Brighter Days Ahead in Bemidji?
a warm weekday afternoon, the campus of Bemidji State University
is ablaze with fall color. On the western shore of Lake Bemidji,
the school's red and brown brick buildings are surrounded by a
forest of birches, oaks and maples flashing the fiery reds, oranges
and yellows of October, topped by the green of the stunning Norway
pines towering overhead, many of them more than 100 years old.
On this day,
a steady ceiling of off-white clouds rolls in across the lake
as a few fishermen troll for a few final open-water walleyes and
mentally prepare for the ice houses that will dot the frozen white
expanse soon. None of the clouds look like they'll bring storms
to BSU, and inside the school's hockey office, that's a welcome
the corner and down the hall from the BSU coaches' offices is
a display case that holds the fruits of labor on another frozen
white expanse –
specifically the six NCAA hockey championship trophies the school
won on the Division II and III levels. Today those monuments are like
big fish caught a long time ago – nice memories, but with
little significance in the present day.
Tom Serratore was a member of a BSU national championship team
in the 1986. Less than two decades later, he's running the show
as his alma mater finds its way as a D-I program. Inside his tidy,
cozy office with brick painted white on one wall, Serratore is
quick to smile and welcome a visitor, despite admitting to having
a few things weighing on his mind these days.
As David Letterman
used to say of Bill Clinton during the depths of the Monica Lewinsky
scandal, "I wouldn't give his troubles to a monkey on a rock."
season opener versus Ferris State is still a few weeks away, but
Serratore feels like he's dealt with a season's worth of challenges
top goalie's got a sore knee. The future of his hockey conference
is uncertain at best. His team doesn't have Minnesota on the schedule
this season when the Beavers might have a team good enough to
record the school's first-ever win over the Golden Gophers. And
the darkest cloud hanging over Serratore's team is the situation
with one-time Beavers forward Riley Riddell.
been a mention of the Beaver hockey program on the front page
of most Minnesota newspapers this season, but it's not anything
you'll find in Serratore's scrapbook. Riddell and two other BSU
students have been charged with sexual assault in a case that's
expected to produce ugly headlines for the next six to nine months.
Riddell, the Beavers' second-leading scorer last year, has been
suspended from the team, and Serratore said he doesn't expect
It's not a
topic that the coach or his guest care to dwell on. Serratore
talks more openly about the uncertain future of the College Hockey
America conference, in which the Beavers are favored to repeat
as regular season champions. The league has six teams, which is
the minimum to gain an NCAA berth, but that could change at the
end of the season with Air Force
and Niagara eyeing other conferences. Serratore, the league's
coach of the year last season, says quite openly that without
the CHA, it would be hard for the sport to expand for lack of
conferences willing to accept new teams. Indeed, the league welcomed
the nation's newest D-I team, Robert Morris, with open arms and
has given the Colonials a chance to compete for a NCAA berth in
their first season.
One can tell
in even a brief conversation with Serratore that despite the many
negatives one could dwell on in Bemidji these days, he's eternally
a "glass is half full" kind of guy. He speaks with guarded
optimism about the season to come, and Serratore's smile makes
his dark mustache perk up when he reaches into an oversized filing
cabinet to show off the Beavers' sharp new third sweater. He remains
optimistic that if the right man gets elected to the
state legislature from Bemidji in November, the hoped-for new
arena in Bemidji could take a step closer to being a reality.
And Serratore is hopeful that in March, when the Beavers host
the CHA tournament just down Highway 2 in Grand Rapids, his team
can secure its first D-I trip to the NCAAs.
smile that lights up Serratore's office rarely dims during the
visitor's time there, and the coach gives a thankful handshake
before heading off to a meeting with his assistants.
the same Mother Nature that can be so harsh on northern Minnesotans
each winter gets a whiff of that Serratore optimism in the face
of adversity. By the time the visitor exits the athletic offices
and heads down the hill toward Diamond Point and the lake, the
sky is lighter as the sun is threatening to poke through that
layer of clouds.
For a moment,
the blazing fall colors seem just a bit brighter in the home of