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Bemidji State men's hockey: BSU seniors still have goals to accomplish

Bemidji State senior Chris Peluso. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren1 / 4
Bemidji State senior Tyler Lehrke. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren2 / 4
Bemidji State senior Kyle Hardwick. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren3 / 4
Bemidji State senior Chris McKelvie. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren4 / 4

Usually, the Bemidji State men's hockey team celebrates Senior Night before the last game the team plays at home during the regular season. And, usually, that is either the last or second to last regular season series on the schedule.

But that's not the case this year.

Since the last regular season home series will be celebrated as the last series at the John Glas Fieldhouse and feature many special events, the team will honor its senior class of Chris McKelvie, Chris Peluso, Tyler Lehrke and Kyle Hardwick on Saturday before the series finale against Robert Morris University.

That puts this small group in the strange position of reflecting on their college career when the still have four home games, and 10 regular season games overall, still in front of them. The team, and the seniors especially, still have a lot to look forward to and goals to accomplish. As a result they had a hard time looking back this week.

But it didn't stop BSU head coach Tom Serratore from talking about the major accomplishments this group of seniors has posted in their careers thus far.

"This group should be very proud of what they have accomplished," he said. "They have the potential to win three conference championships, if they take care of business this year, plus they won a Midwest Regional and participated in a Frozen Four. They are also on the verge of completing three 20 wins seasons--again if they take care of business this year.

"Take at the look at their record the last 34 games - 25-7-2. It's a testament to their talent, leadership and character."

Off the ice, Serratore continued, the group has a combined grade point average of 3.62. "They never could have accomplished what they have on ice, without the character they have shown off the ice," Serratore reported.

"This is the first time we've had entire group of seniors who are all from Northern Minnesota - which is pretty special. We consider McKelvie from Northern Minnesota, even though he grew up in the Twin Cities, since his Mom is from Eveleth and his Dad from Fort Frances. All these guys are products of great parents."

"I can't say enough about this group of guys. They've gone through some major adversity - just a couple of years ago, not knowing if we would even be able to continue the program. But they hung in there and stuck with it. That's a testimony to the level of their character and what they represent. It's amazing what they've accomplished through all the uncertainty."

When asked about what changes in the program the team has experienced the last four years, the answer was unanimous - team chemistry.

"The locker room has changed," McKelvie said. "It is much more loose, collectively. This is the closest group we've had in the four years we've been here."

Lehrke added, "both on and off the ice."

Why did the chemistry change?

"When you focus on the positive, it rubs off on the other guys," McKelvie said. "A lot of it is being able to put trust in the guy next to you. That's what happened with this group. The trust is there, the belief that we can accomplish our goals is there."

Hardwick had a unique perspective. "It's kind of interesting," he said, "but this group of seniors has been a microcosm of the program overall. Our first year, the team didn't meet it's expectations - losing in the first round of the CHA Tournament. None of us played all that much - we struggled to find our roles. Nothing seemed to go right.

"As sophomores, we got together as a team and coaching staff to talk about the direction we wanted the team and program to go. Things really started to change.

I think a lot of it was that we had gone through some hardships and didn't want it to happen again. We wanted to do whatever it took to make sure it didn't happen again.

As we evolved as players, so did the team. Each year, each of us got a little better and the team experienced more success. I don't know if it went hand in hand or it's just the way things happened."

It really wasn't until half way through the group's junior season that the wild ride started. What changed things?

"We went on a road trip to Robert Morris, then stayed on the road to play the next series instead of returning home," Hardwick said. "We stayed in a hotel together for a week and just hung our around Pittsburgh. Then we played Niagara, in a place everyone said was tough to play, and swept them. We had two really good games. It kind of just clicked in everyone's mind - if we kept playing like that, it could just keep going on and on."

As has been well documented, it did.

The Beavers won the CHA Tournament, the NCAA Midwest Regional and advanced to the Frozen Four. It was a streak that has provided a majority of the favorite memories for the seniors.

Beating Miami this year was also a favorite memory. "At the time, they were playing well and ranked No. 1 in the country," Hardwick said. "People were still questioning if we were for real. We wanted to use the game to make a statement we could play with the top teams in the country."

The group also said the recent series against UMD, especially Saturday's stirring overtime win, showed a glimpse of what the Beavers are all about.

"We were out-played for stretches of the game and fell behind," McKelvie said. "But we never gave up - we fought back and just kept after it. That's the type of players we have on this team. The game is never over until it's over. They guys have confidence we can win - we just keep telling ourselves 'you can win, keep going.'"

The success the team has experienced of late has been provided many special moments. "Growing up in Warroad, everyone talked about North Dakota and Minnesota when it came to college hockey," Hardwick said. "When I told people I was going to BSU, it was 'o.k., BSU. Have fun.'"

"But now, with the success we've been having, it's been very gratifying. People there are realizing what this program is all about. With the new arena and moving to the WCHA, I believe more and more players from that area will come here."

All of the players would like to keep playing hockey beyond college. But if it doesn't work out they all have contingency plans - all made possible because of the college degrees they will have earned.

"The biggest thing for me is that I'm getting married this summer," McKelvie said. "These guys are all going to be in my wedding. I thought if they could put up with me for four years, they should be in my wedding."

McKelvie majored in sports management and said he will probably seek an advanced degree after taking some time off from school.

Peluso reported he'll be going to go to Anesthesiology School when his hockey playing days are over. "I would work in an intensive care unit for a year and then go to 2 additional years of school," he said. "I've always enjoyed chemistry and the health care field, so I felt this was a good option."

Hardwick has been accepted into law school at the University of Minnesota. "My major in college is international business, so I may go into that specialty, but we'll see," he said. "I haven't decided yet."

Lehrke majored in business administration with an emphasis in management. In the short term he said he could work for his family concrete/masonry business in Park Rapids while exploring career options.

But each of the seniors stressed they still have a lot of work do on the ice this season. And that's their main focus.

"They've represented Beaver hockey as well, if not better, than any group of seniors we've ever had," Serratore said. "They did a great job of helping the coaching staff in tough times through their leadership. They practiced what we preached - hard work, dedication, intensity ... they lived it."