Can the Bemidji State men's hockey team recapture the magic of last season's Frozen Four run?
The question will begin to be answered Friday night, as the Beavers open the 2009-10 season with a weekend series against Air Force. Game time is set for 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday from the John Glas Fieldhouse.
The games renew the rivalry of BSU and Air Force who were conference partners in the CHA before the Falcons bolted for Atlantic Hockey four years ago. The two teams played again last season in a non-conference battle and the Beavers will no doubt be looking for a bit of revenge.
Air Force dominated last season's series, completely dismantling the Beavers 6-0 and 6-2.
"They really took it to us last year," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "It was the worst weekend we had all year. They beat us in every facet of the game. The games this weekend will be a great challenge and an opportunity to see where we're at as a hockey team. It'll show us how much work we have to do as a group."
The Beavers weren't the only team Air Force whipped up on last season. The Falcons ended with a school record for wins, finishing 28-11-2. After winning the AH league title for the third straight year the Falcons defeated Michigan 2-0 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, before falling to Vermont 3-2 in double overtime on a bizarre goal.
While the Falcons lost three of their top five scorers to graduation, the team returns a lot of firepower. Junior forward Jacques Lamoureux was a Hobey Baker finalist last season and led the nation in goal scoring with 33. Also back is senior Matt Fairchild, the AH playoff most valuable player last season.
The pillar of the team will be senior goaltender Andrew Volkening, who played every minute of every game for the Falcons last season. He ended second in the nation in wins with 28 and sixth nationally in goals against average at 1.97.
"This is going to be a big test for us right off the bat," Serratore reported. "They are a confident group that knows how to win. They have a very quick team that can push the puck up the ice.
"It's going to be interesting to see how we respond to the challenge."
Both teams have had precious few days to prepare for the opening series, starting practice last Saturday as mandated by the NCAA.
"As a coaching staff the first series is a bit of worry," said Serratore. "You want to get so much stuff done, but you only have six days. We've taken the approach that we'll just let the guys play this weekend and won't throw too many things at them. They all know how to play."
"In practice we have been trying to work on the special teams a bit. Other than that we're hoping the experience of our veterans will take over and some the younger guys will learn on the fly."
Both the forward lines and the defensive pairings for the Beavers include some surprises. With the Beavers losing two players (Tyler Scofield, Matt Francis) off the top line from last year, the question was who would play with junior Matt Read. Read will be paired with junior Ian Lowe and freshman Jordan George (5-8, 155, Verona, Wis.). George has impressed the BSU coaches with his quickness and puck skills.
The second line will remain the same as last season with sophomore Shea Walters centering sophomore Ben Kinne and junior Ryan Cramer.
The third line features captain Chris McKelvie between sophomore Jamie MacQueen and senior Tyler Lehrke.
Two more newcomers will be part of the fourth line. Freshman Aaron McLeod (5-9, 165, Ottawa, Ont.) will center freshman Brance Orban (5-9, 160, Lethbridge, Alb.) and sophomore Darcy Findlay.
The defensive pairs have senior Kyle Hardwick with junior Ryan Adams, senior Chris Peluso with freshman Brady Wacker (5-7, 155, Jansen, Sas.) and sophomore Brad Hunt with newcomer Matt Carlson (6-3, 210, Grand Forks).
In goal will be sophomore Dan Bakala with freshman Mathieu Dugas (L'Assumption, Que.)
BSU hockey mourns Monsrud
Scott Monsrud, a four-year letterman and former assistant coach, passed away Tuesday at Rochester (Minn.) Methodist Hospital after a battle with cancer at the age of 48.
Monsrud accumulated 48 goals and 47 assists for 95 points from 1980-1984. He played on teams that posted an overall record of 113-18-2.
He was a member of the 1983-84 club that compiled a perfect 31-0-0 record en route to the 1984 NCAA Division II National Championship.
A proven goal scorer, Monsrud flanked a line centered by Joel Otto (1980-84) during his final season and capped his collegiate career as an All-America selection.
He also served as an assistant coach under R.H. 'Bob' Peters from 1984-86 and helped lead the Beavers to a pair of NCHA Championships and a Division II title.
The funeral service will be held in Mazeppa Saturday at 10:30 a.m.