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Bemidji State's recruiting class has promise

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BEMIDJI — After losing more than a third of its roster to graduation, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team will look decidedly younger in the 2013-14 season.

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Some might look at this as a problem — after all, the Beavers did struggle through a 6-22-8 campaign in the 2012-13 season, and that was with 10 seniors playing regularly in the rotation.

However, with an anticipated class of nine new recruits coming in to play in the new-look Western Collegiate Hockey Association next year, BSU’s future appears to be bright.

Of the nine players set to join the Beavers this season, seven have signed National Letters of Intent — four forwards and three defenseman. There are also three other players who have committed to play at BSU this fall but haven’t signed NLIs — two more forwards and a goaltender.

BSU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Ted Belisle said that, while the Beavers will miss the 10 departing seniors, the incoming class and the returning younger players bode well for the team down the road.

“We’re going to be a younger team next year,” said Belisle. “We like where we’re going. All the guys we’re bringing in, we like for a reason. We think we have a good solid group coming in that will compliment the rest of the team.”

Although the Beavers had more than a few issues last season, finding consistent scoring will be a top priority. BSU had trouble putting the puck in the net and the BSU coaching staff thinks that will improve.

“We have to score more goals,” Belisle said. “Hopefully we’re going to see some of the guys on the roster add some and we think the others coming in will be able to score as well.”

The incoming forwards include Brendan Harms, Bob Kinne, Phillip Marinaccio and Charlie O’Connor, all of whom have signed. Nate Arentz and John Parker have also committed to BSU.

Although the Beavers will lose three of their top five point-scorers from 2012-13, junior Danny Mattson and sophomore Cory Ward were also top-five scorers. The line of Mitch Cain, Markus Gerbrandt and Phil Brewer also showed promise.

If the Beavers are looking for goals, the group coming in should be able to contribute to the already-burgeoning younger forwards.

Harms, a 6-foot, 172-pound forward from Steinback, Manitoba, scored 70 points for the Fargo Force of the USHL last season and was in the top five in the league with 45 assists.

He’s also a top prospect for today’s NHL draft. Harms is ranked the No. 93 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

Marinaccio and O’Connor also played in the USHL and, briefly, were teammates on the Chicago Steel, although Marinaccio was traded and finished the season with the Lincoln Stars.

Marinaccio, a Vaughn, Ontario, native, scored 48 points and had 20 goals and 28 assists while O’Connor, an Elk Grove Village, Ill., native, had 13 goals and 34 points for Chicago.

Kinne, who comes from the NAHL’s Bismark Bobcats, is the brother of former Beaver captain Ben Kinne. He scored nine goals and 19 assists in 58 games for Bismarck.

“I think we have a balance coming in of kids who have proven themselves as forwards in junior hockey,” Belisle said. “All of these kids have the ability to make plays. We’ve also added a lot of grit and speed to the lineup.”

Defense even younger

On the blue line, astute observers of the 2013-14 roster will notice something — there aren’t any seniors back there.

The top defensive pairing of Jake Areshenko and Brady Wacker graduated, leaving three juniors and three sophomores on defense next year.

With that in mind, BSU signed three defensemen who should be able to make some contributions soon — Carter Struthers, Ruslan Pedan and DJ Jones.

“We have good talent. We have six guys returning and added some size and kids with good feet,” Belisle said.

Struthers is big (6-4, 181 pounds) and had 23 points for the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Jones, of Wayzata, was the top-scoring blueliner on the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League and was No. 2 on the team with 29 assists.

Pedan, a native of Moscow, Russia, played for Janesville of the NAHL and finished eighth in the league among defensemen with 33 points in 44 games.

Pedan could also get selected in today’s draft; he wasn’t on NHL Central Scouting’s list of skaters but his name was mentioned as a possible draft candidate according to the Red Line Report, an online NHL scouting service.

Goalie situation solid

In goal, at least, the Beavers shouldn’t have too many issues.

With Andrew Walsh finishing strong at the end of his sophomore season, he should be the No. 1 goalie next season.

That fact might have spurned BSU commit Michael Bitzer to return to the junior ranks for another season.

Bitzer, a former Moorhead star, signed an NLI in November but with Walsh as the No. 1 option for the foreseeable future he will get more playing time in Lincoln of the USHL.

“We signed him, and we think he’s going to be a great goaltender,” Belisle said. “We thought he was ready, but we respect his decision to go back to Lincoln. It might actually be good for him since he can go back and play 50 games and get a year to develop.”

Bitzer was one of the top goalies in the USHL last season, playing in 38 games and going 22-11 with a 2.70 GAA and a .905 save percentage.

With Bitzer returning to Lincoln for a year, the Beavers will turn to a pair of freshmen in Brainerd native Reid Mimmack, who joined the team at the midway point of last season, and Jesse Wilkins, who comes from the Melfort Mustangs of the SJHL.

Wilkins hasn’t officially signed an NLI but the Mustangs sent a press release in May confirming that he would be attending BSU in the fall.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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