BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men's ice hcokey team hit the ice to officially get the 2011-12 campaign underway today at Sanford Center. The team, which is under the watchful eye of 11th-year head coach Tom Serratore, has just 50 hours to prepare as it welcomes University of Regina for an exhibition game Sunday at 5:07 p.m.
After a first-round playoff sweep at University of Nebraska-Omaha to earn a berth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Red Baron Final Five, a quarterfinal victory versus eventual National Champion University of Minnesota Duluth in overtime and opening one of the finest hockey facilities in college hockey with following that ranked 17th in the country in attendance at more than 3,876 per home game, what can fans of the Bemidji State University hockey expect for an encore? Head coach Tom Serratore couldn’t put his finger on a prediction, but was quick to point out the coaching staff and team are much more comfortable in their surroundings and look to build on the foundation set in 2010-11 as they prepare for 2011-12.
“Last year everything seemed rushed. We were practicing at the city rink. We didn’t move into our building until early October then we had North Dakota right away. I felt early in the year we were on a little bit of a roller coaster because of it. Finally in the second half of the year, we felt more at ease and had more success. Now we are acclimated to the day-in-day-out grind of the WCHA and I think that helps.
“We are comfortable in the Sanford Center. It’s been a smoother transition this year. Coaches can come into their own offices in the morning. The guys have their set up in the weight room and the locker room. We are really in a more balanced routine this year.”
Success has become the routine of a BSU hockey program that is as rich in winning tradition as any in college hockey. Since its inception in 1947, BSU has found itself among the nation’s finest. In 55 years of play, BSU has won 13 small college national titles, 21 conference championships and made itself a regular in postseason play.
“Anytime you have success, you draw back on it and you aim to duplicate it and build upon those successes the following year.”
Success in a premier conference such as the WCHA is not something Serratore takes lightly. With four teams ranked among the top 10 in both major preseason polls and reigning national champion, the meat grinder that is the WCHA is evident every night.
“The WCHA is a very difficult schedule week in and week out. You have 28 league games so you have to be playing your best hockey all the time. In this league you can play very good hockey and lose any night.”
With a WCHA season behind them, what is the key to proving yourself among the teams in the WCHA and gain a shot a postseason play? Simply put: Scoring.
“We need to find more offense. If you can’t score three goals a game, you are putting pressure on yourself to win 2-1. That is very difficult to do. Last year were weren’t able to come up with much scoring and survived, but every game was a nail-bitter.
Finding offense on a team that lost nearly 37 percent of its scoring and two-thirds of its top scoring line will be a challenge.
“You just don’t replace Matt Read and Ian Lowe. There is no question that Matt Read is the best player we have had at the Division I level. So it is going to be very interesting to see who can pick up the slack.”
Jordan George put up 17 goals and 19 assists for a career-high 36 points to lead the Beavers in scoring as a sophomore and with the departure of linemates Read and Lowe, the junior will be looked at even more to shoulder the scoring load 2011-12.
“There is no question. Jordan George is going to be our marquee player up front. He has an electrifying combination of skill and speed that make him a very dangerous player.”
In addition to George, Serratore retains the services of a solid group of veterans, the return of captain Ben Kinne after sitting out last season, the debut of transfer David Boehm on top of five talented newcomers that Serratore, who is in his 11th year at the helm of the BSU hockey program, looks at to generate scoring from the forward lines.
“We are going to have some other guys pick up the slack and hopefully have some scoring by committee.”
“We are looking to guys like Jamie MacQueen and Shea Walters to step up and surprise us offensively. If we can get that, then we will be OK. If not, then we will put ourselves in a position to have to win a lot of 2-1 games and that’s a lot of pressure to put on your defense.”
Walters and MacQueen return for their senior seasons after finishing fifth and eight, respectively, on BSU’s scoring list last season.
Walters posted 1-13=14 points in 2010-11 matching Read for fourth on the team in assist scoring. The Hibbing, Minn. native may have scored just one goal, but he picked a good time for it. Locked in a 2-2 tie after 60 minutes of play versus Minnesota Duluth in the Final Five quarterfinal game, Walters potted a power-play goal from the point to secure the overtime victory for the Beavers.
MacQueen recorded 7-4=11 points and finished the season fourth on the team in goal scoring, which included two game-winners and the first goal ever scored at Sanford Center 1:52 into the opening game.
Kinne returns to the line up after sitting out for the entire 2010-11 season after suffering a stroke during the offseason. During his first two seasons of college hockey, Kinne established himself as a multitalented player scoring 18-21=39 points and finding a regular spot on the power-play.
