Bemidji State qualified for the 2013-14 WCHA playoffs by a hair.
The Beavers tied with Lake Superior State for the eighth spot in the league’s new playoff structure but beat the Lakers due to the tiebreaker between the teams.
Coach Tom Serratore hopes the Beavers won’t have to resort to that again this season.
“We have to be good at home,” Serratore said. “That was one area where we struggled. We’ve typically been a good team at home but we were better on the road than we were at home. That’s not acceptable. You need to make sure you make a little hay at home. Teams that do that will be the ones competing for home ice.”
The Beavers, who went 10-21-7 overall and 10-14-3 in the league, return a great chunk of their scoring in 2014-15, including their top four point-getters (junior forwards Cory Ward and Markus Gerbrandt, senior defenseman Matt Prapavessis and sophomore forward Brendan Harms).
Ward, who led the team with 18 goals, and Gerbrandt, who had 15, were responsible for 35 percent of Bemidji State’s scoring. Serratore hopes to turn that around.
“We have to manufacture more offense,” he said. “We would like to improve, minimum, a half a goal a game.”
At the very least, the Beavers will hope their defensive strength will offset any scoring issues they may have.
Bemidji State returns its entire defensive corps, including all-WCHA third-teamer and captain Prapavessis (5 goals, 17 assists) as well as all-rookie selection Ruslan Pedan (3 goals, 10 assists).
“Our entire defensive corps is back,” Serratore said. “We feel like we can build on the back line and the nets. We still feel we have some players who can generate offense, but the defense is a strength for sure.”
The Beavers will have four goaltenders on the roster, and Serratore said he is confident with any of the four minding the net. Andrew Walsh, Jesse Wilkins and Reid Mimmack all return from last season, and freshman Michael Bitzer also will compete for the starting spot.
Bemidji State opens the season Oct. 10-11 with a home-and-home series against No. 2 North Dakota. It’s one of 13 games against 2013-14 NCAA tournament teams.
Playing a tough schedule is nothing new for a Serratore-coached team, but he hopes to fare much better against those highly ranked teams.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Serratore said. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing. If you could tweak certain aspects in your game it can be a huge momentum-builder for your team. That’s the hope this year.”
About the Beavers
2013-14 record: 10-21-7
2013-14 conference record: 10-14-3 (tie, eighth)
2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth
Key losses: F Radoslav Illo, F Danny Mattson, F Jeff Jubinville
Key returnees: F Cory Ward, F Markus Gerbrandt, D Matt Prapavessis, D Ruslan Pedan, G Andrew Walsh, G Jesse Wilkins
Impact rookie: Brett Beauvais led all defensemen in scoring last season in the BCHL and won that league’s awards as best defenseman, while the high-scoring Fitzgerald triplets (Myles, Gerry and Leo) are making their much-anticipated appearances in Bemidji this season. Myles and Gerry were the second- and third-leading scorers in the BCHL last season.
Why the Beavers will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: The Beavers return their top four scorers, including a pair of underrated forwards in Cory Ward and Markus Gerbrandt. If they can score on a consistent basis — especially on the power play, where it was a struggle last season — they could potentially compete for home ice in a tight WCHA.
Why the Beavers will finish lower than the coaches poll: Last season the Beavers tied for eighth in the conference but thanks to a good head-to-head record against Lake Superior State won the tiebreaker with the Lakers and advanced to the playoffs. BSU wasn’t great last season and can’t count on another team to help it sneak into a playoff spot this year. The Beavers will have to earn it and they can’t do that if they don’t get goals from players not named Ward or Gerbrandt.