BSU men's hockey looks to go one step further this season
The goals of the Bemidji State men's hockey team this season are straight forward and to the point.
First, repeat as College Hockey America regular season champs. Then earn a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 by winning the league tournament.
The Beavers are scheduled to open the season Friday, heading south to take on nonconference opponent Minnesota State-Mankato of the WCHA.
It will be a stern test for the Beavers who only began organized practices on Saturday. Mankato comes into the season with high expectations, making a huge move as a program last year, just missing a bid to the NCAA tournament.
But the Beavers enter the 2008-09 season with high expectations as well. Bemidji State won the CHA regular season crown with a fine 13-4-3 record last season, and then pushed Niagara to the limit the league tournament -- falling in a 3-2 thriller. The Beavers finished 17-16-3 overall.
Some key components from that team have graduated, leaving some holes to fill. Most notably is goalie Matt Climie, a four year starter with the Beavers who ended atop nearly every major goaltending category for the Beavers in the program's NCAA DI history.
Also gone are defensive stalwarts Dave Deterding and Riley Weselowski, along with forwards Jake Bluhm, Matt Pope and Blaine Jarvis.
"We leaned on Climie a lot the last four years," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "He's now playing very well in the pros and is just one call away from the National Hockey League.
"Deterding was a two time captain and along with Weselowski played a lot of minutes for us. Upfront, we lose size and strength with those three guys, which is important when you have a generally undersized team like ours."
Still, there's loads of optimism as the Beavers face the season opener, and justifiably so. BSU returns a solid corps of veterans and have added several freshman who seem to have the skills to make an impact quickly.
Returning are the top three and seven of the top 10 scorers from a year ago. In addition, four defensemen who have seen a great deal of playing time return, as well as a talented pair of goalies.
The CHA coaches agreed with the strength of the Beavers returnees, as three (Travis Winter, Tyler Scofield, Cody Bostock) were chosen as preseason All-CHA first team selections.
"The guys all came in this fall in great shape physically," Serratore reported. "Everyone, from the freshmen to the veterans, all gave us very strong first impressions. We continue to make strides in this area as a program -- for the last three years we've seen the guys come into fall practices stronger and stronger.
"There's no doubt we lost some real talent through graduation. But this is a new year and we're expecting some players to step up and fill those spots well."
Upfront the Beavers look very strong, returning four seniors with a wealth of talent -- Brandon Marino, Tyler Scofield, Matt Francis and Travis Winter. Scofield (13-13--26) and Winter (9-15--24), finished second and third respectively for BSU in scoring last year, while Marino was seventh (3-14--17).
"Marino has been on the cusp the last couple years and we've expecting a breakthrough season for him," Serratore reported. "Scofield has the ability to be an exceptional player and Winter is our leader. We're hoping this will be Francis' best year with us."
Defensively, Bostock is expected to anchor the BSU blue line corps in his final season. "He's an all-league player who has a heavy shot from the point," Serratore reported. "He creates a lot of offense with that shot, plus he's strong and tough."
Fifth year senior Orlando Alamano returns in goal, looking for his chance to become a regular. "He's been very, very patient the last four years just waiting for his opportunity," Serratore said. "When he has been given the opportunity to play, he's played well. He'll be given more opportunities this year."
There will be five junior returnees -- two forwards and three defenseman. Chris McKelvie and Tyler Lehrke play the forward lines with Chris Peluso, Graham McManamin and Kyle Hardwick on the blue line.
"McKelvie is in great physical shape and trains religiously," reported Serratore. "He's the best skater we've had here in the DI era. He's great on the penalty kill. Lehrke is in the same mold -- he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."
Defensively, Serratore said Peluso has really come into his own, being the Beavers most mobile defender. "He has great puck skills and is very versatile," Serratore reported.
McManamin is described as a very calm player who possesses great hockey skills, while Hardwick has become very difficult to play against.
"He's the type of player who'll do whatever the coaches ask of him," Serratore said.
The sophomore group looks strong as well with forwards Matt Read, Ian Lowe, Ryan Cramer and Emil Billberg returning.
Read returns after a very strong freshman year where he paced the Beavers in scoring (9-18--27) and was named CHA Rookie of the Year.
"He's the best player on our team," Serratore said. "He's very skilled, very explosive, strong on the puck and plays with a lot of intensity. He's a key component of our team and it will be very exciting to watch as he raises his level of play."
Lowe seems to have added a step in the off-season through hard work. Added to his existing strong puck skills and high hockey IQ, Lowe looks ready to be a solid contributor.
Cramer at 6-2, 215 needs to play big for the Beavers, befitting his physical stature. ""He shoots hard and has good skills," said Serratore.
Billberg returns after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. "He's a good player and we'll be patient with him as he comes back from his injury," said Serratore.
Dan McIntyre returns and is expected to be among the top six Beaver defenseman. Matt Dalton returns in goal and looks to compete with Alamano for the starting role.
"He had some tough games early for us last year when we didn't give him much support," Serratore reported. "But he had a great shut out win over Minnesota-Duluth that really helped his confidence. We're excited about Dalton."
The Beavers have brought in nine freshman as well. "It's a very interesting group," Serratore reported. "We never put a lot of expectations on freshmen. They can help with the team success, but you don't want to rely on them."
In the early going, Shea Walters (Hibbing), Ben Kinne (St. Paul) and Jamie McQueen (London, Ontario) look to be ready to make an immediate impact upfront.
"They are in line to see playing time the opening weekend," said Serratore. "They seem to have adjusted to this level pretty quickly."
Also in the mix are Darcy Findlay (Bristol, Quebec) and Brent Tamane (Pickering, Ont.)
Defensively, freshman include Brad Hunt (Ridge Meadows, BC) and Tyler Jundt (Williston, ND). Also on board is Wayne State transfer Ryan Adams.
"Hunt is a prototypical power play defenseman," Serratore said. "He'll see time on the power play. Jundt and Adams are more traditional type defensemen."
The 2008-09 schedule does the Beavers no favors. BSU plays eight CHA games at home and 10 on the road. Nonconference, the Beavers play five at home and nine away games.
"It's going to be a challenging task," Serratore reported. "It is what it is; we'll make the most of it."
Serratore said Niagara deserved the nod for the top spot in the preseason polls, but figures the Beavers will challenge mightily to repeat.
"We want to go one step further this year, win the league tournament and make it back to the NCAA tournament. But then, all four teams in the CHA want the same thing."