Bemidji State senior Travis Winter had his jersey on still, the rest sat only in their undershirts, answering question after question.
After their 4-1 loss to Miami, even their words seemed to drip with sweat.
And the realization that midnight had come for this hockey Cinderella.
"It's a feel-good story for a lot of people out there," said senior blueliner Cody Bostock. "It's something special to be a part of. You want to thank everyone out there. Unfortunately tonight, we came up on the wrong end, but it's been a good run, the time of a lifetime and something I'll never forget."
It had been a tall tale that might have made local Minnesota legend Paul Bunyan furrow his brow as if you'd just asked the big man to do a particularly complicated long division problem in his head.
For two weeks in March and April, the run of the Bemidji State Beavers, the first 16th-overall seed to qualify for the Frozen Four was part tongue-twister, part geography lesson -- both Messrs. Rand and McNally would probably have to ask directions to the "first town on the Mississippi" or the U.S. capitol of curling if you prefer -- and purely improbable.
At least until a power-play snipe by Miami's Tommy Wingels from the left circle slipped through a sliver of space between goaltender Matt Dalton and the right pipe to put the RedHawks up 1-0 early in the second period. Miami added a second tally less than five minutes later, and, when Bemidji answered with its only goal, a pretty power-play dangle by Matt Read, the RedHawks fired right back with a Bill Loupee tap-in just in front of the net. From there, the end game was on, as steady, certain as powerful as the Mississippi itself.
"One of the bigger shifts in a game, obviously, is right after a goal," Winter said. "You try and win that shift, but unfortunately we didn't. We thought we were tilting the ice a bit there. ... It was a huge goal, probably the turning points of the night."
After that goal, the RedHawks seemed to swap the ice under the Beavers' skates with a pond full of sand, sapping Bemidji's speed and spending almost all the final period in the attacking zone. A Wingels empty-netter from just inside the blueline with 2:08 left merely added the final sentence to a story whose outcome had long been clear.
And so Bemidji State the team, Bemidji State the Frozen Four contender, Bemidji State the giant killer was gone.
And all that was left was Bemidji State the legend.
If you'd asked the team or coach Tom Serratore, they might've cringed a bit at calling the Beavers a Cinderella story. After all, the Bemidji program is a seven-time NAIA champion and six-time Division II champion. That's 13 total titles, two more than storied Notre Dame football claims.
But the glass skate fits ever so neatly.
They hit like a Cinderella, they skate like a sports car with the brake lines cut, and they have the small-town, where-the-heck-is-that appeal of an underdog. Outside of a few feverish pockets in the nation -- the upper Midwest, New England and dots out West -- college hockey is a foreign game. Mainstream sports fans don't relate well to college pucks any better than English speakers appreciate a great novel in Russian. But everybody enjoys a pretty picture. Everybody gets a Cinderella
And boy-oh-boy was this team a darling.
Heck, maybe Cinderella was a little too generous. Given the team started 1-6, sprinkled in another six-game losing streak starting in December and needed overtime to edge Robert Morris for the lowly regarded College Hockey America crown, these Beavers would've made the a real Cinderella seem like Scott Stevens on his nastiest day.
And then they took the ice.
They entered as the last overall seed -- 16 in the college hockey tournament -- champions of an afterthought league that had just one NCAA tournament victory in its history. At season's end they became nomads, literally, as the Beavers bolted the dwindling CHA and their home ice was melted to make way for a trade show. Not even the school expected what was to come.
But they toppled top-seed Notre Dame, a fine defensive hockey team, by a lopsided 5-1 score. One night later, they thumped Cornell 4-1.
And in the Frozen Four, before a crowd nearly 5,000 people greater than the town they call home, they were dominated like a Cinderella, by another unlikely team that considered themselves the longshots.
"If anybody was the underdog, we were," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi, citing the Beavers' wins over the Irish and Big Red.
But the story had already been written without Blasi's edits. Bemidji State was the Cinderella. Miami's slipper size was just a bit too big.
Thursday night, the pucks didn't bounce the way of the adopted crowd favorite, which was outclassed from end to end. Screens turned into goals, their speed didn't materialize and their aura of destiny dissolved into the Verizon Center rafters.
For the Beavers, that was that.
Teams lose. Bemidji did. But Cinderellas live on. Bemidji did that, too.
Even if it wasn't exactly where they wanted to be.