Bemidji Proves it Belongs
by Timothy Boger/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. If there’s one thing to learn from Friday afternoon’s WCHA semifinal, it’s this: Bemidji State belongs.
The Beavers, long one of Minnesota’s only Division I teams not in the WCHA, still got a healthy dose of the conference, as yearly agreements with teams like Minnesota and North Dakota gave them solid games on their schedule every year.
So when Bemidji State’s former home, the CHA, closed shop, the only logical solution – geographically speaking – was for Tom Serratore and the Beavers to park the 2009 Frozen Four participants in an expanded WCHA.
A rough start to the season was just one of several questions for this team, which went 0-5-1 in their first six games.
“This league is such a talented league,” Serratore said.
But anyone who questioned the move from a talent point of view need only look at the rest of their season, in which they finished going 13-12-4 the rest of the way. And the Beavers (15-18-5) put a cherry on top with a Final Five performance, one in which they upset Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in overtime before dropping a 6-2 affair to Denver on Friday.
“I think there’s a lot of character on our team,” senior Matt read said. “We started off the season pretty slow. New building and the WCHA, not knowing what to expect, being 0-5-1 in our first six games — just to battle back [was huge].“
They were able to hold serve with the No. 5-ranked Pioneers through two periods, keeping the game in a scoreless tie and outshooting the Pioneers in the first 40 minutes. Eventually, Denver’s depth overcame Bemidji’s, but not before Bemidji showed what it was made of.
“I’m proud of the effort and character and resiliency this group showed over the course of the last month,” Serratore said Friday, “having to go to Omaha and do what we did and then come here and win last night.”
The Beavers don’t have the talent to match up on paper with teams like Minnesota-Duluth or Denver, or several other teams in the WCHA. But that certainly doesn’t disqualify a team that has ridden a wave of enthusiasm and hard work from its top line of Matt Read, Jordan George and Ian Lowe.
“Any given night, any team can win, you just got to show up to play and limit your mistakes,” Read said.
“We might not have the most talented team in the league, but we’re the hardest working team in the league. We can beat any team, any night if we just come to play.”
That energy carries over elsewhere, too. It was evident Friday when Radoslav Illo darted after a loose puck in front of the net and buried it. While it was Illo’s fourth goal of the season, it was a play that Serratore demands out of his team.
“That’s the way we play hockey,” Serratore said. “That’s the emphasis we want to have: we want to be driving the net, we want to be playing with a ton of tenacity, and we want to be difficult to play against.”
Read, a senior, has seen plenty of success, having been to a Frozen Four and two NCAA tournaments. His Beavers add another feather to their cap with their appearance this weekend and that sets the bar for plenty of seasons of hockey to come along the shores of Lake Bemidji.
“Bemidji State proved something this year, and hopefully in the future they can keep it going,” Serratore said.