Another addition that is no stranger to BSU hockey is Boehm. A transfer from UMass, Boehm had to sit out last year after transferring, but like Kinne was able to practice with the team and is hungry for live game competition.
“Ben and David bring a wealth of experience,” commented Serratore. “They’ve played a lot of college hockey. It is a boost for us to realize that we may have lost a couple forwards, but we are replacing them with experience. Plus those guys have a lot of talent.
“David is going to bring tremendous speed to our line up and Ben has been a solid player for us. We are going to be leaning on those guys quite hard.”
Seniors Drew Fisher (1-2=3) and Darcy Findlay (0-4=4) bring a physical style of play to BSU’s forward lines. Aaron McLeod (5-4=9) and Radoslav Illo (4-2=6) each saw significant time last season and figure to be a big part of the scoring in 2011-12. Junior Brance Orban (1-2=3) and sophomore Jeff Jubinville (2-0=2) got their feet wet last season and look to be contributors for the Beavers in 2011-12.
New additions to the BSU forward lines are: Sean Rudy, Cody Strang, Danny Mattson, Tyler Tosunian and Mitch Cain. Each has proven himself as a scoring threat through hockey’s junior levels, but according to Serratore, there really is no expectation of them as freshman.
“We don’t rely heavily on our freshman. I just think that is a lot of undue pressure on those guys. In our program we have always looked to the upper classmen. If our freshman forwards can help us offensively, that is a huge added bonus.”
Serratore added, “We have some talented players coming in, but it is a huge jump and a huge transition to college hockey. It will just take them some time to get acclimated. Hopefully we will get some surprises.”
The Bemidji State defensive corps will have to fill a void due to the loss of Ryan Adams to graduation, but with a solid group of blueliners back and the added size of the team’s freshman class, there is potential for the Beavers’ defense to again be solid in 2011-12.
“Our defensive corps is going to be very interesting. We feel we have a pretty good balance of skill and guys who defend very well.”
Headlining that group is senior alternate captain Brad Hunt. A proven scorer and power-play threat, Hunt has delivered 19-67=86 points in his first three seasons in the green and white and has been an anchor on the BSU power-play unit.
Also out of the offensive defenseman mold, Sam Rendle is a very different player, but found a way to put up 3-8=11 points as a freshman and became a regular among BSU’s defensive pairs.
Alternate captain Jake Areshenko (1-7=8) and fellow junior Matt Carlson (2-2=4) are BSU’s stoppers, both are proven defenders that are tough on opposing forwards and will log a lot of ice time this season. Both are also very good bets to play significant roles on the Beaver’s penalty kill.
Standing six-foot-four Sam Windle and six-foot-one Matt Prapavessis join the BSU blueline as freshmen. Both bring tremendous size to the unit, while their games are very different.
“Sam Windle can defend well. He is a very good skater, is very agile for a guy his size and he is a guy that is going to eat up a lot of minutes for us down the road. His best hockey is ahead of him,” commented Serratore. “Matt Prapavessis brings skill to our blue line. He has patience with the puck, is going to grow in a very good offensive defenseman and give us that added dimension of power-play skill.
If there is anything that is certain regarding the 2011-12 campaign, it is that Serratore knows exactly what to expect out of his goaltenders. Bemidji State returns both of its goaltenders from a year ago in Dan Bakala and Mathieu Dugas, setting up healthy competition for playing time in 2011-12. Bakala, a senior, served as the Beavers’ primary goaltender a year ago and piled up a 14-13-4 record, 2.47 GAA, .919 save percentage and three shutouts en route to leading BSU into the WCHA postseason. Meanwhile, Dugas made the most of his eight games played as a sophomore posting a 2.59 GAA , a save percentage of .899 and posting a 1-5-1 record with one shutout. Andrew Walsh joins the duo after playing last season at Dawson Creek of the NAHL.
“I can’t say enough about Danny Bakala. A lot of the success we had last year was due to his play in net. He was consistent through the year. To be honest, he might have been the MVP of our team at the end of the year. He was the main reason that our goals-against average was down and he really won some big games for us down the stretch.”
“We are confident in our goaltending corps. We think there is really good competition back there.”
Eighteen regular-season home contests and its first meeting with Bowling Green State University highlight Bemidji State University’s 36-game 2011-12 men’s ice hockey schedule.
In addition to the Beavers’ 28-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) slate, BSU has eight nonconference contests which include a home series versus long-time rival University of Alabama Huntsville and an exhibition game.
“With a schedule primarily made up of conference games there isn’t a lot of room for variety from year to year, but I think we’ve put together a nice nonconference schedule,” said Serratore. “In addition to continuing our rivalry with Alabama-Huntsville, we’ve got a strong representation from the CCHA. We will be playing Bowling Green for the first time in the history of the program and in addition to Lake Superior State, we’ve begun to develop a nice rivalry with Miami after playing in two of the last three seasons.
