The shock and disappointment of last March has been replaced with excitement and anticipation for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team.
A year after their season was unexpectedly cut short, the Beavers have taken care of unfinished business in accomplishing what no other team has in more than a decade.
BSU’s 11-year NCAA Tournament drought is over.
Since the storied program’s modern era began with the completion of the John S. Glas Fieldhouse in 1967-68, the Beavers had never gone so long without appearing in a national tournament.
Fourth-seeded Bemidji State will embark on what it hopes will be a long tournament run in the East Regional semifinals against top-seeded Wisconsin at noon central time Friday, March 26.
BSU was in a good position to make the Big Dance in 2020.
One day before the team was set to play in the WCHA semifinals, the coronavirus pandemic brought the country to a halt. A promising season was left without a true ending.
“We kind of got it stripped away from us last year. A lot of the guys are not forgetting about that one,” senior forward Brendan Harris said.
The team regrouped over a longer-than-usual offseason and picked up where it left off.
Overcoming a slow start, the Beavers ended at 15-9-3 while enduring a challenging gauntlet of games, ranking first in the country in strength of schedule. The team compiled a 9-6-2 mark against opponents ranked in the USCHO poll, including 11 combined games against fellow tournament teams Minnesota State and Lake Superior State.
“Our body of work this year got us into the tournament,” senior forward Ethan Somoza said. “We’re glad to make it in, but we’re not just happy to be there. We’re looking to win and go to the Frozen Four.”
Senior forward Aaron Miller almost didn’t return to BSU this season.
He’d originally planned to forgo his senior season to begin a professional career. But the early weeks of the pandemic gave Miller time to reflect and rethink his plans. Soon enough, he decided to return for 2020-21.
Clearly, Miller has no regrets.
“I knew what we had with me coming back,” Miller said. “It’s good to see all the hard work we’ve done. We stuck with the plan all year and we finally made it back again.”
Not every player from last year’s squad was able to return.
Bemidji State will be playing for its 2019-20 seniors -- Adam Brady, Tommy Muck and Hampus Sjödahl -- whose dreams of making the NCAA Tournament were dashed in the least expected way.
“For our seniors last year, it sucked that it had to end the way it did and they didn’t get a chance to go to the tournament with us,” senior captain Ethan Somoza said. “And now that we’re here, we’re going to try to make them proud. I got texts from a few of them (Sunday) night congratulating us and telling us good luck. I know they’re excited for us and we’re going to try to make them proud.”
That young BSU team of a year ago has matured and accomplished something no other group had since the days of Matt Read and Brad Hunt.
Although the Beavers have taken care of unfinished business in one regard, they aren’t content simply making the tournament.
“It’s just the beginning,” Harris said. “We got in and we’re happy about it, but now it’s time to put our work boots on.”
At a glance
Who: BSU vs. Wisconsin
What: NCAA East Regional semifinals
Where: Bridgeport, Conn.
When: noon Friday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/92.1 FM