The wait is over: Bemidji State men's hockey set to open WCHA play, BREC vs. North Dakota
The players are anxious. The coaches are anxious. The fans are anxious.
The community is anxious ...
It's time to drop the puck and get this thing started.
The Bemidji State men's hockey team is geared up for an historic weekend, opening a new arena as a full-fledged member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Beavers start the historic 2010-11 season today, hosting national power North Dakota (No. 2 nationally) at the recently completed Bemidji Regional Event Center. Game time is set for 7:37 p.m. Friday.
The series is a sell-out and the hottest ticket for an event in Bemidji in many, many years.
"We're ready to play hockey," said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. "It's going to be a weekend full of excitement, but we need to focus on the task at hand - competing against the top ranked team in our league."
While these will be the first two games on the BSU schedule, UND opened play last weekend at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Alaska. UND opened with a 5-5 overtime tie against Alaska-Anchorage and followed up with a 3-1 win over 12th ranked Alaska-Fairbanks Saturday. The UAA contest was counted as a non-conference game.
UND head coach Dave Hakstol said it was a good weekend for his team.
"We wanted to go up there and get a little better, improve as a team. I think we did that," he said.
Now North Dakota is set to begin the WCHA schedule. The team has discussed putting all the hoopla and fanfare of BSU opening a new building behind them and focus on the task at hand, Hakstol reported.
"In terms of opening a new building and Bemidji State entering the WCHA, those are great things," he said. "I'm very happy for the program and the head coach (Serratore). I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy it. Our players, coaches and staff, however, we're going in with a job to do.
"For us, these will be our first WCHA games and our first opportunity for points in the league. We have to go in there with a road warrior mentality, knowing we'll have to do our jobs in order to come away with points."
North Dakota (1-0-1) enters the series as one of the most highly touted teams in the nation, ranked second nationally and picked to finish first in the WCHA.
"There are more than a few people saying the WCHA is a three tier league this year - with UND alone on top, then the middle tier, then the lower level," Serratore reported. "They have so many weapons; unreal depth.
There are guys who won't be in their line up who are high-end players; guys who could play for any other WCHA team."
A quick look at the line up shows UND features 16 players who have been drafted in the NHL, including a pair of first round selections in freshmen Derek Forbort and Brock Nelson.
North Dakota returns 22 letterwinners to this year's squad, including 80 percent of its goal scoring production from last season. Junior forward Jason Gregoire was the team goal scoring leader last season with 20. He is one of five returning UND players who scored at least 10 goals last season, including Danny Kristo (15), Brett Hextall (14), Matt Frattin (11) and Brad Malone (11).
Anchoring the UND defense is the return of senior captain Chay Genoway, who received a medical hardship waiver after missing all but nine games last season due to post-concussion syndrome. He currently has 91 career points, tops among all active WCHA defensemen.
In goal, junior Brad Eidsness returns after being a workhorse his first two seasons. He was 24-10-4 last season with a 2.11 goals against average and .914 save percentage.
"They have it going," Serratore reported. "They can skate and they can be extremely physical. They have a very versatile team. It's their goal to win a national championship - that's their goal every year, but this year they really look to have a good shot."
The Beavers, who are certain to be riding high on the emotion of opening a new building and being in a new league, counter with an experienced team that returns 20 letterwinners. The Beavers are coming off a fine 23-10-4 season that saw them win the CHA league title and earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Highlighting the returnees is senior forward Matt Read, who became the second BSU player in the teams Division I history to earn All-America honors. He paced the team with 41 points. Linemate senior Ian Lowe paced the team in goals last season with 21, while the final first-liner Jordan George ended a fine freshman season with 13 goals and 21 assists.
Defensively, the Beavers return junior Brad Hunt, who has been among the nation's leaders in scoring by defensemen his first two seasons. He ended with 33 points last season.
Junior goalie Dan Bakala returns after a breakout sophomore season. He ended 19-8-3 with a 2.33 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
What area of the game have the Beavers been concentrating most on as they prepare for the season opener?
"The biggest thing it we'll have to play fast and take care of the puck," Serratore reported. "We must have the mentality of just don't give them anything. They come at you in waves."
UND and the Beavers have staged some classic games the last few years, although the Beavers trail in the all-time series 1-17-1. But that was before the teams were playing in the same conference.
"No question, there's more on the line now," Serratore said. "We've had some great battles with UND - lost some leads late in the game and went toe to toe right to the end. We don't expect the rivalry to slow down any.
"We have so much respect for their program. They play the game the right way - hard, fast and physical."