Undoubtedly, 2020-21 was a special season for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team.
The program reached heights it hadn’t seen in more than a decade by earning an NCAA Tournament bid, its first since 2010.
The fourth-seeded Beavers weren't happy to simply be invited to the Big Dance.
They wanted to make some noise. And did they ever.
Bemidji State thoroughly outplayed and dismantled top-seeded Wisconsin last Friday to the tune of a 6-3 victory in the East Regional semifinals at Bridgeport, Conn. If not for two third-period goals by soon-to-be NHLer Cole Caufield, the result could have been even worse for the Badgers.
Although BSU came up one win short of the Frozen Four after a 4-0 defeat Saturday to second-seeded Massachusetts, there was no denying the team belonged among college hockey’s best.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” head coach Tom Serratore said. “Obviously we wanted to go to the Frozen Four. We really felt that when we beat Wisconsin we were going to move on. I did, the players did, I’m sure the fans did. It didn’t happen. We lost to a darn good UMass team who was just dialed in. But these guys accomplished a lot.”
The Beavers entered the season with a chip on their shoulder over how 2019-20 ended. That year’s team was primed to reach the NCAA Tournament, only for the coronavirus pandemic to rip the rug out from beneath them.
Unfazed, Bemidji State took care of business and played its way into the 16-team field by earning the program’s second-ever at-large bid and its fifth NCAA Division I Tournament berth all-time. BSU finished 16-10-3 overall and ranked No. 10 in the March 29 USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
“What I’m most proud of our guys for is that last year, we would have been in the NCAA Tournament,” Serratore said, “and they validated last year this year. … That’s not easy. Getting in this tournament isn’t easy.”
Remaining in this year’s tournament proved to be even more difficult than usual.
Notre Dame and Michigan each had to withdraw before even playing a game due to positive COVID-19 test results. The Irish only made the field because St. Lawrence had to pull out of the tournament hours before the bracket was announced.
“COVID tests during the national tournament -- that’s stressful,” said Serratore, who estimates his team went through 75-80 rounds of COVID testing during the season. “Even though you feel, ‘Gosh, I haven’t been anywhere,’ but it doesn’t matter. You cross somebody in the hallway, somebody might be in the elevator, or whatever. There’s been a lot of moving parts to this season, and hockey has only been a part of it.”
The Wisconsin win will go down in program annals as one of the Beavers’ most memorable in a long and storied history.
“We won that game decisively,” Serratore said. “It was a great victory for our program, for the league. That to me tells you what college hockey is about right there. I say it all the time. There’s a fine line between winning and losing… and that’s the beauty of our sport. A small school can beat a power five (school), or however you want to equate it.”
The 2020-21 season posed more challenges than most. From the coaching staff to the players, Bemidji State rose to the occasion.
“There’s a strong bond and a strong cohesiveness,” Serratore said, “and a lot of it is because we got something taken away in the middle of March last year and abruptly ended our season. And we carried it over into this year.
“It was a grind a lot of times. There were positives, there were stoppages. There were COVID tests. There were a lot of different moving parts, and for everybody, not just the Beavers. But for the Beavers, you look back at it and we accomplished a lot.”