Beavers find their groove at the right time

The 2005-06 championship run of the Bemidji State men's hockey team may best be termed a tale of two seasons. Coming off a record-setting 2004-05 campaign that saw the team claim 23 victories, win both the College Hockey America regular-season an...

The 2005-06 championship run of the Bemidji State men's hockey team may best be termed a tale of two seasons.

Coming off a record-setting 2004-05 campaign that saw the team claim 23 victories, win both the College Hockey America regular-season and tournament trophies, and push Denver to the limit before falling in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, hopes were high.

Even though the Beavers lost NHL draftee Andrew Murray, 20-goal scorer Brendan Cook and a pair of stellar defensemen to graduation, this year's version of the Beavers returned a solid core. Still it seemed as if 2005-06 may be the year other CHA teams, such as Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville, would fight for the glory.

For the first time in three years, a team other than BSU was the preseason pick to win the CHA. The Beavers were picked to finish third behind Huntsville and Niagara.

However, the Beavers came out of the chute flying. They opened the regular season by posting a pair of stunning sweeps over opponents from the mighty WCHA. BSU began with 3-2 and 5-1 wins at Minnesota-Duluth, then followed up with a 4-3, 7-3 sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato at the John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji.


Hitting the road, the Beavers split at Air Force, won a series at Wayne State and split with CCHA team Ferris State at Big Rapids, Mich. -- a notoriously tough place to play.

Suddenly the Beavers were 8-2 and the college hockey world was abuzz. Bemidji State entered and then climbed up the national polls, advancing as high as 14th.

"We stated out really fast," said BSU head coach Tom Serratore, "and received a lot of national attention. That set up some pretty big expectations in the eyes of some people. But I didn't think we were playing all that well at the time.

"Some of the early success was a carryover from the year before. Also, our goaltending was really good during those early stages."

But as quickly as the success surfaced, it left the Beavers. Playing at home for three straight series before the holiday break, things began to change. The Beavers split with a tough Niagara team at The Glas then followed up with a loss and tie against Lake Superior State.

The Beavers then hosted another WCHA opponent, North Dakota. In one of the most exciting and well-played games at The Glas in recent history, the Beavers fell 2-1. The next night at The Ralph in Grand Forks, UND stepped things up and won 5-2.

Bemidji State then made a rare foray into the holiday tournament circuit, playing in the Vermont Holiday Classic. Both games were heartbreakers for the Beavers as BSU surrendered third-period leads in a 3-3 tie against Clarkson and a 4-3 overtime loss to Dartmouth.

Staying on the road, the Beavers lost to NCAA DI neophyte Robert Morris in a series split. What had been unheard of in the previous two years for the Beavers -- losing to lower division CHA teams -- had happened twice before the conference season was half over.


After starting the season so strongly, the Beavers went through a tough 2-6-2 swoon.

"We went into that little funk in December and January," said Serratore. "We struggled with scoring goals while trying to find our offense. It wasn't easy."

A win and tie against Wayne State at home did little to steady the ship, but the Beavers then responded with a strong home sweep of Air Force, winning 5-2 and 5-3.

The roller coaster soon took another dip, however. The Beavers were swept at Huntsville by their intense rival, 2-1 and 4-2. The disheartening losses were followed by a disappointing split at Western Michigan, a team that struggled in the CCHA all season.

At this point the Beavers were 14-11-3 and 8-5-1 in the CHA.

BSU then took care of business and swept Robert Morris at home, in a pair of dominating 5-2 performances.

Heading east to face Niagara with the CHA regular-season title on the line, the Beavers were swept 6-5 in overtime and 5-1. In both games Niagara was the better team.

At this point Beaver fans didn't really know what to think. For the first time in three years the CHA regular-season title would be going to a team other than BSU. All that was left was a regular-season ending home series against UAH, a shot at a second-place league finish and a key first-round bye in the CHA Tournament.


"We weren't as consistent as I would have liked prior to the last regular-season series," Serratore said. "But from a record standpoint, I thought we were doing pretty well."

The four seniors who were playing their last season for the Beavers -- Jean-Guy Gervais, Ryan Huddy, Andrew Martens and Lou Garritan -- were optimistic entering the regular-season finale.

"All we have to do is sweep Huntsville by a three-goal margin and we'll have second place," Huddy said just before the key series. "We really feel we have a good shot at doing it; we feel we are the better team."

BSU fans should have listened; the words turned out to be prophetic.

Playing what Serratore described as "flawless hockey," the Beavers got the sweep 3-1 and 5-0, earning second place and the tourney bye rather easily.

"The sweep definitely helped our confidence heading into the CHA tournament," Serratore said. "We had a great week of practice before heading to Detroit and really felt good about our chances."

Buoying that confidence was the play of junior goaltender Layne Sedevie. Splitting time with Matt Climie the entire year, the reins were handed over to Sedevie for the Huntsville series. He was told the position was his to keep, depending on his play.

Sedevie responded by stifling Huntsville, allowing only a single goal and stopping 52 of 53 UAH shots.


After UAH defeated Wayne State in the tournament play-in game, the Beavers were set to face the Chargers again -- for the third time in less than a week. In what will go down as a classic, the Beavers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in third period to tie the game and force overtime. BSU then settled matters just over one minute into the extra session to win 4-3 and advance to the CHA tournament final for the fourth consecutive year.

That set up a showdown against Niagara, a team that dominated the Beavers in the regular season by winning three of four games.

But digging deep, the Beavers saved the best for last, defeating Niagara 4-2 behind two goals from Gervais and strong goaltending from Sedevie to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

The roller coaster of the season -- as is done on all great rides -- ended with the biggest thrill of all.

"We accomplished a lot this year," Serratore said. "We won 20 games for the third year in a row and will be hanging another banner in The Glas.

"We ended 6-6-2 in non-conference games (our most wins ever in the DI era), 4-2 against the WCHA and 4-0 against Minnesota teams. We recorded the best attendance we've ever had.

"It was another tremendous year for the Beavers hockey program and another indication of what a great deal it was to move the program to the NCAA DI level.

"We accomplished a lot this year ... and it isn't over yet."

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