Shea Walters is contributing now more than ever as his Bemidji State hockey career is coming to a close.
The senior centerman from Hibbing has 10 goals this season, a career high, and is scoring points in timely situations. He is on a four-game point streak heading into this weekend’s series at No. 7 Minnesota and has 10 assists for a BSU career-high 20 points on the year.
“The thing is always just to work hard and go into games mentally thinking about working hard every shift – I think it’s starting to pay off,” Walters said. “I’m just trying to do the little things right and going to the net hard.”
Some of Walters’ success this season can be traced back to the weeks following the end of last season when he reflected on his junior year. Walters’ only goal was an overtime game-winner against Minnesota-Duluth in a WCHA Final Five quarterfinal and the moment is displayed on a wall-sized photograph in the BSU player lounge.
As memorable as the goal was, Walters ended the year with 14 points and was disappointed with his scoring production.
“Last year was a struggle,” Walters said. “You evaluate yourself as a player in the offseason and look at what was working and what wasn’t. I just evaluated myself honestly and said these were the things I needed to work on. I really did and they seem to be paying off this year.”
Walters improved his physical conditioning routine in the offseason and the pounds he added are helping him find more space around the net to use his best asset: his shot.
“I think Shea’s shot has improved tremendously since he’s come on campus and he’s a lot stronger right now,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “When he came in, he was kind of skinny and now he’s strong. He’s a man right now.”
Walters built his hockey career on a shot that was showcased at Hibbing High School and during his junior career.
Walters scored 24 goals during an 84-point season with North Iowa of the North American Hockey League the year before coming to Bemidji State as a freshman for the 2008-09 Frozen Four season.
He played for Green Bay of the United States Hockey League for two years after he graduated from Hibbing, where he helped the Bluejackets to a third-place finish in the state tournament.
Hibbing coach Mark DeCenzo recalled Walters as player with strong puck-handling abilities and good vision on the ice. He also remembered him as a player who liked to pass, sometimes to a fault.
“If there’s anything I’d like to see him do more and tease him about, I’d say ‘don’t turn down a good shot’ because the guy can shoot very well,” DeCenzo said. “It sounds like he’s got to the realization he’s not going to turn down a good opportunity and good for him. He’s always had the ability to do it and he has a great attitude it seems.”
Shea grew up playing hockey with his brother Drew and the two formed a one-two punch at Hibbing.
“He was always my role model and a great hockey player,” Shea said. “He was such a great skater, phenomenal skater and had such an influence on me growing up. Every game I think about ‘how would he play?’”
Walters has played in four games against Minnesota for BSU and admits there is some added personal motivation in playing the Gophers.
“Being a kid in Minnesota growing up watching them, you want to be part of their team and once you’re not, you really want to beat them pretty bad,” Walters said. “Every year you mark this down on your schedule as a weekend you look forward to.”
Serratore said Walters has become more of an offensive factor this season because the added size has added more depth to his game. Walters has had more assists than goals throughout his hockey career.
That might change this year.
“Once he sees a little success with his shot, he’s not afraid to use it,” Serratore said. “He was always a pass-first guy, shoot second. He still is a pass-first guy but he’s shooting a heck of a lot more than he used to.”
Walters is one of three Hibbing natives currently playing Division I hockey: Aaron Jamnick is at Minnesota-Duluth and DeCenzo’s son Anthony is at Vermont.
Former Beavers hockey player Shane Holman is an assistant coach with DeCenzo at Hibbing, a crossroads of college hockey fan bases and an Iron Range community sure to be keeping watch on Walters this weekend.
“You got die-hard Bemidji fans, you got die-hard Dogs fans, die hard Gophers fans and a few St. Cloud fans,” DeCenzo said. “Shea and Shane have helped get a Bemidji following in the Hibbing area.”