BSU men's hockey: Beavers to face resurgent Air Force this weekend
A lot has changed since Bemidji State and the Air Force Academy teed it up for a men's college hockey game.
One of the founding members of College Hockey America, Air Force dumped the league in favor of Atlantic Hockey. A perennial cellar dweller in the CHA, the change in scenery has greatly benefited the Air Force program.
The Falcons became the first team in Atlantic Hockey history to win back-to-back championships the last two seasons. Air Force has advanced to the NCAA Tournament the last two years as well, putting a scare into its first round opponent each year. The Falcons fell to Minnesota 4-3 in 2007 and then extended Miami into overtime last season before falling 3-2.
Last year's 21 regular season wins were the most DI victories in school history for Air Force. Under head coach Frank Serratore, Air Force has won a school record 40 games over the last two years.
Bemidji State continues its non-conference early season schedule this weekend, traveling to Colorado Springs to take on the Falcons today and Saturday.
Of course the series is being billed as a continuation of a long rivalry and a battle between the Serratore brothers, Frank and Tom. The brothers did coach against other in the CHA for five years from 2001-2006, but it really wasn't much of a rivalry. During that time, Bemidji State went 18-1-1 against Air Force.
"A lot has changed for Air Force since we played them last," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "They have built a great culture around the program and had a lot of success the last couple of years. They are feeling confident, and rightly so. This is a legitimate team.
"One thing that hasn't changed, and I've emphasized this to our guys all week, when you play Air Force you better be prepared to get hit. Over the years, the games with Air Force were among the most physical we played all season."
In many of those games Tom Serratore said the difference came down to goaltending.
"A lot of the success we had against Air Force came from the fact they may have out-played us, but goaltending killed them," Tom Serratore reported. "Their goaltending has gotten a lot better lately and the team has learned to win."
Junior goaltender Adam Volkening has anchored the resurgence. He set four school records last season - goals against average (2.09), save percentage (.911), wins (21) and shutout streak (133 minutes). He is expected to see most of the action in net for the Falcons this season.
Offensively, the six top Air Force scorers all return. Also four of the six top defensemen from last year are back. Senior Brent Olson and junior Jeff Hajner tied for the team scoring lead last season with 38 points.
Senior Greg Flynn anchors the defense.
Air Force opened last season on the road, sweeping AHA rival Scared Heart 4-1 and 4-3 in overtime.
At the same time, the Beavers were swept at Minnesota State, Mankato - falling 5-2 and 4-2.
"On Friday night they controlled the game pretty well," said Tom Serratore. "They were faster and we were back on our heels a bit. We also had a hard time with the special teams play. On Saturday, we skated with them. We had our opportunities early in the game and just couldn't convert, hitting a couple of pipes. At this level, you need to score that first goal, especially when playing on the road. We had our chances, but just couldn't connect."
The Beavers are a better team for playing a team the caliber of the Mavericks right out of the chute, Serratore continued.
"The new guys got a taste for just how fast the game is played at this level," he said. "I don't know if we'll play any team as quick as Mankato this year."
Several key issues came to light in the series for Beavers.
"We better have more a relentless attitude," Serratore reported. "I felt at times last weekend we were easy to play against. We are the type of team that needs to compete hard for 60 minutes to be successful - fight hard for loose pucks, pressure the puck everywhere, block shots, go hard to the net and generate offense. That's the mentality we try to create every year. Some recruits have never played that way before. For some, it's an easy thing to learn; for others it's tougher. In order to be successful as a team you have to do it the hard way - go hard all the time and be tough in the trenches. That's the only way to have success at this level and that's the mentality we continually strive to develop."
E The games will be played at 8:05 p.m. Central Standard Time. The games can be heard locally on The Mix 103.7.
E BSU's 21 wins over Air Force are the most against any NCAA DI team.