This Spring Break, while most students enjoy parties and beaches, the fifth seed Minot State men’s hockey team will head into the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I National Tournament in Frisco, Texas. With their seed comes the placement in the second round of the tournament automatically. However, the defending national champions will face a very familiar foe in the first game: local rival University of Jamestown.
Minot and Jamestown usually play each other several times throughout the regular season. With the proximity of the schools comes a heated animosity between the two teams and fan bases. A short three-hour bus trip separates the two arenas and the contests are always intense affairs. Minot State forward and senior Kent Walchuk explained the rivalry is something to be excited about.
“Facing Jamestown in our first game of the tournament is definitely interesting. We have had some big wins and tough losses against them in the past and this will be a true test of what we truly have to give,” Walchuk said. “I am personally excited for the matchup. We have so much experience playing against them throughout the regular season. We know our skill outmatches them, and if we are willing to outwork them, we will be successful. That being said, we can’t take them lightly as they are a good team. I’m assuming it is going to be a close game, as all of our contests have been.”
Though the national tournament takes this rivalry to the big stage, getting there was half the battle. The team faced a lot of challenges during the season, but always had their eyes set on making it to Frisco. Goaltender and senior Holden Kurtz is no stranger to the tournament, having played on the team last season. He hopes for the troops to rally as they take on the big challenge down South.
“Every single player has to be on board. If someone isn’t completely bought in, that can be detrimental to the team’s success. ‘Buying in’ can be anything from helping out teammates in any way possible, or putting in the extra work in the gym,” Kurtz explained. “The biggest challenge so far this season is just finding the consistency to play a whole 60 minutes in a night. When we play to our potential, we are a very good hockey team who is tough to beat. When we decide to take a period off, things can get a bit ugly, but all it takes is a flip of the switch and we are right back in the game. If we are able to play the full 60 (every game), beating us in nationals is going to be a very tall task for any team.”
First year player and defenseman Austin Wieler agreed that consistency has been both the biggest challenge and key to success at this level of hockey. He explained that the highlight of his season so far has been traveling and the opportunity to see the team grow and progress. It’s Minot State hockey’s reputation that persuaded Wieler’s commitment to the program.
“I think seeing the facilities and meeting some of the staff here really helped my decision. Everyone wants you to succeed here at MSU and they definitely give you the resources and knowledge to do that,” Wieler said.
While the team brought in a lot of new faces this year, they will look to stalwart veterans to make a difference in the big games to come. Defenseman and senior Dylan Johnson highlighted the key pieces to the puzzle: “Josh Bykowski and Holden Kurtz are the best goalies in the country and the backbone of our team. They are there to make the big saves when we need them. Adam Wowryk has been huge for us as well, scoring over 30 goals this year. I hadn’t played with a 30-goal scorer yet in my Beaver career.”
Walchuk and Kurtz also highlighted Wowyk’s offensive abilities and contributions to the team. Kurtz explained that alternate captain Paul O’Connor is a calming force for the defensive end of the team and expanded on his willingness to lay his body out night-in and night-out to block shots. The teammates also explained that the squad as a whole has plenty of guys who can step up and make a huge impact, especially in the national tournament.
The Minot State Beavers face off against the Jamestown Jimmies on Saturday, March 21 at 10:00 a.m. CST in Frisco, Texas. As defending champions of the title, the Beavers head into the tournament with big expectations, a target on their back, and a tremendous hunger for more.