Bemidji State hockey season in review and season in photos: Sanford Center, Final Five highlight inaugural year in the WCHA

Bemidji State players Brad Hunt, Ian Lowe, Matt Read and Emil Billberg celebrate Jordan George’s (far right)goal against Denver at the WCHA Final Five last week in St. Paul. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

The 2010-11 Bemidji State men’s hockey season was historic and filled with firsts.

It was the first season in the WCHA and the first season in the Sanford Center. It ended with a postseason run and a trip to the program’s first WCHA Final Five.

Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore called the 2010-11 season a success for those reasons.

“It was a very exciting year and I think our team did a great job of coming together at the end of the year to win in Omaha,” Serratore said. “Playing in the WCHA Final Five was an invaluable experience and it was great that our fans were able to experience the atmosphere in St. Paul.”

The Beavers finished the year in 10th place out of 12 teams in the WCHA with a 15-18-5 overall record (8-15-5 WCHA). Bemidji State was five standings points out of playing at home in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the equivalent of two wins and a tie.

The record reflects the resilient character of these Beavers. BSU started 3-8-1 in an initiation by fire, but turned the season around in December and went 12-10-4 the rest of the way.

“We knew what to expect,” Serratore said. “We played against teams in this league before and nothing caught us off guard. We sure knew what we were getting into and we knew our personnel well.”

BSU was competitive, shown by the 19 games decided by one goal or a tie and the 12 overtime games. Only the 2002-03 Beavers played in more overtime games (15) in the program’s Division I era.

BSU’s record was 3-4-5 in overtime this season.

“In this league there are a bunch of one-goal games year in and year out,” Serratore said. “Overtime is going to happen when there are tight games and one goal games, so I’m not surprised with the amount of overtime games.”

Another record of note for the Beavers this season was the 8-8-3 record against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Of the losses, four came against NCAA No. 1 overall seed North Dakota. Of the wins, six came against fellow expansion team Nebraska-Omaha.

Bemidji State’s domination of UNO in the season series sparked a rivalry sure to continue next season and years to come.

The last two wins against Omaha came in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. BSU won the best-of-three series at the Qwest Center in two games.

The Beavers reached the WCHA Final Five and continued its postseason run with a 3-2 overtime victory over Minnesota-Duluth in the quarterfinals. The season ended with a 6-2 loss to Denver in the semifinals, a game BSU led at one point and entered the third period tied.

“It’s a tough league like it always is and we were able to reach the Final Five,” Serratore said. “I don’t think we could have got anything more out of our guys.”

Bemidji State’s offense was led by the top line of senior captain Matt Read, senior alternate captain Ian Lowe and sophomore Jordan George.

The trio played together for all but 13 games in the middle of the season and finished with 51 of BSU’s 89 goals and 99 of the team’s 234 points.

George was the Beavers leading scorer with 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points, edging Read by one point.

Read finished with a team-high 22 goals. He ended his standout BSU career with programs Division I records for goals (65), assists (78), points (143) and games played (147). He signed with Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week to become the seventh player in BSU history to earn an NHL contract.

Junior goaltender Dan Bakala emerged as a defensive leader for the Beavers after the Thanksgiving holiday and was a key to the surge after the new year. Bakala was the MVP of the holiday Mariucci Classic, was the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week three times this season and was Inside College Hockey’s National Player of the Week twice.

Bakala’s 644 saves this season were third most in the WCHA and only 45 behind co-leaders John Faulkner from UNO and Kent Patterson from Minnesota.

BSU struggled to find scoring away from the top line in the first half of the year. In the second half of the season, the future of Beaver hockey emerged with goals at key moments.

Juniors Matt Carlson and Drew Fisher scored their first BSU goals in a victory over Ferris State, a win part of the Mariucci Classic title to start the New Year.

Freshman defenseman Kyle Brodie’s first goal was a game-winner over Alabama-Huntsville.

Junior Brad Hunt’s signature slap shot broke through at the end of the year. He scored in a February win at Mankato, scored a clutch late-game goal against Minnesota to give BSU a tie and scored BSU’s first goal against UMD at the Final Five.

Sophomore Aaron McLeod scored a tying goal to give the Beavers a tie at Michigan Tech that helped BSU gain the Winter Carnival Trophy.

