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MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State’s season a success despite disappointing finish

The Beavers (19-20, 14-12 CCHA) could have put themselves in a better position for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid with a more successful regular season, but the finish to the year served as a suitable – if still a bit disappointing – consolation prize.

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Bemidji State senior Owen Sillinger (12) clears the puck during a penalty kill in the third period of the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Mankato.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pionee
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BEMIDJI – The primary goal of the Bemidji State men’s hockey team was to return to the NCAA Tournament.

After reaching the promised land in 2020-21 and advancing to the Elite Eight with an upset win over top-seeded Wisconsin, the Beavers were riding high , with hopes of advancing even further in 2021-22. Fifth-year forward Ethan Somoza noted before the season that he hoped to reach the Frozen Four after returning for a final year – and he thought BSU had the team to do it.

Those hopes did not come to pass, but Bemidji State nevertheless finished the season on a high note – playing its best hockey at the end of the year and pushing No. 1 Minnesota State to the brink during the CCHA Mason Cup Championship in Mankato last Saturday.

“Not everybody can go to the tournament,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “There's (59) teams, only 16 go, that means (43) of us are not going to the tournament. But we also were one of how many games on Saturday night? Not many. So we had the opportunity of getting into the tournament. So I think it's all about perspective on how you look at a successful season.”

The Beavers (19-20, 14-12 CCHA) could have put themselves in a better position for an at-large bid with a more successful regular season, but the finish to the year served as a suitable – if still a bit disappointing – consolation prize.

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“The end of the year was where we wanted to be hockey-wise,” defenseman Elias Rosén said. “We came up to our level maybe a bit too late. We wanted to be there a bit earlier so we could have had the chance to maybe get a bid into the tournament, but that didn't happen. So we came into the playoffs with a good attitude and we felt right away that we were having something special in the playoff games.

“We played our best hockey the last four games and we did everything we could get into the tournament, but at the end of the day, we didn't.”

Regret and resolve

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Bemidji State junior Elias Rosen (28) passes the puck in the third period against Minnesota State in the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Mankato.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

It’s only natural when a season comes up short to look at everything that could have been. But Serratore chose to focus on Bemidji State’s successes in the season’s final weeks as proof that this was a special team.

“At the end of the year, these guys stood tall,” Serratore said. “They provided everybody in Beaver Nation with (a chance) to go to the NCAA Tournament, and we just came up a little short. It was an honor playing in that game. It was an honor to play how we did and how close we were, and there was a lot of our fans who were proud of what we accomplished at the end of the year. Overall, I thought it was a positive year and it was sure a positive ending.”

Forward Eric Martin wanted to use this season to continue the momentum of BSU’s watershed run in 2021. The Beavers did gain some mojo at the end of the season, and while it didn’t help them get back to the NCAA Tournament, it did set a standard for how next year’s team could perform.

“Winning that game, making it to the Elite Eight, that was just so big for this program and for us,” Martin said. “So we would definitely have loved to go back, but we came up just a little bit short. Like Rosie said, we were playing our best hockey in the playoffs, and I think that's indicative of the work we put in. It was good to make it to the final, to get that chance. Playing that game, it was a great atmosphere. That was a crazy building.”

Even though BSU did not pick up a win against Minnesota State, it did prove something to Serratore – the Beavers have refined their recipe for victory, and they’re ready to get cooking next season.

“It is a battle-tested group,” Serratore said. “And we've had a lot of success over the course of the last couple of years. And that success carried over into the last month of the season. So these guys know how to win. Obviously, we're losing some very good players, but we got a lot of good players returning, we got some good recruits coming in. So that's exciting.”

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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