Column: WCHA is still enjoyable 35 years later
So close ...
Friday's 3-2 overtime loss to No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth could have easily gone the other way. The Bemidji State Beavers were relentless in the UMD end for the third period and overtime.
"The third period we had good legs, we had good energy and I was hoping we could convert in the third," BSU coach Tom Serratore said after the game, as the Beavers went into Saturday's rematch still looking for their first win in the Bemidji Regional Event Center.
"We had a couple of good opportunities there, but we were denied," Serratore said of the fast-paced third, after an unremarkable second period.
Action was quick again in the overtime, until 1:58 remained, when BSU defenseman Brad Hunt picked up a tripping penalty to save a scoring opportunity by UMD.
"The last thing you want is a penalty at the end of the game like that," Serratore said. "But we almost survived it. We were 8 seconds from getting a really good tie. It's such a tough one to swallow."
While it's still something to take the No. 3 team in the nation to overtime, Serratore says it's even more important to start winning games, especially as the Beavers now go on the road.
"We're at home right now and we have to get some points at home as the schedule's going to be very difficult the rest of the way," Serratore said. "It's pretty one-sided where we're going to be on the road and we want to get better as a team, but you can't look at the moral victory-type things because our guys don't buy into that. ... We need to sneak some points out of games like this, too. We're so close and you just can't let it go."
Saturday night was only the fourth time BSU has played on the new BREC ice. Is it home ice yet?
"I think so," says Serratore. "When you have your fans, it's home ice. We have our fans, and they're great fans and it's a great building. We do recognize this as our home ice. You just have to realize again this is the WCHA and it's a heckuva league."
Coming to the BREC will be future all-Americans, future Hobey Baker finalists, future NHL stars, the BSU coach said. "This is what it's about here, and this is what we're going to see week in and week out."
UMD will also be moving into a new arena at the end of December, the Amsoil Center which is right next to the current Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. At $80 million, it's twice the cost of the BREC, and will hold about 2,300 more fans at 6,700.
"The product also has to be exciting," says Kevin Pates, the Duluth News Tribune reporter following the Bulldogs for nearly 30 years. UMD was great in the mid-1980s and in the mid-1990s, and with good teams in 2003 and 2004, he says. "This is the best thing since then. If the product is good, then the new rink will get more sellouts."
BSU has a good start with its new arena, Pates said. "The atmosphere in John Glas was pretty electric, it was noisy and very inspirational. That seems to have transferred over here."
Folks seemed to be pretty wound up, he said midway through Friday's game. "It's as loud and as exciting as John Glas. It's just more plush -- it's such beautiful surroundings. The lighting of the rink is noticeable just about anywhere you go. This is like being on center stage."
Fans can see things so clearly, he said, because of the lighting, and the center ice Jumbotron allows them to see replays. "That's what people have gotten used to, no matter where they go. They want to see replays and they want to get a good look at what's going on on the ice."
BSU will do well in the WCHA, Pates says. "Saying it might be pretty tough in the WCHA may be downplaying the abilities too much. Bemidji has played quite spectacularly the past five or six years, going to the NCAA tournament as often as they have."
And Bemidji had a 7-4 record against Duluth in the last 11 games going into Saturday's game. "They know how to play high-level hockey, even though the league they were in wasn't high level," Pates said. "They're going to fit in really well."
For me, it's the second time around for the WCHA. In a past life, 35 years ago, I was hired by Bruce McLeod, now WCHA commissioner, to work sports information at UMD. There's just something about Division I hockey, especially in the WCHA, that makes college hockey a unique experience.
And I still enjoy it.
Brad Swenson is Opinion Page/Political Editor for the Bemidji Pioneer.