Bemidji State hockey team looking forward to fan support at WCHA Final Five, coaches talk about seasons and some old Final Five tickets

The BSU men's hockey team practices Tuesday at Sanford Center. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State, Minnesota-Duluth, Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage, Denver and North Dakota all have one thing in common.

They are the only WCHA teams left standing after the first round of the league playoffs and will compete for the Broadmoor Trophy at the Final Five this week at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Bemidji State and No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth begin the tournament Thursday in a quarterfinal game at 3:37 p.m.

It will be another postseason game on a big stage for the Beavers, which played in the NCAA tournament the last two years and will need to win the Final Five to keep the run going. Like the Frozen Four at Washington, D.C. in 2009, Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore expects to see strong local fan support in St. Paul.

“I think it’s going to be a very big contingent,” Serratore said in a WCHA coaches conference call with media Tuesday. “People are excited, very enthused. Kind of reminds me a little bit of the Frozen Four run couple years ago. People are just excited and people in Bemidji realize how big this tournament is. This might be the best college hockey tournament there is from a fan base standpoint and an enthusiasm standpoint. They’re excited to go down to St. Paul. I think you’re going to see a lot of green and white in the building.”

The Beavers are the lowest seed to qualify for the Final Five after finishing 10th place in the regular season with an 8-15-5 record in the WCHA (12-17-5 overall). BSU swept No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha last weekend in two games in a best-of-three first round series to reach the Final Five.

“From our standpoint it is just an honor and a privilege to represent Bemidji State at the WCHA Final Five,” Serratore said. “Our fans are excited, our alumni are excited and I know our students are excited as well. We’re very proud to be representing the community and the region.”

All of the head coaches talked about the regular seasons for their teams and each had to fight through some type of adversity to reach the Final Five.

For Bemidji State, it was learning how to play a consistently tougher schedule in the first season in the WCHA. The Beavers were competitive throughout the year, winning some thrillers and losing some heartbreakers. BSU played in 19 games that were decided by one goal or a tie and played in 11 overtime games.

“Every game is just a battle and it is just survival every Friday and Saturday night,” Serratore said. “If you take a look at our team, we’ve struggled with secondary scoring. We didn’t have much secondary scoring but our kids sure competed hard, they defend well, we have good goaltending and we’ve got good size on our back line. The thing that we have that’s very unique for a 10th place team and a team that doesn’t score a lot, is we have a top line that’s very good and our top power play unit is very good.”

Minnesota-Duluth, ranked No. 1 early in the season, finished fourth in the WCHA and needed triple overtime last Saturday to close out St. Cloud State in two games in the first round.

“Our season was certainly filled with some ups and some downs, but we played extremely well last weekend which we had to against a very good St. Cloud team,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. “Hopefully we’re pointed in the right direction and we’re excited to go down there to play against a very good Bemidji team.”

Anchorage will face Colorado College in the other quarterfinal game Thursday at 7:07 p.m.

The Seawolves had a resurgent season and upset Minnesota at Mariucci Arena last weekend in two games in the first round. UAA finished seventh in the 10 team WCHA last year and were seventh in the expanded 12-team league this year.

“We certainly have our challenges up there and we’ve taken some growth at times,” UAA head coach Dave Shyiak said. “I think this year more than any other year the goaltending has stabilized itself and that’s helped elevate our game with the rest of our individuals.”

Colorado College held on strong at the end of the season to earn the last home-ice playoff spot and finished sixth. The Tigers defeated Wisconsin in three games last weekend to advance and ended a stretch of five straight games against the Badgers.

“It really took on the feel of a pro playoff series or a junior A playoff series,” CC head coach Scott Owens said. “They were basically all one-goal games kind of like our last 10 … we feel we earned it. I’d like to think we’re a little bit battle tested for this, that we’re able to head into this tournament format with a bit of momentum going.”

Awaiting the winner of the BSU-UMD quarterfinal is second-place Denver, which overcame the loss of several key players and upperclassmen from last year’s MacNaughton Cup team. The Pioneers finished second this year with key contributions from freshmen like Minnesota Wild draft pick Jason Zucker, who challenged for the WCHA scoring title with 20 goals in league play.

“I don’t think any of us on our staff expected Jason to come in and provide the type of offensive numbers he put up,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky said. “We just had so many question marks and we didn’t know what our team was going to be like this year. With half our team graduating or signing pro early, it was a very challenging start of the year. I thought our freshman have done a very good job.”

North Dakota won the MacNaughton Cup by finding unlikely consistent goaltending from Aaron Dell and overcoming injuries to key players in senior captain Chay Genoway and scorer Danny Kristo. Having the WCHA Player of the Year in Matt Frattin – the WCHA scoring champion – helped too.

