Gophers make first-ever Bemidji State trip to face off with Beavers

David La

The Minnesota hockey program has long travelled on the Division I interstate, while Bemidji State made its way along the Division II backroads.
But the disbanding of Division II hockey among in-state colleges in 1998 forced the Beavers to join the Division I ranks. The Gophers did not play Bemidji State last year, but head into this weekend’s game with every intention of allowing the upstart program to merge.
“Part of the University of Minnesota’s responsibility is to assist emerging in-state programs,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “And its meant a lot to their program for us to play there this weekend.”
The first-ever meeting between Minnesota and Bemidji State finds Beavers coach R.H. “Bob” Peters one win shy of his 700th at Bemidji State. Now in his 37th year as a coach, Peters, with 740 wins overall, trails only Ron Mason (865) of Michigan State in all-time wins.
Peters last coached against the Gophers in 1966, when his North Dakota team handed a John Mariucci-coached Minnesota squad a 4-2 loss.
In those days, the WCHA was made up of eight teams, including Michigan and Michigan State, who now play in the CCHA.
Peters credits the work of pioneers like Mariucci for increasing the growth and popularity of college hockey in the region, a vision continued by Lucia.
“It’s the nature of hockey people that we rally to help each other,” Peters said. “I look and us like apostles or missionaries. John Mariucci was, he would go miles to speak to communities about hockey. And coach Lucia has taken up the mantle of John Mariucci.”
Bemidji State enters its second season at the Division I level as a member of College Hockey America. The Beavers finished 13-20-1 last season, but are favored among conference coaches to win the CHA this year.
To do so, Bemidji will need to improve on last year’s 0-9 record against WCHA teams. The Beavers face WCHA teams 11 times this year, making up part of the schedule Peters calls the toughest ever for his team.
Peters said his team — made up of 22 freshmen and sophomores — are as, “green as our uniforms. But we’ve asked them to throw their heads and hearts out at center ice every game and by gosh, they’ve done it.
“Our motto is, `We shall persist until we’re victorious.'”
Five of Peters’ sophomores were all-CHA rookie selections last year, and includes goaltender Bob Tallarico, who posted a 6-2 mark as a freshman.
Bemidji State hosts a Gophers team fresh off a 7-3 pasting of Notre Dame. Freshmen scoring and special teams play paced the victory, as the Minnesota power-play unit scored on three of six opportunities.
Conversely, the Gopher’s penalty kill held the Irish to only one shot in six tries with the man advantage.
Lucia said his team practiced sluggishly early this week, but is at full-strength. Lucia plans to play all the freshmen who saw ice time against Notre Dame in their same roles.
Though the John S. Glas Fieldhouse only holds 2,358, Lucia is preaching his usual mantra about playing on the road.
“When we go on the road, not giving up a goal in the first period is real important,” Lucia said. “It keeps the crowd from getting into it.”
Peters predicts a sell-out at the Fieldhouse, one of the by-products of hosting a top-team. And one of the upsides of joining the Division I ranks.
“Like the president said to me when he hired me, `Hockey is part of our culture. We should have a team for our students and faculty to watch. A team for our region and our players coming out of high school,'” Peters said. “And by-god we’ve done it.”

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]