From a freshman wondering if he could succeed, to a natural hat trick against a nationally ranked team as a sophomore to scoring arguably the biggest goal of the Beavers' 2009 Frozen Four run, current Bemidji State men's hockey captain Chris McKelvie has experienced it all.
The Beavers open the 2009-10 season this week, hosting Air Force Friday and Saturday at the John Glas Fieldhouse.
"(McKelvie's) the consummate player and captain," said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. "He's an outstanding four-year player, a great student and a great kid. Chris is respectful of the coaches and the players; and we all respect him for how he goes about his business day to day."
Year in, year out Serratore said the success of the Beavers depends to a large extent on how much the juniors and seniors progress as players. "It's amazing," he said.
"Each year we lean on these players more and more. It's so important for the juniors and seniors to raise their level of play. We don't have the type of program where we have freshman who step in and play major roles right away."
That was certainly the case for McKelvie, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from New Brighton, Minn.
"My first year was an eye opener," he said," a very humbling experience. But it also provided the one of the best lessons I've ever learned - life isn't always easy. You have to be willing to work hard for what you want. Don't ever give up."
That philosophy resulted in McKelvie being inserted into the line up a little more regularly late in his freshman season, giving him some confidence entering his sophomore year.
"My second year was much better," he said. "It was a good year. I felt more comfortable in my role - being a fourth liner who gets after the fore check hard, contributes on the penalty kill and works hard every shift."
That led to the storybook 2008-09 season.
"It was a lot fun," he said. "In the second half of the season I started coming into my own and came closer to becoming the kind of college hockey player I wanted to be."
It all culminated in McKelvie scoring the biggest goal of his collegiate career. In the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regional facing powerful Notre Dame, McKelvie used his speed on the forecheck to beat the Notre Dame defenders to a loose puck behind the net. McKelvie took advantage when the Notre Dame goalie misplayed the puck and rapped it home, giving the Beavers a 1-0 lead. The goal set the tone for the game, and the entire weekend.
It all culminated in the Beavers defeating Notre Dame and then Cornell to advance to the Frozen Four.
"The way we play, we hope to get the first goal in every game," McKelvie said. "Getting the first goal establishes how we want to play. After that first goal against Notre Dame the entire team gained confidence and it just kept getting stronger the entire weekend."
The biggest memory from the storybook run of last season was the amount of fun the entire team had along the way.
"Everyone was on the same page, willing to do anything to win and putting it all on the line for every shift," McKelvie said. "It was great to see the team succeed because I know how hard every one of the guys worked to get there."
Serratore said McKelvie's progression as a player has been a real eye opener.
"He's improved so much as a player during his time here - it's been a huge leap. He skates so well and plays with so much energy. You're not going to see his name on the score sheet all the time - that's not his game. But his effort is always A plus.
"He's extremely reliable and you can put him in all kinds of situations - you know there's no way he'll let the team down."
McKelvie said being named captain was a humbling experience.
"It's always an honor to be voted in by your peers," he said. "It's a good feeling - it makes you want to stay true to the program and the game. You can't say something and not follow through - the guys will see right through it.
"I think a lot about what I can do to make this a better team. I try to be as professional as possible around the rink and off the ice."
McKelvie said the entire team is very excited about what the coming season holds. "I think it's important for us to get off to a strong start," he said. "We have some young guys who'll be playing a lot from the start - I think it's important to get them off on the right foot."
"One team goal is to accomplish what we did last season and more - you don't want to regress on your goals. Some people may be thinking we might have a bit of a down year. I don't think so at all."