The Bemidji State men's hockey team's acceptance into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association continues to generate good feelings across the area.
A communitywide press conference/rally detailing the big news was held Monday afternoon at Bemidji State University.
It didn't take BSU head coach Tom Serratore to bring some levity to the situation.
"When Coach R.H. Peters hired me back in 1999, I had hair," Serratore told a packed Beaver Pride Room at the John Glas Fieldhouse. "Ten years later there's no hair, but we're in the WCHA.
"The official announcement from league officials on Friday was great, but today is even better, because we get to share it with friends."
Serratore said the hockey staff began work on their "new" jobs Monday, beginning the process to build a competitive team to compete in the top hockey conference in the nation.
Serratore reported that recruiting for the program will now be narrowed geographically, compared to the last several years. While an NCAA Division I neophyte and a member of College Hockey America, BSU built a reputation of traveling far and wide to find players who fit into the program. From western British Columbia to Prince Edward Island; from The Pas, Manitoba, to Texas and many points in between, the Beavers scoured the countryside for players.
But no longer. "We're going to isolate certain areas where we'll concentrate our efforts now," Serratore reported. "We'll also be looking a lot heavier at some the younger high-end kids from Minnesota and western Canada.
"Building the program to compete every weekend against top end competition is not going to be easy, but then life isn't easy."
Even though the Beavers will soon be a member of the elite WCHA, the program philosophy and the type of player recruited will not change.
"We're going to be straight up and tell the players if they're making their decision based on all the bells and whistles, that's not the right reason," Serratore reported. "They should decide to come here because of the program and the substance of the program. We'll recruit the same way; our mentality won't change."
When players who may be curious about hockey at BSU approach him, former Beaver captain Brendan Cook said he won't change his answer now that the Beavers are joining the best college hockey conference in the nation.
"I'll tell them about the great coaching staff, the program that is rich in tradition and that they'll make you a better player if you go there - same as always," Cook said. "The focus won't change even with the new building and joining the WCHA."
Bemidji State junior forward Matt Read said the players realize that once the Beavers join the WCHA, things will change dramatically on the competitive side. "The WCHA, for the most part, plays more puck control-type of hockey," Read said. "With our coaching staff, I believe we'll be able to adapt and be competitive."
Cook agreed. "When you're facing those high-quality teams every night, there's no doubt it'll be a challenge," Cook reported. "But I have every confidence in this coaching staff that they'll be able to adapt and be ready."
Once the CHA is dissolved and the teams go their separate ways at the end of the 2009-10 season, Serratore was asked if the Beavers will keep a relationship with longtime rival Alabama-Huntsville.
"Yes, we'd like to do that," he said. "First, where Huntsville is going to be playing has to be settled. Once that happens, we'll look at things."
After a few years of playing 18 league games against three opponents in the CHA, Serratore said he's happy the Beavers now have a 28-game conference schedule in front of them.
"You want to see a nightmare, try scheduling 16 nonconference games a year," Serratore said with a chuckle. He mentioned BSU's nonconference schedule for 2010-11 in already set.