The defending CHA champions, the Bemidji State Beavers, lost some of their firepower from a year ago, but still should post big numbers and finish near the top of the conference standings.
Andrew Murray, last season’s CHA player of the year, graduated and then signed an NHL deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Brendan Cook also received his diploma and is done skating for the Beavers, along with defensemen John Haider and Peter Jonsson.
Last season, BSU won the regular-season CHA title outright and then the league tournament with a win over Alabama-Huntsville in the finals. The Beavers took eventual national champion Denver to overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing in a heartbreaker.
“This year will be a little bit of a rebuilding year for us,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s a hit losing guys like Murray, Cook, Haider and Jonsson, who are all high-end D-I players, but hopefully the guys coming back will be able to elevate their maturation process and fill some of those holes.”
Bemidji’s top returning scorer is junior Luke Erickson. Classmate Rob Sirianni is also back, as are senior Ryan Huddy and senior captain Jean-Guy Gervais. Last year’s dynamic goaltending duo of Matt Climie and Layne Sedevie returns as well, while Orlando Alamano will seek playing time behind those two.
“Having all three goalies back will make for some great competition among the three,” Serratore said. “They all have their strong suits and are all capable goaltenders.”
Defensively, senior Andrew Martens returns with junior Nathan Schwartzbauer and sophomores Niko Suoraniemi, Riley Weselowski and Dave Deterding. Freshmen Cody Bostock and Finnish imports Anssi Tieranta and Juha Keinanen will also be eased into the lineup.
“I really like our ‘D,'” noted Serratore. “We have a good, young corps with six freshmen and sophomores, one junior and one senior. I really like them and what they all bring.”
Up front, freshmen Tyler Scofield, Travis Winter, Brandon Marino, Mark Soares and Matt Allen all tallied big numbers last year in juniors, but shouldn’t be looked upon to do the same for BSU just yet.
“College hockey is a men’s game,” said Serratore. “You can’t expect freshmen to come in and make an impact right away. I mean, a school like Minnesota with Phil Kessel can rely on a freshman and get away with it, but for us, it’s not a concern if our freshmen make an impact or not. If they do, great and it’s a bonus, but if not, at least they’ll get acclimated to the school’s culture and our systems.”
Winter scored 64 points for St. Cloud Tech High School in 2002-03 and will be just the second native of St. Cloud, Minn., ever to join the BSU program, after Mark Larson in 1992.
“There may not be an immediate impact player in this class, but it will be fun to watch them develop,” Beavers’ assistant coach Ted Belisle said. “We’re losing some great players off of [last] year’s team, but this class has its own identity and will find its own way to contribute to our program.”
The bulk of the freshman forwards were point producers in juniors. Scofield popped in 40 goals a year ago and Marino’s 63 points were good for a tie for ninth in the North American Hockey League scoring race last season. Winter scored 21 goals, Soares 24 and Allen 27 between three teams in British Columbia.
“Brandon is a very smart hockey player who has a tremendous upside with his youth,” Belisle said. “He’ll be exciting to watch develop in our program. Tyler has the tools to become a fan favorite. His speed and scoring ability are going to make him an exciting player to watch. Travis has a great sense for the game of hockey and brings some size that will add to the left side of our lineup and we hope he will help us in the future.”
Bemidji State’s schedule this year, of course, includes the 20-game CHA slate, but its nonconference opponents are teams that Serratore said “schedule us for a reason.”
BSU will have a span of 47 days between home games from Oct. 15, when it hosts Minnesota State, to Dec. 2, when it hosts Niagara. Eight of BSU’s first 10 games in 2005-06 will be played on the road. It will mark the most road contests in the first 10 games of a season in school history. Previously, the Beavers had played seven of their first 10 games on the road to open a season in 1970-71 and 1984-85.
The CCHA also factors heavily in BSU’s 2005-06 nonconference, as for the second consecutive year six games against that league are on the schedule. The Beavers cap a two-year battle with Ferris State, traveling to Big Rapids, Mich., Nov. 18-19; play host to Lake Superior State on Dec. 9-10; and travel to Western Michigan on Feb. 10-11.
BSU’s Dec. 9 home game with Lake Superior State will mark the first trip to Bemidji for the Lakers since March 6, 1974, when LSSU downed BSU in the finals of the NAIA national championship. The Beavers and Lakers met for the NAIA national title three times from 1969-74, with BSU winning twice.
Bemidji will also make a two-game foray into the ECAC Hockey League on Dec. 30-31 when the Beavers participate in Vermont’s holiday tournament. The Beavers will tackle Clarkson in the first round, then face off against either Dartmouth or Vermont the following day. BSU has never played Dartmouth or Vermont in its hockey history; those are the only two foes on BSU’s 2005-06 schedule against which the Beavers have not played.
“You look at the league overall and there’s a lot of depth,” Serratore added. “There’s not a lot of breathing room and all the teams look good right now on paper.
“We’ll see what happens.”