Nov. 8—Hockey players come in all shapes and sizes, as does their impact on the teams they play for.
In the collegiate game, that impact is often undisclosed until the player gets their shot. Bemidji State men's hockey head coach Tom Serratore is watching that process play out with his freshman class.
Through eight games, the Beavers' seven rookies — Eric Pohlkamp, Liam Engström, Jake McLean, Rhys Chiddenton, Noah Quinn, Kasper Magnussen and Raythan Robbins — have all seen time on the ice. Robbins, a goalie out of Anchorage, Alaska, relieved Gavin Enright in the second game of BSU's series against Lake Superior State last weekend, which meant all of Serratore's freshmen had made their on-ice debut.
"It's good that they play, and it's good that they get a little experience so they're not so awe-struck when they get into games," Serratore said. "We really like this freshmen class. Over the course of four years, it's going to be a really good class. They're going to play a lot of hockey. ... But overall, we like what we've seen in practice, and we like what we've seen in games."
The expectations are different for each newcomer. It starts at the top with Pohlkamp, Bemidji State's prized recruit and a fifth-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft to the San Jose Sharks. He came into this season with the expectation of making an immediate impact in 5-on-5 play and on special teams.
Pohlkamp has a goal and three assists in eight games, including the tying goal in the third period against Army on Oct. 14. He's consistently one of the Beavers' top earners in ice time. But at 19 years old, his role comes with expectations most freshmen don't have, which includes playing like a guy who's ahead of the curve.
"I love the pressure," Pohlkamp said. "I think if you can succeed with pressure, it's one of the greatest things in the world. When you have all the pressure on you, and you can prove to people that you can handle it, that's really cool. I don't think I play (under) much pressure, but if I do, I'm going to try to exceed those expectations."
The rest of the Beavers' rookies are in a more delicate spot, where ice time is earned instead of given, and the chances to produce are awarded to more seasoned and developed players, especially in the top six forward positions.
However, guys like McLean see it as a challenge to earn each shift.
"That's something I've had to do since I've started playing this game," McLean said. "It's what the game is all about. ...You have to be focused and sharp. That's what separates people at this level. You have to be effective with your time. There aren't 82 games like the NHL. There are 30-something games. Those games are big, and you have to value your minutes and take advantage of them."
McLean scored the second goal of his career to tie last Friday's tilt against the Lakers, which later earned BSU a point in the CCHA standings before LSSU won the game in overtime.
McLean has two goals in his first eight games of his career.
As a whole, Bemidji State's freshmen have accounted for 16% of the team's 49 points, with Pohlkamp and McLean being the only two who have played in all eight games. Engström scored his first goal on Saturday against Lake Superior State in the first period on the power play.
"The one thing about young players, and our staff was talking about this (on Tuesday), is they have good detail to their game," Serratore said. "They want to please the coaches, and they want to play. Their habits are typically good once you work on that with them. They do a lot of good things coming in. It allows you to trust those guys because you see those things."
For some players, the jump up to NCAA action can be a daunting one. But McLean was more than ready to get to Bemidji State after playing for four years between four junior teams.
He played for two years in the BCHL with the Merritt Centennials and the Prince George Spruce Kings from 2018-2021. He then played with the Bismarck Bobcats in the NAHL in 2020-21 before earning a spot with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL a year later.
"Last year, I got hurt, and the summer was just me catching back up with game speed," McLean said. "I think the transition has been decent. The speed is similar, but guys are stronger here, especially as a center on faceoffs. It's what I've had to work on since I got here.
"There are no lower-end players. The fourth lines are really good. ... You're not getting anybody's bad line. The adjustment is just making sure you're not taking any shifts off and finding ways to be consistent."
The biggest difference for Pohklamp, who won the USHL's Defenseman of the Year award with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders last year, is a little more finite. But it's a difference that's forcing him to tweak the way he plays to become more productive.
"Guys are selling out way more," Pohlkamp said. "I'm figuring that out right now, especially on the power play. I'm trying to get shots through, and guys are diving at those pucks headfirst, it seems like."
For the players like McLean who aren't guaranteed a spot in the lineup, there are added challenges to playing as a depth forward, including the shuffling of guys on the fourth line.
"It comes back to being a smart hockey player, knowing who your teammates are and who you're playing with," McLean said. "You also have to make sure you're being consistent in your game. You can't be changing too much because you have to make sure your teammates know what they're getting with you every night, especially as a center. You have to be there to support your wingers. And down low, supporting your defensemen.
"You know the ins and outs, what makes a successful bottom six and what doesn't. ... You realize that you're not going to get the minutes other guys get right away, so you have to take advantage of the ones you do get."
Pohlkamp isn't in any danger of losing his role as one of Bemidji State's most important players, which is why he's working to develop a leadership tool his teammates can lean on.
"I think I could be more of the man out there," Pohlkamp said. "I think I could control the game a little more and be a little more physical. ... I think I can be more of a leader. (Kyle Looft) is an unbelievable leader. Everybody looks up to him, and I think if we have more guys that are leaders, we'd be better for it."