MSU men’s hockey has high hopes for ’21-22

From Minot Daily News

By Ryan Ladika


An assistant coach on last year’s Minot State Beavers men’s hockey team, Wyatt Waselenchuk knows the 2020-21 campaign left much to be desired for his team.

Even after a dominant regular season that saw the Minot State men’s hockey squad finish 25-3-1-1 in 30 games, good for the most wins in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, he and the team were left feeling unsatisfied following a 6-1 defeat to Adrian College in the National Championship Game and a season that was marred by COVID-19 from start to finish.

“For all of our freshmen last year, it was a really tough year,” Waselenchuk, Minot State’s newest head coach, recalled. “I’ve talked to all of them at length just about how that wasn’t really the Minot State experience last year, having crowd restrictions and things like that. I know that those guys are really excited about a full season where things are somewhat back to normal.”

Infused with new blood and moving forward with new leadership on and off the ice, the Beavers could not be more ready to turn the page and begin the new season.

“I’ve been super impressed,” Waselenchuk said of his team’s preseason efforts. “I’ve had numerous players and other parts of my coaching staff comment on how much energy we have. It’s a lot of guys who either played with each other or against each other in junior hockey, and that kind of family tight-knit bond is something that we really want to instill here at Minot State.”

The Beavers, currently rostering a total of 24 players, inked eight new recruits to official commitments throughout the offseason: goaltenders Tre’ Sortland and Jake Anthony, defenseman Payton Jerome, and forwards Josh Pederson, Jake Bestul, Reece Henry, Jared Hamm and Reid Arnold.

Only Blake Fournier, Rhett Lough and Adam Wowryk were lost to graduation after the conclusion of last year, and the team is elated to be returning the majority of the core that made Minot State such a challenging opponent throughout the 2020-21 campaign.

“We’re feeling pretty good so far,” said the Beavers’ newest captain, Davis Sheldon. “We have quite a big group coming back that knows what we’re all about, and so far the freshmen coming in have bought in, so I’m pretty excited to see where we’re going to go.”

Throughout the three-week preseason, Waselenchuk has been focusing on getting his team back up to playing speed by steadily increasing the tempo of practice, especially in the offensive zone.

As strong as the Beavers were last year, bumping up their offensive production will be imperative for a team that has relied heavily on its blue-liners throughout recent seasons.

Minot state scored only eight times in its four postseason games after leading the ACHA in total goals with 139. By contrast, the defending-champion Bulldogs had outscored Minot State by five in the title game alone and found the back of the net 35 times in their four playoff contests.

“We made it to that final game last year and we ran out of gas,” Waselenchuk admitted. “Even in 2019 when we had won (the National Championship), I think we scored six goals that whole tournament.”

The key for the first-year head coach is to create offense from the team’s defensive unit. He hopes to see his defensemen, led by two-way player Nick Doyle who scored 15 goals and assisted on 17 more last season, be more involved and help create more high-danger scoring chances in the offensive zone.

The sheer size, mobility and physicality of the team’s defensemen inspire hope and confidence for Waselenchuk and his coaching staff, and they are planning for them to complement their explosive forwards quite nicely.

Taking another step forward, the program hopes, is sophomore Carter Barley. The 21-year-old forward burst onto the scene during his first season with the program, scoring 16 goals and adding 18 assists to lead the team with 34 points in his 29 games.

“I’m expecting a monster year out of him,” Waselenchuk added. “He came in here in good shape, and it’s a dangerous combination when you put together the skill-set he has with the work ethic and how he’s enjoying himself.”

With the season-opener slated for Thursday night against Jamestown and the home-opener Friday, also against the Jimmies, the team is chomping at the bit to get started and the expectations are as high as they have ever been.

“Just like every other year here in Minot, the Beavers have an expectation to win,” Sheldon continued. “Nothing short of that. We expect to get back to that National Championship Game, and this year have a different outcome.”

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