesday. He said he couldn't leave his office without doing some sort of interview, but called it a good problem to have.
"More times than not when you get to this time of year nobody is calling me," said Serratore. "Words can't describe the excitement on campus and in this community for our hockey program. It's the winningest college hockey program. We won 13 national titles at the small college levels. Then we went up to Division I and won four conference titles and this is our third NCAA tournament. We just took that next step to the Frozen Four. We played good hockey and earned it."
Helping him earn it was Peluso, who said the whole team is still in shock after what they accomplished. He said everyone is looking forward to facing Miami (Ohio), which owns a 22-15-5 record. The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN360.com
NCAA Division I scoreboard
At The Verizon Center
Thursday, April 9
Miami (Ohio) (22-12-5) vs. Bemidji State (20-15-1), 4 p.m.
Boston University (33-6-4) vs. Vermont (22-11-5), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 11
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.
"I would say our main goal was just getting to the final 16 and then making some noise there," said Peluso. "It's been an up and down season. We started 1-7 and then we got on a role. Then we lost five in a row again. Pretty much ever since February we've been kind of on a roll. We're playing well."
Peluso played three varsity seasons at Brainerd before playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL. The 5-10, 190-pound junior is one of the top defensemen on the team.
"He's a multi-talented player," said Serratore. "He's an extremely good skater and allows us to advance the puck up the ice and then he joins the rush as the second wave. He's an extremely good skating defenseman. We really count on Chris because he plays in a lot of situations for us."
Peluso's appearance in the Frozen Four will make it the third-straight year a former Warrior will play in college hockey's main event. The last two seasons Carl Sneep and Boston College have appeared in the championship game. BC won the title last year.
Sneep and Peluso played together in youth hockey and during Peluso's junior year. They meet up every summer at Minnesota Hockey Camps, but haven't talked during the year.
"I haven't really asked him about that," said Peluso. "I'm kind of going in blind. But I'm really happy. Growing up I always followed college hockey. I always imagined myself playing in this tournament. You don't think it will ever really happen, though."
Peluso called the Beavers a low-profile team. He said before the tournament not many people outside of Bemidji knew much about them. That's not the case anymore.
"A team like that is really breaking ground in a short period of time and I think everybody around here is grabbing a hold of the Beaver hockey team and watch it in full force," said Dahl. "Bemidji is only an hour and a half away from Brainerd. It's pretty neat. I think they have the talent and the speed and coaching and everything else to go get it done."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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