BEMIDJI – For many reasons, the Lake Superior State Lakers are the perfect opponent for Bemidji State to kick off its 2012-13 campaign. That’s because the Lakers represent past, present and future of Beaver hockey.
“We already have a rivalry with Lake Superior State,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said of what will be the 42nd and 43rd meeting all time between BSU and LSSU. “If you take a look at the Beaver record books, we’ve played them a lot over the years.”
The Beavers will open their regular season with a nonconference series against the Lakers today and Saturday at the Sanford Center. It will be the last time the teams meet as strangers: Starting next season, the Lakers will join the Beavers in the WCHA.
Serratore is glad to have the rivalry back.
“It brings some history to the fans and to the players,” Serratore said. “They’re a big piece of our history. We played them in some very important games in the olden days. There are great memories of those games.”
Bemidji State and Lake Superior first met in 1966, and played for the NAIA title in 1968, 1969 and 1970. They were both members of the International Collegiate Hockey Association, before the Lakers moved to Division I and, eventually, the CCHA.
Now, with college hockey realignment on the horizon and the impending demise of the CCHA, the Beavers/Lakers rivalry will come full circle. But not before the teams meet one last time as nonconference foes. And right now, the Beavers know one thing about the Lakers: They’re big. And rough.
“We know that they’re a big, physical team,” BSU senior forward Ben Kinne said. “They have a lot of height. I think they’re one of the taller teams we’ll play this year, and they have quite a few guys over six feet. They’ll be strong down low, so we’ll have to use our speed to get around them and hopefully get some pucks on the net.”
The Lakers’ top defenders – Kevin Czuczman, Eric Drapluk, Zach Loesch and Matt Bruneteau – are all six feet tall (except Bruneteau, who misses the mark by an inch). Most of them (save Drapluk, a freshman) played last year, when the Beavers made the trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Serratore said the Beavers struggled with the Lakers’ size and were lucky to earn the series split.
“Last year in the Soo was tough,” Serratore said. “Both first periods last year, they were dominant. Our goaltender kept us in both games.
“Physically, they’re strong. They’re very old as well, they’ve got a veteran team. Their kids know how to play, and they compete hard. So it will be interesting to see how we respond to them.”
LSSU’s offense is off to a great start already this season. They scored eight goals in two games against instate rivals Michigan Tech, taking game one 4-2 before falling to the Huskies 8-4.
And the Lakers’ top line – senior Domenic Monardo, sophomore Stephen Perfetto and junior Kellan Lain – has led the way, scoring three goals in the opening game and added another in the game two loss. And Monardo, with a goal and four assists, is currently tied for the national lead in scoring.
The fact that the Lakers have already played two regular season games might give them a slight advantage, at least as far as being in game shape goes. But the Beavers aren’t concerned about rust or getting up for their home opener.
“You’re always excited for the opening weekend, let alone the home opener,” junior forward Jordan George said. “The guys will be ready to go.”
A few question marks
After their two exhibition games – a 3-3 tie against the University of Manitoba and a 4-3 win over the U.S. Under-18 National Development Team – the Beavers are glad to play some meaningful regular season games. But they realize there are a few things they need to find. Scoring depth will be a major concern.
“We’ve got to get all four lines going,” said George, who is the team’s returning scoring leader (he scored 19 goals and 12 assists). “We’ve got to get secondary scoring, that’s a big key to a team’s success.
“It’s trial and error,” he said. “Mixing and matching lines, finding good chemistry with guys. Hopefully we can get four good lines out there.”
The youngsters who saw some time on the front lines in the exhibitions – freshmen Cory Ward, Phil Brewer and Brad Robbins as well as sophomores Danny Mattson and Tyler Tosunian – could be options on the third and fourth lines. Ward, Robbins and Matteson all scored in the exhibition games.
Of course, the Beavers have plenty of veterans that can jump in and score, including George and Kinne as well as David Boehm, Jeff Jubinville and Brance Orban. All three of the latter scored against Team USA, whith Boehm and Jubinville’s goals coming shorthanded.
Kinne said the Beavers’ speed will be their biggest asset.
“We have a couple of guys that can really scoot out there, so that should be promising to see,” he said. “Obviously you saw last weekend with [Boehm] and [Jubinville] on the penalty kill. It was exciting to see those guys move around like that. And speed just gets the fans involved. It’s kind of electrifying.”
The Beavers also have a veteran defensive group of Jake Areshenko, Matt Carlson, Brady Wacker, Kyle Brodie and Matt Prapavessis.
“I really do like our defensive core,” Serratore said. “I think they all bring something a little different, which is nice. We do have some size back there, which is nice against a team like Lake Superior.”
That veteran back line should help ease the transition to a new starting goaltender – whoever that happens to be.
Last season Dan Bakala started in 28 of BSU’s 38 games.
But he graduated, leaving the goalie duties up to what could possibly be a rotation between senior Mathieu Dugas, sophomore Andrew Walsh and freshman Fabian Sivnert.
As of Tuesday, the Beavers weren’t sure who would get the nod this weekend. But Kinne thinks the competition is good for the team.
“It’s healthy to have competition out there, because they can push each other each week to get better and better,” he said. “That’s what you need back there. When you have three guys that can play, it’s good for a team. That competition just breeds onto the other positions as well.”
Serratore said the Beavers are ready to work things out on the ice.
“We played exhibition games, but there’s nothing like real hockey,” he said. “There should be a different type of intensity level this weekend. Bottom line is, we’re at home. Once that puck drops, there’s a lot of adrenaline, lot of excitement with the players.”