GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When Bemidji State opened its 5-1 win over Notre Dame with a goal just 1:42 in, the Beavers may have taken the Fighting Irish and many college hockey fans by surprise, but nobody who has seen the Beavers play in the second half would have thought it out of the ordinary.
That’s because a strong start has become BSU’s modus operandi.
“We’re a puck pressure team and we’ve been playing very good hockey in the course of the last six weeks,” said Bemidji head coach Tom Serratore. “We’ve been practicing really well and we’ve been playing 60 minutes of hockey. It’s one of those deals where … the success that we’ve had as of late carried over into this weekend.”
The Beavers began the second half of the season with a single win over Massachusetts in the Ledyard Bank Classic followed by five consecutive nonconference losses before a split with CHA foe Niagara gave BSU its first win in the calendar year on Jan. 24.
Since and including that win, Bemidji is 11-2-1 in Division I play. Through that stretch, the Beavers have edged opponents 15-10 in the first period and in two of those contests, BSU held opponents scoreless through the first 20 minutes and found the net first in the second.
After Saturday night’s win, BSU captain Travis Winter said that it was important to “come out flying right away” and echoed his coach’s mantra of “puck pressure.”
“With our pressure,” said Winter, “we were able to force a play.”
Leading the first-period charge for the Beavers is senior forward Tyler Scofield, who has four early markers. Recently, Scofield has been a linemate of senior Matt Francis and sophomore Matt Read. In the last five games, the three have combined for 16 goals.
Along with Scofield, 10 other BSU players account for those 15 first-period goals, and only one other Beaver, Graham McManamin, has scored more than one — typical of a Beaver team that scores by committee, with just three players having reached the 10-goal plateau for the 2008-09 season.
A combination of that early pressure and an ability to play with the lead has been deadly to Beaver opponents. Since the program joined the Division I ranks in 1999-2000, Bemidji State is 119-9-12 when leading after two periods; this season, the Beavers are 13-0-0 when carrying the lead into the third.
After becoming the third No. 4 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament to knock off a No. 1 seed, Winter said that the game came down to preparation.
“Lucky things sometimes happen,” said Winter. “We were prepared and luck favors those who are most prepared.”
Saturday evening, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was in full agreement about the preparation factor.
“It’s always one of the delicate things you deal with as a coach,” said Jackson. “I mean, I had tremendous respect, especially as I watched film of them. I knew they would be a very tough opponent and I obviously didn’t prepare our team well enough for them.
“It’s a little bit more challenging if you’re testing the respect of the opponent from your own team. I fully respected them; our coaching staff did. It’s easy for our guys when they hear the name, ‘Michigan.’ But Bemidji tonight was a better team than us, and we’ll just take that for what it’s worth.”
And if you make your own luck in hockey, the Beavers have been working hard to create a little fate.
“It was our night for us,” said Winter. “I felt like we were meant to win tonight. Then again, I think a lot of the pressure we put on them, I don’t know if they were quite used to that.”
Said Serratore, “I just think tonight was meant to be. We had an early lead … and we stayed on top of that.
“You never know. Obviously, in a situation like this you never know. So, you know what? It doesn’t surprise me because we’ve played good hockey as of late.”