Junior Jamie MacQueen found his most timely goals in the playoffs and gave BSU go-ahead goals in both victories against Omaha.

Then there was junior Shea Walters, who scored his first goal of the year in overtime against UMD at the Final Five to keep BSU’s season alive.

Of all the stats, goals and numbers perhaps the most impressive number is 62,011.

That is how many fans came to support the first season of BSU hockey at the Sanford Center. BSU ranked 17th among the 58 Division I programs in terms of average attendance and 21st in overall attendance.

The season in Photos

I took hundreds of hockey photos this season. Here are some of my favorites.

Jerry Colley paints the goal crease blue in the Bemidji Regional Event Center arena rink Wednesday afternoon. The ice making process is underway in the arena and the ice is expected be ready by the end of the week. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The ribbon cutting at the Sanford Center

The student section bleachers were still in boxes for an October intrasquad scrimmage

Goalie Dan Bakala greets a fan at the October scrimmage

A few BSU players wait to go on the ice for the season opener on opening night at the Sanford Center on Oct. 15

R.H. 'Bob' Peters gets ready to drop the puck opening night against UND

The opening night face-off between BSU and UND.

Jamie MacQueen scores the first goal in the Sanford Center against UND opening night

Matt Read scores BSU's first goal against UMD on Oct. 29

Ryan Cramer delivers a hit during an Oct. 30 game against UMD

Brance Orban goes for the puck during a Oct. 6 win ag St. Cloud State

Matt Read, left, celebrates with Ian Lowe after scoring BSU's first goal against Alaska-Anchorage. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Defenseman Sam Randle carries the puck in an Nov. 19 game at Denver

BSU goalie Mathieu Dugas makes a save on Northern Michigan's Andrew Chrerniwchan on Nov. 26

BSU's Matt Read checks NMU's CJ Ludwig during the first period Nov. 27. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Brance Orban throws a check during a Dec. 4 game against Nebraska-Omaha

Brad Hunt gains the blue line ahead of Omaha's Michael Young and Ryan Walters during a Dec. 5 game. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Madison native Jordan George scores in a game against Wisconsin on Dec. 10

Radoslav Illo and Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmandson vie for the puck in a Dec. 11 game.

Shea Walters skates behind the net against Ferris State during a Dec. 31 game at the Mariucci Classic

Dan Bakala holds his ground against Union at the Mariucci Classic on New Year's Day

The Bemidji State men's hockey team poses for a photo with the Mariucci Classic championship trophy following Saturday's 3-1 victory over Union. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Drew Fisher delivers a check during a game against St. Cloud State on Jan. 21

Brance Orban puts a shot on SCSU goalie Mike Lee on Jan. 22

The Beavers take the ice for a Feb. 18 game against Colorado College

Jamie MacQueen scores against Colorado College on Feb. 18

Jake Areshenko during a Feb. 22 game vs. Colorado College

Dan MacIntyre during a Feb. 22 game vs. Colorado College

Ryan Adams plays against North Dakota on Feb. 26

Dan Bakala makes a save on WCHA Player of the Year Matt Frattin

Bemidji State's Ian Lowe works to skate around UND's Andrew MacWilliam Sunday at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State's Ian Lowe works to skate around UND's Andrew MacWilliam Sunday at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Feb. 27. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Darcy Findlay makes a check on the back wall during a March 4 game against Minnesota

Bemidji State's Emil Billberg, front, skates ahead of Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad during the first period of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game Saturday March 5, 2011 at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State's Jeff Jubinville, left, celebrates after scoring on Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson, right, during the first period March 5.

Emil Billberg fights for position against Omaha during the playoff series

BSU players celebrate Matt Read's goal in the first period of Saturday night's playoff game at Qwest Center in Omaha. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Matt Read skates against UMD during the WCHA Final Five Quarterfinal in St. Paul on March 17.

The Beavers celebrate Brad Hunt's goal against UMD at the Final Five

BSU's Shea Walters goes after a rebound in front of Kenny Reiter during the first period. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Jordan George scores against Denver in the WCHA Final Five semifinal March 18

Sam Brittain makes a save on Darcy Findlay at the Final Five

Ian Lowe skates out the first period at the Final Five against Denver.