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BABCOCK COLUMN: Beavers endured a wild ride and wilder finish in 2021-22

Teams go through peaks and valleys, stretches of success and fallow periods of failure. But it’s not every year that a team goes through all of that in the span of a few months.

The Beavers await the trophy presentation after what they thought was the end of the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Mankato. The game later resumed after the winning goal was disallowed.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

All seasons are journeys.

Teams go through peaks and valleys, stretches of success and fallow periods of failure. But it’s not every year that a team goes through all of that in the span of a few months.

That, to me, is the story of the 2021-22 Bemidji State men’s hockey team. The Beavers had high hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament, and for much of the season, it looked like they could meet them. BSU held steady in or near the top third of the Pairwise rankings most of the year and looked like the second-best team in the CCHA.

Then, the Ferris State series happened. In undeniably the low point of the season for Bemidji State, a Bulldogs team lurking in the basement of the conference rose up to beat the Beavers on back-to-back nights at the Sanford Center, handing BSU a demoralizing home sweep .

012622.S.BP.BSUMHKY Scuffle.jpg
A scuffle breaks out in the second period during a Bemidji State game against Ferris State on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The score of the final game was 5-2, which quickly became a motif for the Beavers – they lost both games at Michigan Tech by the same score the following week.


At that point, it looked as though it would be a season to forget for Bemidji State – one marred by a disappointing finish after a promising start that included a road victory over North Dakota and general command of the No. 2 spot in the CCHA standings.

030922.S.BP.BSUMHKY Lukas Sillinger goal.jpg
Bemidji State sophomore Lukas Sillinger (20) scores the game-winning goal in the third period against Bowling Green in a CCHA quarterfinal game on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Sanford Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

But Bemidji State once again flipped the script in the playoffs, overcoming a one-game deficit in a best-of-three CCHA quarterfinal series win over Bowling Green , then upsetting that same Michigan Tech team in the CCHA semifinals on the road by a score of – you guessed it – 5 to 2.

The season culminated with an instant classic in Mankato against No. 1 Minnesota State, a 2-1 overtime loss where – as head coach Tom Serratore noted – the Beavers were one shot away from realizing their ultimate goal.

And though they didn’t do so, they did prove one thing to themselves – they have the pieces for a run next season. None bigger than freshman goaltender Mattias Sholl, who established himself as not only the future backstop at BSU, but the present one.

With Sholl solidified in net, Bemidji State played its best hockey of the season. It’s enough to make you wonder what would have happened had he played the whole year, but BSU’s problems ran deeper than that.

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Bemidji State goalie Mattias Sholl (30) watches as the puck flies over the net in the second period against Minnesota State in the CCHA Mason Cup Championship game on Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Mankato.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

The Beavers were simply in an overall funk toward the end of the regular season, and it cost them a chance at an at-large NCAA bid. Next year, they’ll have to perform without fifth-year seniors Brad Johnson and Ethan Somoza, as well as fourth-years like Tyler Kirkup, the program’s single-season Division I points record-holder Owen Sillinger, and a few others. But the foundation Bemidji State laid down in the final month provides a strong building platform.

I’ll let Sholl – who will be even more of a focal point in next year’s team – reflect on that.

“All of us coming back next year and having guys coming in, it's going to be something that we can maybe use as a leadership thing,” Sholl said. “When we get back in a situation like that, we can talk to them and help him through that or whatever the case may be. But it's nice to have the confidence that you can get the job done.”


Will next year’s group reach the NCAA Tournament? We’ll have to see. But one thing’s pretty much certain – BSU discovered its winning groove down the stretch this year, and that should only help next year’s group get Bemidji State back where it wants to be.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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