“I think all the teams have got into the Final Five on their merit with their own style and within their own team concept,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’re no different than that. Our play isn’t based on skill level, it is based on a team concept and it has been our strength.”

Some old WCHA championship, Final Five tickets

I’ve been to a few WCHA playoff championships when I was younger. These tickets somehow survived through the years and I think it’s kind of fun to go back and look at tickets before Ticketmaster standardized everything.

I thought I’d share them with you here.

Here’s the 1990 ticket stubs. Interesting the title game was on a Monday night.

Here’s the 1995 ticket stubs. $65 for all five games- what a bargain!

WCHA Final Five a milestone for Bemidji State men’s hockey

Bemidji State Athletic Director Rick Goeb was in Omaha last weekend and watched the BSU men’s hockey team sweep Nebraska-Omaha to qualify for the WCHA Final Five tournament.

After Saturday night’s series-clinching 3-2 win, he shared his thoughts about BSU’s first season in the WCHA and the upset victory over the Mavericks.

“I’m so proud of the coaches and the boys,” Goeb said with a smile outside the BSU locker room. “Obviously they put in a ton of work and it paid off. Once again it’s Bemidji State trying to get respect and it feels that way again, doesn’t it?”

The Sanford Center and admittance to the WCHA were major victories for BSU’s athletic department in ensuring the long-term future of the hockey program. Reaching the spectacle of the Final Five is a special achievement in this first WCHA season.

The Beavers will play Minnesota-Duluth at 3:37 p.m. Thursday in St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center in a quarterfinal game. The winner advances to face Denver in a Friday semifinal at 2:07 p.m. Alaska-Anchorage faces Colorado College at Thursday at 7:07 p.m. and the winner advances to face North Dakota at 7:07 p.m. Friday.

The winner of Saturday’s 7:07 p.m. championship game earns the Broadmoor Trophy and the WCHA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s an exciting time and obviously a milestone for the program and all the hard work they do,” Goeb said. “Look at what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come. It’s not over. The season goes on.”

The story of the Beavers’ season up to this point goes like this: two wins in the first 11 games due to a brutal schedule against WCHA national powers, a resurgent winning record during the holiday season, a losing record to start the second half of the WCHA season in January and an unbeaten stretch in February before losing three of four to end the regular season.

BSU was a competitive team all year despite what its 12-17-5 regular season record suggests. All one has to do is look at the 11 overtime games where the Beavers were 2-4-5. Those games all came against WCHA teams.

Talk about a thin margin of error.

The Beavers were seven points out of finishing in the top half of the league and hosting a first-round playoff series.

Bemidji State ended the regular season in 10th place and was not favored to win the series against fellow WCHA expansion team Nebraska-Omaha, which finished third.

The thing is, regular season results do not matter in the WCHA playoffs and it is a brand new season. Ask Alaska-Anchorage.

BSU knew the way to beat a talented Omaha team which had the WCHA Coach of the Year in Dean Blais and an All-WCHA goalie in John Faulkner.

BSU’s key against Omaha in all six games season was great goaltending from junior Dan Bakala, a talented top line in Jordan George-Matt Read-Ian Lowe and a consistent effort throughout the entire lineup.

Confidence helps, too.

The Beavers were unbeaten against the Mavericks (3-0-1) during the regular season and found success at the Qwest Center venue where opposing teams have struggled.

Omaha has lost only nine games at home over the last two seasons. Bemidji State now accounts for four of those losses and is the only team Omaha could not beat this year.

It is unlikely Nebraska-Omaha fans or players will forget about what happened this season and in Omaha last weekend. If UNO does not get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, it is because of Bemidji State’s success.

Bemidji’s results against the Mavericks this season and the playoffs are what rivalries are made of.

One could say the rivalry really started that first week in December when the then No. 4 Mavericks visited the Sanford Center and the Beavers swept the series. Those 3-0 and 3-1 victories marked BSU’s only sweep against a WCHA team in the regular season.

The December sweep was part of a home season that drew an 62,011 total fans and filled the Sanford Center to an average of 88.6 percent of its 4,373 capacity. BSU’s home attendance numbers ranked No. 17 out of the 58 teams in Division I this year.

Compare that to the previous season when 32,714 fans came to the final season at the John Glas Fieldhouse and BSU ranked 38th among the 58 teams.

“It’s been a tremendous year and better than we had expected,” Goeb said. “We had six sellouts at The Sanford Center. Getting into the WCHA and the level we’ve played at — highs and lows — but a lot of highs and it’s been so exciting. The support we’ve had at the Sanford Center has been absolutely incredible. Now to watch the team go to St. Paul is going to be a lot of fun. I hope we get a lot of fans going to that because you never know what’s going to happen.”