Serratore added, “From a WCHA standpoint, since it is only our second year in the league, we will be bringing in teams like Wisconsin and Denver into our building for the first time and I think that will be exciting for our fans.”
In 2011-12, Bemidji State will play 18 games versus 2011 NCAA Tournament participants, including a two-game set at 2011 National Champion University of Minnesota Duluth.
“Typically, we’ve played a competitive and demanding schedule at Bemidji State, now as members of the WCHA that will be no different,” said Serratore. “With six teams on our 2011-12 schedule that were in the NCAA tournament this spring, it is going to be a challenge.”
The Beavers lift the lid on their 56th season of play Oct. 2 as they host an exhibition game versus University of Regina. The exhibition comes just one day after the Beavers officially kick off the season with their first practice and marks the first time BSU has hosted the Cougars since the 2006-07 campaign.
The team then makes its first trip to Oxford, Ohio Oct. 7-8 to open the regular-season with a rematch of the Beavers’ 2009 Frozen Four semifinal, as the Beavers will meet Miami University in a nonconference series at the RedHawks’ new Steve Cady Arena.
Bemidji State draws the curtain on the 2011-12 WCHA slate and kicks off a string of six league games Oct. 14-15 as it meets Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. The road trip west marks the first of two treks to Colorado in 2011-12. The Beavers will also travel to Denver to meet University of Denver Jan. 13-14.
BSU returns home Oct. 21-22 to host Michigan Tech University’s inaugural visit to Sanford Center before hitting the road for the second of two four-game road swings of the season.
The Beavers’ road stint begins with a trip east on Highway 2 to Duluth, Minn. for BSU’s first appearance in Minnesota Duluth’s new AMSOIL Arena Oct. 28-29. The WCHA series extends a string of 13 consecutive seasons that the teams have met and as always, the coveted “Babe the Blue Ox” traveling trophy will be on the line Saturday evening. The Beavers will then swing around to the east shore of Lake Superior to Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. where BSU will face Lake Superior State University Nov. 4-5. In a series that dates back to 1966-67, BSU and the Lakers have met on 39 occasions with LSSU holding a 21-16-2 edge over the Beavers.
Bemidji State jumps back into WCHA play Nov. 11-12 when it returns to Sanford Center to open a four-game homestand, beginning with University of Nebraska Omaha followed by the University of North Dakota Nov. 19-20 in a rare, Saturday/Sunday series. The two-game set versus the defending WCHA regular season and Final Five Champion Fighting Sioux will get underway at 7:07 p.m. Saturday, with the series finale set for a 5:07 p.m. opening faceoff.
December brings a quick trip to St. Cloud State University (Dec. 2-3) before the Beavers open the season’s longest homestand. December 9-10, BSU welcomes Denver to Bemidji, Minn. for the front half of a four-game regular-season series. The homestand continues Dec. 16-17 when Alabama-Huntsville returns to Bemidji, Minn. for the first time since a 2009 College Hockey America series (Nov. 20-21) played in the John S. Glas Fieldhouse. After the holidays, BSU wraps up the homestand with its first meeting versus Bowling Green. The Beavers and Falcons will ring in the new year with games set for Dec. 30 and 31.
Following an idle weekend and BSU’s second trip to the Rocky Mountains to complete the four-game season series with Denver (Jan. 13-14), the Beavers finish the season playing three of the final six weekends at home. Minnesota State University, Mankato makes its first trip to Sanford Center Jan. 27-28, Colorado College makes an appearance in Bemidji, Minn. for the second consecutive season Feb. 10-11 and the Beavers close out the home portion of their 2011-12 schedule Feb. 24-25 versus University of Wisconsin.
On the flip side, BSU is on the road for three of the final six weekends of the season. Feb. 3-4 the team travels to Omaha, Neb. to wrap up the season series with Nebraska Omaha. The Beavers make their first appearance at Mariucci Arena as members of the WCHA Feb. 17-18 when BSU will face intrastate rival University of Minnesota and the team makes its first visit to the Land of the Midnight Sun Mar. 2-3 when the Beavers conclude their regular-season schedule with a league series at University of Alaska-Anchorage.
The Beavers jump right into the WCHA playoffs the following weekend. The league’s top six teams will host best-of-three opening-round series March 9, 10 and the 11, if necessary.
The 2012 Red Baron WCHA Final Five awaits Bemidji State March 17-19 if it escapes the first round. The tournament is again set for Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Final Five champion will again earn an automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.