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Success on home ice highlights Bemidji State men's hockey season

Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said his men's hockey team established itself as a tough opponent on the Sanford Center ice during the 2011-12 season. Pat Miller | Bemidji Pioneer

Success in the world of collegiate hockey begins with dominating home ice. Historically, Bemidji State's superiority at the John Glas Fieldhouse was unchallenged, and any rival expecting to steal points from the Beavers at that rink usually headed home empty handed.

BSU wants the Sanford Center to rival the Glas in that home dominance, and this winter the Beavers took steps in that direction.

Bemidji State played superb hockey at home this season, ending the year 11-6-1 at the Sanford Center. Against WCHA foes, BSU finished 7-6-1 and earned points against every conference rival except Wisconsin.

"We established ourselves at home and that is very satisfying," said Beavers head coach Tom Serratore. "We played our best hockey at home and we wanted to do that for ourselves and for our fans.

Our players love playing at home and I love being at home."

On the strength of that home success Bemidji State posted a 17-18-3 overall record and finished ninth in the league with an 11-14-3 mark. In the playoffs BSU opened at North Dakota, where it saw the season end with 4-1 and 4-3 losses in the best-of-three series.

Serratore was pleased with the season and the progress the program made during its second campaign as a member of the WCHA.

"Everybody gauges the year differently," the coach said. "In our case we had an increase in points and wins, we were more consistent on the road and we finished a game over .500 at home.

"We want to play hard and play smart every game. We want to be a tough team to play against. If you do that you will be in every game. And I think we did that."

Bemidji State was able to avoid any lingering losing streaks and midway through the winter fashioned a five-game winning stretch that included non-conference sweeps at home against Alabama-Huntsville and Bowling Green.

During the WCHA campaign BSU's longest winning streak was three games as it followed a 6-4 victory at Nebraska-Omaha with 4-2 and 4-1 home victories over Colorado College.

Those wins, however, were followed by a four-game losing streak late in the year as the Beavers were swept at Minnesota and lost their final two home games to Wisconsin.

"But then we went to Anchorage, a tough place to play, and swept them," Serratore said. "That sweep solidified our ninth-place finish and helped our mental state when we opened the playoffs at North Dakota."

Even though the Beavers lost both games at UND they didn't go down without a fight.

"Once playoffs start and you play for the right to play again there is a little glow in the eye," Serratore continued. "At North Dakota we laid it on the line. With a break here or there it could have been different. They were intense games that went to the wire.

"Everybody's goal is to go to the Xcel but we came up short," Serratore said. "This is a tight league."

Jordan George was the lone Beaver to top 30 points as the junior scored 19 goals and had 12 assists. Topping the 20-point barrier were seniors Shea Walters (12-14-26) and Brad Hunt (5-21-26) plus juniors Aaron McLeod (9-14-23), Ben Kinne (10-12-22) and Brance Orban (9-13-22).

Senior Dan Bakala posted an 11-13-2 record in the BSU net with a .911 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average.

In addition to Bakala, Walters and Hunt, this year's senior class included Darcy Findley, Jame MacQueen and Drew Fisher.

"We are going to miss all of our seniors," Serratore said. "Our program has always relied heavily on our upperclassmen. How our upperclassmen go, our team goes.

"But now, as happens every year, the torch has been passed to the younger guys."

Serratore is headed to the WCHA Final Five and will make a few more recruiting visits during the coming weeks, concentrating on younger players who could make an impact down the road.

"We call it 'crystal ball recruiting'," the coach said. "We do a lot of evaluating and try to make sure the kids (we want to commit to the program) have the qualities that we desire as a staff."

For the players currently on the roster the time has come to take a break from the rigors of the season and begin the preparations for next winter.

"When the season is over, the season is over and it's time to move on," Serratore said. "We ask a great deal from our players. It's a long season and one that is physically and mentally draining.

"You never want the season to end but when it does you need to recharge the batteries," the coach continued. "The players, coaches and fans need to get away from hockey for awhile. But when we look back at this year the guys will realize that we had a good season."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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