On the road again: travel way of life for Beavers

Adam Papin/MDN Beavers’ defenseman Matthew Yakubowski sharpens his skates ahead of Minot State’s game against the University of Mary on Jan. 24, 2024 game against the University of Mary.

There are miles, and then there are long miles.

And after a tough loss on the road to rival University of Mary, the miles between Mandan and Minot became long miles.

Silence enveloped the charter bus carrying the defending national champions home up US Highway 83.

Earlier in the evening, Reid Arnold had scored a short-handed goal to put Minot State up 2-0 midway through the second period. However, the Marauders answered with two goals of their own, including one with four seconds left before intermission to tie the game and grab momentum. The University of Mary then scored three goals in the third period for the 5-3 win.

Fortunately, the Beavers were able to make sure the loss didn’t carry over. Two days later the team rebounded to defeat the University of Jamestown, 3-0, once again on the road.

Life on the road is a way of life for college athletes, and Minot State athletes are no different, finding different ways to handle the monotony of hours spent on buses.

“You have to make sure you download your movies, and you play some games on your phone or get some shut eye,” said Eric Krywy, a sophomore defenseman from Winnipeg, Manitoba. “It’s nice when we travel through the night. A lot of our longer bus trips, we will travel through the night, so you can try to just sleep for most of the last ride.”

Krywy has proven especially adept at juggling life on the road with his classroom responsibilities, carrying a 4.0 grade point average while majoring in exercise science and rehabilitation.

He credits the mandatory study blocks athletes are required to attend with helping create accountability in the classroom. Every athlete has to complete a minimum of six hours of study halls each week at either the academic center inside the MSU Dome or at the campus library, and scans his or her student ID card which identifies the student as an athlete and tracks the time spent studying.

“We have a lot of resources available to us. Being a small school, you’ll have older students that have already taken classes that can help out,” said Krywy. “It’s all about a sense of community, of keeping yourself honest and studying.”

Logan Cyca and his fellow freshmen have a bit more responsibility, as packing the bus falls to the rookies.

There’s one item in particular that the freshmen better not forget.

“One of the biggest things is always having soap for the shower,” said Cyca. “That and making sure the speakers are on the bus.”

The music choices are as diverse as the team is, playing everything from rap to Nickelback to country. Josh Pederson was on a Sam Smith kick for a bit this season.

The Beavers arrived in Mandan a little after 5 p.m. and one of the local girls’ teams was still on the ice practicing. Some players sharpened skates while others stretched. Goalie Jake Anthony grabbed a Sharpie and wrote motivational goals on the tape of his stick.

A group started playing “sewer” to pass the time and keep their legs loose.

The best way to describe sewer is the game of hackysack, only with a soccer ball. There are three rounds. In the first round, players kick the ball as hard as they can at each other to get them knocked out of the round. The second round is called Nationals, and the same thing goes.

“If you’re the first one out, you can’t participate in the last game,” said senior Carter Barley. “So you don’t want to be the first one out.”

The round goes until only one player is left who hasn’t let the ball touch the ground. The last round is called the World Championship, and according to Barley, is a pretty big deal.

“If you win that then you get the championship belt,” he said.

Hockey players can be superstitious, and in rinks where the seats are numbered, Barley has a pregame routine centered around his jersey number, 82. He finds row two, seat eight and sits there to collect his pregame thoughts. Then, when the pre-game clock hits 53 minutes, and some combination of seconds totaling two, he will get up to go to the locker room to prepare for warmups.

The players all say that the time before games goes pretty quick. However, on some road trips and depending on hotel checkout times, the team can arrive at the local rink hours ahead of the matchup. That’s when players fight boredom by watching movies or doing homework on the bus.

Nonetheless, most of the Minot State hockey team played junior hockey in Canada for much of their youth, and they are seasoned veterans of long bus trips, having grown up with them as a natural part of their sporting life.

The hockey teams aren’t the only team impacted by travel.

Two games in particular carry increasing weight for the Minot State basketball programs.

Unlike NCAA Division I teams, those in lower divisions are limited in the amount of non-conference games teams are allowed to schedule, and that limitation can have profound effects on a program’s chances at a postseason at large bid.

The men’s basketball team experienced this first hand this year, when they just missed out on qualifying for its first NCAA Tournament. The Beavers finished ranked eighth in the Central Region, but because of automatic qualifiers, Minot State missed out on the postseason.

The Central Division, composed of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC), Great American Conference (GAC) and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) is consistently one of the top regions in the country, frequently cannibalizing each other with losses. It also has more members than many of the other regions in the country.

“Routinely, there will be a top 25 team that won’t make the postseason because the Central Region is so powerful,” said Minot State men’s basketball coach Matt Murken.

To help combat some of the imbalance, the NCAA allows member schools to play two additional games against teams outside of the region during the opening week of the season. This year, the Beavers defeated Rogers State University, 82-58, and Newman University, 73-59, at the Conference Challenge in Wichita, Kansas.

“For Minot State, they wanted to incentivize traveling,” said Murken. “Now for us, the closest in-region team is probably Central Missouri, which is about an hour past Kansas City,”

The fourteen hours on a bus creates challenges to play the in region teams, but when the Beavers win those games, it can boost the team’s profile against common opponents during the at-large selection process.

“That was a big deal for us to be ranked in our region, really for the whole year. Even at the end, we were ranked. We just kind of got bumped out because the GAC had to get an at-large team from someone,” said Murken.

According to Murken, getting teams to travel to Minot is a challenge, so much so that for a number of years, Minot State hosted a tournament in Dallas Texas. Direct flights out of Bismarck proved cost effective during that time. Nonetheless, like all the athletic programs at Minot State, it relies on boosters and donations to help fund the programs.

Out of the $1.28 billion generated from March Madness, the entirety of Division II receives just $44 million or just under three-and-half percent to be allocated among each school nationwide. With 298 schools in Division II, that works out to just under $150,000 per school.

“We’re trying to focus on what’s the best way to allocate our funds in order to have the best student athlete experience that we can, but also have the best representation of who the best teams are at the national tournament,” said Murken.

When the Beavers do take road trips, Murken always tries to make it an educational experience. For example, one year the program spent a travel day in Memphis visiting the Civil Rights Museum, and another time in Puerto Rico, a number of players saw the ocean for the first time.

He stressed the importance of also enhancing the educational part of that student athlete experience, according to Murken.

“It’s been really important to me as a coach to continue to try and do that as best we can,” said Murken.


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