Previews: Beavers hit hard by departures

Bemidji State forward Aaron McLeod, pictured, will be relied upon to team up with fellow BSU seniors Jordan George and Ben Kinne to help lead the Beavers in 2012-13. (Photo credit: Michelle Bishop)

As Bemidji State enters its third full season at the pristine Sanford Center, the Beavers appear to have gone from suffering growing pains to dealing with, well, rebuilding pains.

BSU’s third season in the WCHA will see head coach Tom Serratore’s Beavers looking to try and replace several key pieces the team lost to graduation following the 2011-12 campaign. What’s worse, the departures have left holes in all areas of Serratore’s squad.

Forward Shea Walters and defenseman Brad Hunt, two of the Beavers’ top scorers in 2011-12, are all gone. The pair led a senior class that scored 39.6 percent of BSU’s goals in 2011-12 (40 of 101), capping off stints that saw the northern Minnesota school successfully complete its transition from the ill-fated College Hockey America conference to one of Division I’s premier divisions.

Dan Bakala, to my mind the most underrated goaltender in the WCHA during his time in college, has also moved on following what seemed like 1,000 years of reliable netminding for BSU.

His duties have now been left to his heir apparent in the form of Andrew Walsh. The sophomore from Dawson Creek, British Columbia – no, I don’t wanna wait to see him play, either – put in solid performances in 2011-12, winning six of the 11 games in which he appeared.

Back at the other end of the ice, seniors Jordan George and Aaron McLeod will be expected to help lead the way for the Beavers in the new season. Neither of them are quite at the level of recent BSU alum and Philadelphia Flyers star Matt Read, but George (19 G, 12 A in 2011-12) is perhaps the most underrated player in the WCHA today, and McLeod (9 G, 14 A) isn’t far behind his star classmate.

Even with those bright spots, though, the key players that the Beavers lost to graduation have left their former teammates facing an uphill battle in the new season.

Do bear in mind, though, that the schedule fairy seems to have been relatively charitable to BSU for the 2012-13 campaign. The Beavers make up one quarter of a WCHA pod with Minnesota Duluth, Michigan Tech and Nebraska Omaha, the latter of which has only won a staggering one of its last 10 meetings with BSU in Omaha.

Head coach: Tom Serratore (Bemidji State ’87)
2011-12 record: 17-18-3 (11-14-3 WCHA)
Predicted finish in 2012-13: 11th
Home ice: Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.
-Capacity: 4,373
-Average attendance in 2011-12: 3,521

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