With a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line, Bemidji defenseman John Haider, killing a five-on-three disadvantage, stole the puck and raced in on Wayne State goaltender David Guerrera for a critical insurance goal in last year’s CHA finals.
Veteran teams seize such moments. Unfortunately for the Beavers, Haider was only a sophomore and Guerrera a senior goaltender. Fifteen seconds later, the puck was in the opposite net.
The rest, as they say, is history. Bemidji, now a year older and wiser, intends not to allow history to repeat itself.
“We learned about the resiliency of Wayne State and how they found a way to win,” coach Tom Serratore said. “They had the best team in the league and they found a way to get it done.”
The Beavers will field virtually the same squad as last year, graduating just two players. They boast 16 juniors and seniors on the roster. Bemidji is blessed with a deep team, a balanced attack, and the best goaltender in the conference, junior Grady Hunt.
Hunt had a breakthrough sophomore season, posting a 2.36 GAA and a .916 save percentage. His emergence is the reason that Bemidji is the clear preseason favorite for the CHA title.
“Our goaltending is the key,” Serratore said. “Grady Hunt is one of the best goaltenders in the country. He does a great job in keeping us in every single game.”
On offense, Bemidji lacked a 30-point scorer last season. However, that should change as Andrew Murray (9g, 18a), Riley Riddell (8g, 14a) and Myles Kuharski (9g, 12a) enter their junior seasons.
The defense is anchored by two-year captain Bryce Methven (4g, 6a). A very capable group, they will make sure that Hunt is not overtaxed.
The returning talent is so flush that the recruits received little attention from Serratore.
“We feel that we did a good job recruiting, but college hockey is a men’s league,” he said. “You live or die with your veterans and if a freshman contributes, that will be a bonus.”
The talent combined with hard-earned experience will make Bemidji very difficult to beat in league play.
“Like anything, we know that we have a lot of veterans who gained a lot of experience last year,” said Serratore. “We hope that it piggybacks into our play this year.”