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Bemidji State men's hockey: WCHA commissioner, coaches make comments on addition of BSU

Bemidji State was a topic of discussion Tuesday when the commissioner and the coaches of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association addressed assorted topics on the upcoming season to the media in a conference telephone call.

St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko had one of the more colorful descriptions of what he believes newcomers BSU and Nebraska-Omaha will bring to the WCHA this season as members of the league.

"I think we've added two programs that just do exactly what our league has been doing the last handful of years - we just added two more big nasty brothers that are going to try and beat each other up," Motzko said. "(BSU and UNO) fits right in the footprint of the WCHA geographically and fits right in being two ornery, tough teams to play against. We're familiar with that, all of us are and it's going to be a seamless fit."

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia expects the WCHA to be "competitive" this season and also used the word seamless to describe BSU's inclusion into the league. The Gophers will play the Beavers at the Bemidji Regional Event Center March 4-5 in the only regular season series between the two teams this season.

"I think it's exciting and being a northern guy myself that knows the history and tradition of Bemidji ... building the new facility in Bemidji showed the commitment to their program," said Lucia, a Grand Rapids native. "Obviously the success they've had on the ice the last couple years shows they're going to be a seamless transition into the WCHA."

Bemidji State played the Gophers at Mariucci Arena last season, but the two teams have not met in Bemidji since the 2000-01 season.

"We're really looking forward to going up there and it will be the last weekend of the year and I know the staff has done a great job preparing them to get in the league," Lucia said.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod lauded the addition of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha in his opening statements.

"The situation at Bemidji - everyone understands - that is hockey country," McLeod said. "They are truly fired up both as an institution and a community. They're truly excited and going to be great additions ... the weekend of the 15th is going to be a very impressive situation in Bemidji."

Though new as WCHA members, Bemidji State has played a number of regular season games against WCHA programs in recent years.

Before taking over as Bemidji State head coach, Tom Serratore was the recruiting coordinator at St. Cloud State and was an assistant coach for the 1998 WCHA All-Star team.

Serratore talked a bit about how the league has changed yet remained the same since his time at St. Cloud State.

"The WCHA - it's obviously a prestigious league and it's always been a league where you better be ready to play every night," Serratore said. "I think that's going to the key for us: every Friday and Saturday night now 28 games we're going to have to prepare ourselves."

The one difference Serratore pointed out was changes in arena venues. Programs like Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota and Minnesota have moved into newer arenas in recent years.

While the BREC is the newest venue added to the list, Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais said Tuesday that UNO plans to break ground on a new 7,000 seat arena in 2011.

Serratore also talked about his feelings on the upcoming year with days separating the Beavers from official WCHA play.

"The whole region is excited," Serratore said. "I think it's exciting for the state of Minnesota. I think we are a hockey state. People are very excited to have one more team in the WCHA and I know we are really excited. Hopefully, again, we can compete on a day in and day out basis."

As for the team?

"We're a work in progress right now; we have six new freshmen along with five returning defensemen, our three goaltenders are back," Serratore said. "I think our core is definitely our senior class. We have six players in our senior class who I feel again, are the key to our hockey team."

North Dakota is Bemidji State's first WCHA opponent and the two teams will open the BREC Oct. 15. UND will also open the new Amsoil Arena in Duluth this season and Fighting Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol said his program is looking forward to the opening nights.

"We're happy to have the opportunity and I'm sure both of those teams are going to try and push us out the back zamboni door on each of the given nights they're going open their arenas," Hakstol said. "We've had a great relationship with Bemidji State over the last 10 or 12 years. It's become an exciting rivalry; I think a good match for not only for the teams but our fans as well ... obviously with a WCHA league game there's going to be a little more on the line."