Chatting With Bemidji State's Tom Serratore: Penalty Kill, Driscoll & More

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FloHockey’s Tim Rappleye spent the Friday before the Bemidji State-Northern Michigan series with the WCHA’s most vociferous coach, Tom Serratore. His No. 13-ranked Beavers are the hottest team in the NCAA, and he wants to keep it that way. 

Flo: When you head into a big series late in the year like this, do you push your guys to do big things, or do you keep their world small and focus on details?

SERRATORE: I don’t want to be all cliche, but this is no different than weekend one or two. We have the same approach Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We don’t change things, we don’t deviate, our discussions are very similar. As far as the magnitude of this series? I don’t need to tell them that. They understand full well what’s at stake. They look at the standings, they know how many games are left. That’s the beauty of this time of year. We really don’t have to motivate the players; the players motivate themselves.

Your penalty kill has been a huge asset for you this year. Your Beavers often create as many chances as you give up. Is that by design?

I don’t think you ever go into a situation where you want to create offense on a penalty kill. I think that just happens. Bottom line is we just don’t want to get scored on. You’re not worrying about offense on a penalty kill. I don’t care if I get a short-handed goal all year — you just don’t want to give up goals. As far as opportunities and chances, if you do your job on the penalty kill, if you’re good up ice, and you eliminate easy access into the zone, there’s going to be some times where you get some opportunities offensively. 

We have veterans killing penalties, and that really helps. Again, your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and our goaltender has really played well.

Last season your goalie Zach Driscoll was facing a crisis in confidence when he got lit up by his old team St. Cloud State. How did you help nurture his confidence?

I don’t know if we’ve done anything. First off, Zach went and played junior hockey in Omaha after the St. Cloud experience. Take a look at his statistics in Omaha. I think he got his confidence down in Omaha. I want to give Omaha total credit and I want to give Zach total credit. Collectively, that’s where he regained his confidence. He was provided an opportunity last year, and he took advantage of it. I think last year Zach really grew as a goaltender, and this year he’s definitely torqued it up a notch. He’s been our MVP this year.

Changing subjects, you and your brother Frank are known as intense Minnesota Vikings fans. Do you ever search the internet after a dramatic Vikes game to see if Frank has made another memorable video?

No, no, and he’s not as big a Vikings fans as that one thing came out, either. We’re beyond that. The Vikings win or lose, my Sundays are just fine. Do I want the Vikings to win, yes, but if they lose, again, I’m beyond all that stuff, and I think Frank is, too. I think he had a little fun with that thing a couple years ago, but that’s what it was. It was having fun. He’s not that diehard. And I’m not that diehard. 

Frank’s Air Force Team was a puck-bounce away from making the Frozen Four in 2017. How closely were you following?

My own son was on that team, too. I had more vested those four years than I did probably the other years. I was really close to it. 

Are you like the Harbaugh brothers? Is there a sibling rivalry between you and Frank? Like the fact you made a Frozen Four and he didn’t?

No, no. Frank’s my brother, he’s my mentor, I admire him, I respect him. He was my idol growing up and still he’s my best friend. We’ll talk hockey, but we’re beyond those kinds of things.

Do you cast for Walleye together in the offseason?

I live in Northern Minnesota where fishing is a big part of the fabric and culture, but no, I don’t fish. I golf, and I do what everybody else does, but I’m not a big fisherman.

Back to the here and now, is there a special vibe on this team?

Yes, when you’re winning there’s always a good vibe. Hey, we’ve had success as of late. I can sense it, absolutely. I’ve been around long enough where I can sense it. It’s a positive vibe, it’s a good vibe. That’s a testament to our leadership group. We haven’t had many bad practices at all. They are very focused, they work, they’re serious about the game, I can’t get them off the ice. I guess they’re really into hockey.


Tim Rappleye is the author of Jack Parker's Wiseguys: The National Champion BU Terriers, the Blizzard of '78, and the Road to the Miracle on Ice. He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.

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