A new arena and the migration to one of the nation’s most prestigious college hockey conferences is enough to create a buzz surrounding Bemidji State.
Not to mention that the Beavers are coming off back-to-back national tournament appearances, including a run to the Frozen Four in 2009, and that’s enough to get Tom Serratore excited for the upcoming season, in which Bemidji State will call the Bemidji Regional Events Center home.
“This a very exciting time for us,” said Serratore, who is starting his 10th season as the Beavers’ head coach. “Moving to the WCHA was something we wanted for quite some time and it became a reality two years ago. The arena is an unbelievable facility.”
The Beavers tied a school record for wins in a season with 23 last season but fell 5-1 to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA regionals. They breezed through CHA competition and won the conference by 14 points, but Serratore is aware that the WCHA poses a much more difficult challenge.
“It’s going to be very challenging for us and we all know that,” Serratore said. “We’ve played a lot of WCHA teams in the past but never over the course of 28 games. It will be an uphill battle.”
The Beavers have gone 8-19 against current WCHA opponents the past three seasons.
Matt Read returns for his senior season at forward after leading the team in assists (22) and points (41). He finished with 19 goals and was the program’s first Division I All-American. Ian Lowe, the 2009-10 team leader in goals with 21, is also a senior.
“We’re a team led by upperclassmen. We have a veteran group coming back with experienced forwards,” Serratore said. “Matt Read is a high-end player with a tremendous amount of depth to his game. He makes a lot of plays and he’s our go-to guy.”
On the blue line
Serratore highlights three defensemen that he expects to lead from the blue line. Brad Hunt is a defenseman that has the ability to spark the offense, too. He scored 33 points last season with 26 assists, the only point totals higher than 10 by a Bemidji State defenseman.
“Brad Hunt is an offensive defenseman with a heavy shot,” Serratore said. “Between him and Read, we rely on those guys very much.”
The Beavers also have a pair of “shut-down” defensemen in Ryan Adams and Jake Areshenko, who don’t provide much offense but are very valuable.
“They’re just kind of defensive defensemen who are very hard to play against,” Serratore said. They’re competitive and they take a lot of pride in their defending.”
In the crease
The Beavers had a combined zero minutes of experience in goal at the beginning of the 2009-10 season after Matt Dalton left early for the pros.
Dan Bakala saw most of the minutes in goal for the Beavers last season as a sophomore, posting a 2.33 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Mathieu Dugas was just as impressive through nine games with a 1.93 GAA and .918 save percentage.
“It’ll be interesting; it’s always a battle for No. 1 goalie,” Serratore said. “[Bakala] had a tremendous year. Danny stood tall and won us a lot of games and was a big reason we advanced to the national tournament.”