New year, same expectations

Experienced MSU hockey team sets sights on national championship

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State's Johl Swedlo (74) and the rest of the Minot State hockey team celebrate after Swedlo a goal at the ACHA national championships last March in Columbus, Ohio.

Wade Regier has never been shy about setting lofty expectations for the Minot State hockey team.

With 21 of 27 players returning on a team that lost in the American Collegiate Hockey Association national semifinals last year, Regier has his eyes set on capturing the program’s second national title in the 2017-2018 season.

“We’re never going to change our standard here,” the MSU head coach said. “We have a new level of excitement for the year but not a different level of expectations. Our end goal is always going to be winning a national championship and I think the talent is there to do just that.”

The ACHA also thinks highly of Minot State, ranking the Beavers as the No. 3 team in the nation in the league’s preseason poll.

Long thought of as a team that can score at-will, the identity of the Beavers might change this season. MSU’s top scoring forward, Jeremy Johnson (21 goals, 11 assists last year), has graduated, opening the door for a more defensive-based game plan.

“We definitely lost some of our top scorers, so we have to change the way we play this year,” senior forward Robby Moar said. “We have lots of returning defensemen and forwards that are looking to go out there and shut some guys down. That turns into a character thing. Everyone in our room knows we won’t outgun every team anymore, so we’re going to take a lot of pride working from our net out.”

The Beavers return several key defensemen, such as senior captain Eric Bollefer (three goals, eight assists last year), Austin Yano (eight goals, 17 assists), Kyle Lipinski (10 goals, 14 assists) and Carey Morrison (six goals, 16 assists). MSU also added former Minot Minotauro Paul O’Connor to its back end, with Regier saying he expects the freshman to see significant minutes.

“I don’t know if we’ll score as many goals as we did last year but we will give up far less,” Bollefer said. “We’re just going to use that formula to end up with a lot of wins. It’s a veteran group and everyone knows what to expect night in and night out. Chemistry is a huge factor on this team because everyone has been playing with each other for two to three years. It will make us a better team.”

While Johnson has departed, the Beavers aren’t left with a bare cupboard of forwards. Bryce Lipinski (13 goals, 11 assists), Johl Swedlo (12 goals, 12 assists), Shain Scheschuk (six goals, 13 assists) and Craig Fournier (nine goals, nine assists) all return for MSU and are expected to make significant contributions.

MSU has two goalies that are expected to see significant playing time early in Holden Kurtz and Joshua Bykowski. Kurtz played had a 14-1 record last season with a .926 save percentage, while Bykowski was 13-2 with a .912 save percentage. Newcomer and Minot native Brey Effertz will also get several starts throughout the season.

“Early on, for sure we’ll be splitting starts up for those guys,” Regier said. “Both goalies had pretty similar stats and we have confidence in both of them. Bray has come in and looked good too, so we’re going to get him some looks too. We want to win the national championship, so we’re going to play the best players. We make it easy on everybody, we’ll let them decide their role by how well they play.”

MSU opens the regular season against University of Oklahoma at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Maysa Arena.

“We have one heck of a schedule again, it’s the third hardest in the nation,” Regier said. “We have the same ole expectations and it’s the same ole song and dance, but that’s how we are built as a team. Our seniors have been to two final fours, so it’s time to break through and win another title.”

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.