Bemidji State men's hockey: Size among speed, Cramer having a breakout season for Beavers
On a men's hockey team filled with relatively small, skilled and speedy players Bemidji State junior forward Ryan Cramer doesn't fit the mold.
He's plenty skilled, but at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, one thing he's not is small.
"We have a smaller team in general," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "But with his size, Cramer brings us some versatility. He's big, strong and physical - a presence on the ice. He's also a guy we have a lot of confidence in right now."
For certain, Cramer is in the middle of a break out season offensively for the 11th ranked Beavers (14-4-2, 8-0-0 CHA). After scoring six goals in his first 63 games as a freshman and sophomore, Cramer has equaled that total in the Beavers first 20 games this season (6-4-10).
"His game has really matured," Serratore reported. "He's simplified things and is getting a lot of opportunities. Plus, he might have the quickest shot on the team, in terms of a snap shot."
Cramer really started to come into his own as an offensive player during the Beavers historic run to the Frozen Four last season. Late in the year he was put on a line with Shea Walters and Ben Kinne and the group clicked immediately.
The line showed an ability to get the puck deep and keep it there, generating scoring chances with strong cycling.
The group has remained intact this season and just keeps getting better - generating 15 goals thus far.
"Cramer is the catalyst of that line," Serratore reported. "Other lines may generate their offense more off the rush, but this line is good down low. There are two big, strong guys on that line with Cramer and Kinne. As Cramer's game has matured he has become very tough to move off the puck - he plays the game like a big guy should.
"He has the ability to play pro hockey in the future."
The first two years of his college career, Cramer said he concentrated on working hard and also learning everything he could about the systems the Beavers utilize. Coming in as a junior and knowing the systems inside and out made things must easier.
"Being here a couple years really made a big difference in terms of knowing the systems and knowing the coaches' expectations," Cramer said. "Coming into this season I was a lot more confident and that carried over to the games. I think I'm a lot more confident with the puck and at the same time I protect it more - I focus on not turning it over and still make plays when they are available."
"Also, playing with Kinne and Walters again this year has really helped since we know each other well. We also know our role as a line is to keep it low and keep pounding away.
"Everyone knows that (Matt) Read goes to work every night and that he's a warrior. We know that line is going to get their points. But we also know we're a much better team if we get two or three lines going - playing hard and pressuring the puck."I think that's a big part of the success we've had this year."
Cramer smiles and raises his eyebrows a bit when he hears himself described as a "power forward." What does that mean, any way?
"For me," Cramer said, "it means protecting the puck, going to the net hard and driving guys wide - generally being tough to play against. That's something the coaches are constantly preaching here - being tough to play against. It's something we all try to do every shift."
After getting off to such a fast start this season, Cramer said the goal for the rest of the year is simple - keep winning.
"We know if we keep winning, no one can stop us from being one of the top teams in the nation," Cramer said. "We want to win the CHA regular season title and the league playoff title to advance to the NCAA tournament. But we also know if we keep winning we can be one of the top teams in the country and be awarded an at-large bid (to the NCAA tournament).
"That's where we want to be at the end of the year - among the top teams in the country."
From here on out achieving that goal will be all the more difficult considering the Beavers face nine of their final 14 games on the road.
"On the road, the big thing is making sure your focus is there," Cramer said, "and that you bring high intensity to every game. When we focus and play intense teams have a difficult time beating us. And that's the ultimate goal."