BEMIDJI -- An offseason of waiting is almost over.
The puck will drop on the 2019-20 season this Friday, Oct. 11, for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team.
The Beavers will be challenged right out of the gate with in-state rival St. Cloud State rolling into town for a nonconference series. The Huskies, ranked seventh nationally, are paying their first visit to Bemidji since the 2014-15 season.
“It’s always nice playing another Minnesota team,” senior defenseman Tommy Muck said. “We kind of fight for the territory. But also, these nonconference games are big. Especially early on when everybody is still working on things.”
This weekend marks the first regular-season series for either team, though SCSU defeated Alberta 4-2 in an exhibition last Saturday. BSU did not play an exhibition this season, so the team will be raring to go come game time.
“The guys are sick and tired of battling themselves,” Beavers head coach Tom Serratore said. “You have to be ready. There’s going to be some mistakes. You have to try to minimize your mistakes this opening weekend. We really haven’t played with the intensity that it takes on a game night. You can try to simulate all you want, but you can’t simulate a real game situation.”
Last season, again, ended in disappointment for St. Cloud.
The Huskies cruised to the NCHC regular-season title, finishing 30-6-3 overall, and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second year running. But just as the year before, SCSU was knocked off in the first round, this time by upstart American International.
Several key pieces are gone from last season’s squad, including Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Schuldt and leading scorer Patrick Newell, as well as fellow All-NCHC First Team selections Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte.
As a result, St. Cloud was picked to finish fifth in the NCHC by the league’s coaches this preseason. But don’t let the departures fool you, Serratore said.
“They’re still a good team,” the coach said. “Last year they were the number one team in the country until April. But they’ve still got a lot of key pieces right now.”
That includes All-American defenseman Jack Ahcan, the top returning scorer for the Huskies after his 34-point (6g-28a) junior season.
“I just told our guys out there, (Ahcan) is going to be the best player we see this year,” Serratore said. “He’s a dynamic defenseman. Don’t be surprised if he is a first-team All American and a Hobey Baker finalist in April. He’s a heck of a player. He’s got an absolute missile of a shot.”
SCSU also welcomes 10 first-year players to the squad to replace several key players from last season. Junior goalie David Hrenak returns, as do senior captains Jack Poehling and Nick Poehling at forward, and Clark Kuster on the blue line.
“We know what we’re up against,” Serratore said. “That’s the challenge. But that’s the exciting part of this time of year. We feel we’ve got a good hockey team. We feel we’re going to be a strong team over the course of the ‘19-’20 season. And it starts this weekend, and we just happen to play one of the top 10 teams in the country.”
Tom Serratore said the coaching staff will decide on Friday who starts in net this weekend. Junior Zach Driscoll -- who played for St. Cloud State as a freshman in 2016-17 -- started 26 games last season, including the team’s final 18 games. Junior Hank Johnson started in 12 games last year. Freshman Michael Carr is also in the mix.
SCSU is one of Bemidji State’s oldest rivals. The programs first met in 1948, a 12-2 Huskies win in Bemidji. BSU will look to hold onto a 46-44-5 edge in the all-time series.
Huskies assistant coach Mike Gibbons will return to his old stomping grounds. Gibbons -- now in his 13th season at SCSU -- played for the Beavers from 1975 to 1979, earned All-American honors in ‘78 and ‘79 and won the NAIA national title in his senior season. He also served as BSU head coach during the 1982-83 season, winning NHCA Conference Coach of the Year and College Division National Coach of the Year.
If you go
Who: BSU vs. St. Cloud State
Where: Sanford Center
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday; 6:07 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network