Ready or not, BSU men's hockey opens season Friday
Ready or not, the curtain opens on the 2008-09 Bemidji State men's hockey season tonight, as the Beavers head south for a nonconference series at Minnesota State, Mankato.
The Beavers and Mavericks are set to square off at 7:37 p.m. today and 7:07 p.m. Saturday from Alltel Center in Mankato.
Both teams have had precious little time to prepare for the season opener as organized practice started Saturday.
"We had three practices this week, a travel day Thursday and then we play on Friday," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "Everyone is feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. There's so much you want to accomplish, but very little time. I keep telling myself not to over-coach, to just let things happen - let the player's hockey instincts take over."
Following opening weekend, the Beavers stay on the road to take on former College Hockey America rival Air Force in Colorado Springs. After that it's the home opener against another tough nonconference foe, St. Cloud State University.
"I don't think we've had had this tough of an opening part of the schedule since I've been here," Serratore reported. "We've started the season this early before, but not against this type of intense and top notch opponents. The schedule isn't doing us any favors - but it is what it is."
The Beavers enter the new year coming off a successful 2007-08 season, finishing 17-16-3, winning the CHA regular season title and advancing to the final of the league tournament. Seventeen letter winners return, bolstered by nine freshmen.
"We're excited about the season," Serratore reported. "It's not going to be easy, but then it never is. We have a solid group of juniors and seniors, to go along with a good sophomore group. We also have some newcomers who will contribute for us this year."
Offensively, the Beavers return their three leading scorers from last year -- senior captain Travis Winter (9-15--24), junior Tyler Scofield (13-13--26) and sophomore Matt Read 9-18--27). Defensively senior stalwart Cody Bostock returns, as do regulars junior Chris Peluso, junior Graham McManamin and junior Kyle Hardwick.
Graduation hit the goalie position hard with the loss of Matt Climie. But fifth year senior Orlando Alamano returns, looking to make his mark. He will battle with sophomore Matt Dalton for the starting job.
Mankato and Bemidji State are longtime opponents, dating back to when both teams played in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association. BSU leads the all-time series 44-31-3, winning four straight before Mankato turned the tables and swept the Beavers at The Glas last year in a pair of one goal games.
Mankato is coming off one of its most successful years in the school's DI era, going 19-16-4 and coming within an eyelash of advancing to the NCAA with an at-large bid. Eighteen letter winners return from that highly successful team.
"Mankato finished fourth in the WCHA regular season, after being picked to finish ninth," Serratore reported. "Nobody gave them a chance and they came out of the woodwork to have a heck of a year.
"They were the fastest team we played last year, and that includes North Dakota and St. Cloud State. They only lost four regulars from that team and their expectations are very high this season. They won't be easy to play against, especially on the big ice at Alltel."
Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting reported he was pleased the Mavericks progressed as the year went along and played their best hockey at the end of the year.
"We had a young team and most of those kids are back this season," he said. "Our goals for this season are the same as they are every year - to get better every day. We do expect to have a good team this season."
Junior goaltender Mike Zacharias had a breakout year last season, ranking 12th in the nation with a school record tying .924 save percentage and a school record 2.08 goals against average. He played in 29 games and looks to see the majority of the time in goal this year.
Offensively, senior forward Mick Berge led the Mavs with 20 goals last season, while junior Trevor Bruess was the leading scorer overall (9-21--30). On defense the team is led by seniors Blake Friesen, Brian Kilburg and Nick Canazello. Sophomore Channing Boe, a Bemidji High grad, is also in the mix to see a lot of playing time this season.
"I'm excited about our defensive corps," Jutting said. "I think it's the best defensive group we've ever had here. I really like the young kids; they really did a good job last year as freshmen."
Serratore reported the Beavers will be without two expected regulars for the Mankato series. Matt Francis is out after suffering a shoulder injury in practice. Defenseman Chris Peluso is also out with an ailing back.
The BSU line combinations provide a few surprises as the season begins. No longer together is last year's top line and scoring combination of Scofield, Winter and Peluso.
Ian Lowe-Winter-Brandon Marino
Freshman Ben Kinne-Chris McKelvie-Tyler Lehrke
Emil Bilberg-freshman Shea Walters-freshman Jamie McQueen
Bostock-freshman Brad Hunt
Dan McIntyre-Graham McManamin
Hardwick-transfer Ryan Adams
Dalton on Friday, Alamano Saturday.