EAST CENTRAL — Lake Lenore’s Eric Bollefer said the best part of winning the American Collegiate Hockey Association championship was the first moment when you lift the cup.
“You’re thinking of all the people that made it possible and it just such a surge of emotion,” he said.
Bollefer helped Minot State University (MSU) claim its first ACHA Division I men’s national championship since 2013. MSU is located in Minot, North Dakota.
Bollefer was one of a number of players with connections to the East Central Recorder’s coverage area on the squad. Wadena’s Shain Scheschuk and Kyle Lipinski, who played briefly for the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos, were on the title-winning team.
Also playing for the Beavers were Bollefer’s former Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Nipawin Hawks teammates Reece Forman of 108 Mile Ranch, BC and Blake Fournier of Maple Creek.
“Winning a championship with this group of players has been an incredible experience,” Scheschuk said. “Coming back to see all the support from the city of Minot has also been incredible. We will remember this time for the rest of our lives.”
After three seasons of entering the ACHA tournament as the top-ranked team, the Beavers headed to Frisco, Texas as No. 6.
“While winning any championship is incredible, it has meant so much more winning it with this special group of guys,” Forman said. “We were such a young group this year, and often found ourselves playing as underdogs. This underrated feeling played to our advantage in the national tournament … Being ranked at No. 6 this year meant we no longer had to impress anybody. We no longer had to win or else it was an upset by a weaker seed in the tournament. We could finally just focus on playing our brand of hockey; and every player from freshman to senior bought in to our game.”
Fournier, the team’s captain and Div. 1 championship MVP, agreed that the buy-in was huge.
“Everyone’s work ethic and positive attitudes led to our success,” he said. “No one cared who got the credit and we all had the common goal and belief that we could get the job done.”
MSU started the tournament by beating No. 11 Illinois and then knocking off No. 3 Adrian College. In the semifinals, the Beavers beat No. 1 Lindenwood University and then won the title with a 3-1 victory over Iowa State University.
Fournier scored his team’s first goal to knot the contest at 1-1. Scheschuk’s marker, with Bollefer earning the assist, put Minot State on top 2-1. Bollefer capped the contest with an empty net goal.
“Sharing this experience with Forman and Bollefer is something I will forever cherish,” Fournier said. “It’s been a long road to a championship, but it was worth the wait. I couldn’t be more happy for these two as well as a number of guys who I previously played against in the SJHL. It has all come full circle and it is amazing to raise the cup with all these boys. I feel as though the grind of the SJHL prepared us for the year we just completed.”
All the players with local ties spent time in the SJHL. Scheschuk, who was the team’s second leading scorer in the regular season, suited up in the SJHL for Weyburn.
“The SJHL was really when I started to learn the mental side of the game,” Bollefer said. “The coaches and playing against such skilled players makes you improve drastically. Couldn’t have made it to the collegiate level without that experience.”
Growing up as a young Canadian hockey player, Forman said his dream was to make the NHL. He said when you get older and figure out that your shot at that is about one in a million, you change your goal and hope you can make it to university hockey. The ACHA, which on the past has sometimes been called “club” hockey, offers a way for players to compete at a high level and get an education.
“I will forever thank the ACHA and more importantly the Minot State University program as a whole for giving me this extremely unique opportunity,” Forman said. “If I had to single out one favourite thing of mine about the ACHA, it would be the friendships I have made over the years. There are countless memories that I will cherish for years to come; whether I was a freshman right up until my current status as a senior.”
The players said that the support from the Minot community and from back home has been huge.
“I have had so many congratulations over the last few days and I am so thankful for all of them,” Fournier said. “I literally have not stopped smiling since [championship] night and I can’t wait to defend our title next year.”