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Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore gives instructions to his players duringt a game this season. The Beavers finished with a 10-21-7 record overall and made the WCHA playoffs as the No. 8 seed before bowing out to eventual NCAA Tournament team Ferris State. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer File photo

MEN'S HOCKEY: Young Beavers make strides in 2013-14; but team seeks more consistency

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MEN'S HOCKEY: Young Beavers make strides in 2013-14; but team seeks more consistency
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI — If the 2013-14 season is any indication, Bemidji State’s youth movement is well underway.

And that should bode well for the future of the men's hockey program.

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The Beavers went 10-21-7, but with only three seniors and a talented group of sophomores and freshmen who stepped on campus ready to play, the next few seasons should only get better for BSU.

Beavers head coach Tom Serratore is pleased with how the 10 freshmen and seven sophomores on the roster progressed in a single season.

“At times we had 14, 15 underclassmen in the lineup,” Serratore said. “Those kids really grew a lot this year. We put them in key situations. It was good from an experience standpoint, and they’ll know what to expect next year. That’s exciting. We threw them into the fire and overall they responded well.”

Among BSU’s top-10 leading scorers, six were underclassmen.

Sophomores Cory Ward (18 goals, 11 assists) and Markus Gerbrandt (15 goals, 10 assists) led BSU’s scoring attack, while junior defenseman Matt Prapavessis was third on the team (5 goals, 17 assists).

Freshmen Brendan Harms, Ruslan Pedan and Phil Marinaccio also appeared in the top 10, as did sophomore Graeme McCormack.

Maybe those feisty youngsters contributed to the Beavers’ slight scoring increase: In 2012-13 BSU scored 2.06 goals per game. This season they scored 2.42.

That’s not a dramatic increase, but it’s something. And it made up for the fact that the Beavers’ goals against went up slightly — from 3.06 to 3.11.

Whatever the reasons for the scoring differences, Serratore said it was the last two months of the season that broke the season for BSU.

“At the tail end of the year you’d hope to get higher in the standings,” he said. “We finished eighth…. you get one more win and maybe that changes the whole complexion of where you’re at.

“Obviously we would like to have some of those games back at the end of the year but it doesn’t work that way.”

The power play — which was so good in the first two months of the season — dropped off dramatically in those final two months.

In their final 10 games, the Beavers went 1-for-35 — just 2 percent — on the man-advantage.

“The power play is going to be a roller coaster but you don’t want to make as much of a dip as we did the last few games,” Serratore said. “We have to find the net. We struggled to find the net the last eight games.”

Conversely the Beavers finished with the No. 8 penalty kill unit in the nation, preventing opponents goals 85.8 percent of the time.

Little things mean most in new-look WCHA

So what does all that mean for the future?

Serratore knows it means the Beavers need to get better at winning the little battles in order to win games and improve their chances in the ultra-competitive new-look WCHA.

BSU was 3-7 in one-goal games and went 1-2-7 in overtime contests. In a few of those instances, one shift was the difference between two points or none.

“There was a lot of parity,” Serratore said of the WCHA this season. “It was probably the tightest of all the six Division I conferences this season. Just look at the separation in the standings near the end.”

The Beavers finished eighth in the 10-team WCHA despite going 3-7-0 in their final 10 games; however, the difference between ninth place (out of the playoffs) and third (home-ice advantage in the playoffs) was six points — or three wins.

“We beat each other up pretty good,” Serratore said. “Two teams (Ferris State and Minnesota State Mankato) kind of separated themselves, but the rest of us beat each other up pretty good. That’s a balanced league.”

BSU went 1-5-0 in six games against Ferris, which won the league’s regular season title, and went 1-3 against Mankato, which won the WCHA tournament.

Both went to the NCAA Tournament.

Overall the Beavers were 2-12-2 against NCAA tournament teams on their schedule (Ferris, Mankato, St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Minnesota).

Serratore said the goal for next season — aside from competing for home ice in the WCHA — is to keep up with those teams.

“If you look at our schedule, you look at all the teams we played that are going to the NCAA tournament,” Serratore said. “They had a little more gas in the tank when we played those guys. We had some great contests with those guys but the bottom line is we want to make sure we close the gap with those teams.

“We have a lot of young kids we want to get stronger,” he added. “We’re in the weight room right now. Guys have to make some strides over the next five months, but especially the freshmen. We need to get bigger, faster and stronger. The guys have a high commitment level in the weight room and we hope that confidence carries over to October on the ice.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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