Beavers men’s hockey prepares for top five matchup with Liberty
After beginning the season with a pair of victories over its bitter rival Jamestown Jimmies, things will not get any easier for the Minot State men’s hockey team moving forward.
Quite the opposite, in fact. With two games now under their belt and two weeks off between series, the No. 4 Beavers will welcome the undefeated third-ranked Liberty University Flames to the Maysa Arena ice Oct. 15-16.
The weekend series will mark the first time Minot State has met Liberty since the Beavers eliminated the Flames by a 3-1 final score in the 2021 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I National Tournament Semifinals.
“I’ve been telling anybody who will listen, this is probably the best hockey team we’ve had here to play us in maybe 10 years,” Beavers head coach Wyatt Waselenchuk said. “We’re going to have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Indeed, the Flames will make the trip from Lynchburg, Virginia boasting wins in each of their first six games of the season, and the team has looked every bit as dominant as its record would indicate.
A blowout 9-0 win over Indiana University of Pennsylvania Sept. 17 set the tone for its season, and Liberty would go on to outscore its opposition by an aggregate 38-9 in its first six contests.
“They’re going to come at you right off the bat,” Waselenchuk continued. “They forecheck hard, they’ve got a very strong defensive core, they’ve got a fantastic goaltender, and they’ve got four lines that can put the puck in the net.”
While the Beavers have not seen as much action as the Flames to begin the 2021-22 campaign, Waselenchuk and his coaching staff were still impressed by the way the team handled a home-and-home series against their rivals to the southeast.
The resiliency of the team, in particular, stuck out. Without the benefit of a single preseason game, the Beavers began the new slate on the road and edged the Jimmies 3-2 in overtime Sept. 30.
Behind second-period goals from Connor Navrot and Jake Bestul, the Beavers took a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish until the final 12 seconds of the contest.
Jamestown’s Gregory Susinski potted the equalizer in the waning moments of the third period, and the Beavers simply picked themselves up and earned the win in the first two minutes of the extra frame on Navrot’s second score of the game.
“Facing some adversity early on is a good thing for a hockey team,” Waselenchuk added. “Whenever you go to Jamestown, it’s definitely not easy. To see us give up one late and to come right back a minute or so into overtime was big for us and shows the kind of character of our hockey team.”
The following night on home ice, Minot State only increased in strength in the offensive zone. The Beavers scored twice in both of the first two periods against Jimmies netminder Tyson Brouwer en route to a much more comfortable 4-0 victory, as well as the series sweep. Jake Anthony and Riley Wallace both earned victories in net for the Beavers during the two-game set.
One area that will be imperative for Minot State to clean up ahead of the Liberty series, though, will be the need to remain disciplined and stay out of the penalty box. In its first two games alone, the Beavers gave Jamestown nine chances on the power play, and as Waselenchuk noted, that simply will not fly against the Flames’ potent offensive capabilities.
“There’s no way that we can be killing five or six penalties against Liberty,” he said. “We’ve just got to be smarter than that. It’s a fine line, you want a lot of emotion, and you definitely want to have a lot of energy, but that ‘never too high, never too low’ thought process is something that we talk about every day.”
As the crucial early-season matchup approaches, Waselenchuk and his team continue vigorously preparing for a series that promises plenty of excitement, and Minot State is looking forward to putting its talent on display against one of the most challenging opponents it will see all year.
“I’m just really excited for a big, big top five matchup here at the Maysa,” Waselenchuk said. “It’s been a long, long time, and we’re excited to have a program of this caliber here in Minot. We’re excited to show our fans and show all of our supporters what kind of hockey is played at the top level of ACHA Division I hockey.”