BEMIDJI, Minnesota — Frederic Letourneau is enjoying a smooth transition to college hockey.
The freshman forward is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Falcons open the season at Bemidji State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
Letourneau had one assist and an on-ice rating of +1 last weekend during the Falcons’ 3-2 exhibition win against the University of Windsor. The 6-foot, 185-pound forward saw limited ice time against Windsor, the result of 168 penalty minutes and 22 power-play attempts during the contest.
“He’s a little bit of an agitator. He’s in the middle of everything,” Bergeron said. “There’s puck skills and a hockey player there.
“If I look at his body of work to this point, I’m happy with where he’s at,” Bergeron added. “What does that mean? How much will he play? From Day 1 to today, Freddie’s done a pretty good job of establishing himself as a guy who can make an impact this year.”
Letourneau totaled 20 goals and 21 assists in 61 games last season for the Whitecourt Wolverines in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The 20-year-old also had 74 penalty minutes.
“I’m trying to play hard every day, every shift, and get pucks on net, finishing my checks, and maybe every once in a while putting a puck in the net,” Letourneau said after Friday morning’s practice at Sanford Arena in Bemidji.
Letourneau, a Montreal native, skated on a line with sophomore left wing Stephen Baylis and sophomore center Shane Bednard against Windsor.
“I tried to have the best summer possible and work really hard,” Letourneau said. “I worked out as much as I could. I came here in the best shape of my life because I needed to. I’m not a big boy, compared to these older 23- and 24-year-olds. I’m just happy to be here and be in the lineup.
“I felt comfortable right way,” Letourneau added. “The first week of practice really helped me. It’s definitely a step up from junior hockey, but I felt like I was prepared. So far, the transition has been good, but we haven’t played any games yet. I know it’s going to get harder.”
FRESHMEN D: Bergeron also is happy with the play of freshmen defensemen Alec Rauhauser and Jacob Dalton.
Rauhauser (6-3, 215) saw regular ice time, and skated on the power-play and penalty-killing units.
“He’s one of those big bodies with a bunch of poise,” Bergeron said. “His puck skills showed. He’s going to be a good player. It’s just a matter of getting more confidence, getting more reps, managing the highs and lows.”
Dalton’s ice time against Windsor was less, the result of the 22 power plays, but he did kill penalties.
“He was starting to look comfortable,” Bergeron said. “He’s going to be a really good player. We’re really excited about Jake.”
GOALTENDING: Junior Chris Nell and senior Tomas Sholl are the BG goalies on the trip.
Nell, a first-team All-WCHA pick last season, didn’t play against Windsor because the Falcons were taking care of some “internal things,” Bergeron said. Sholl played well with 21 saves but allowed a soft goal in the first minute of the third period that cut BG’s lead to 3-2. Highly-touted freshman Ryan Bednard was a healthy scratch against Windsor.
SERIES: The Falcons were 4-1 against Bemidji last season, including a 4-1, 2-0 sweep in Minnesota Dec. 11-12.
BG then beat Bemidji in a best-of-3, first-round playoff series, winning the final two games, 7-2 and 3-1. The Beavers posted a 3-1 win in Game 1.
BEMIDJI: The Beavers were sixth in the WCHA coaches and media polls. They finished 17-16-6 overall and sixth in the league last season, but the winning record overall was their first since 2010.
“I like our team,” said Bemidji coach Tom Serratore, who is in his 16th season. “I like our mentality. I like our work ethic.”
Bemidji lost 36 percent of its scoring from last season, but returns its top two scorers — junior forward Gerry Fitzgerald (14 goals, 11 assists) and senior forward Brendan Harms (eight goals, 17 assists.
“I like the way they play the game,” Bergeron said. “They play the game fast. They play the game hard. They play the game north. They’ve got some skill. They play the game the right way. They play the game with the mind-set if you’re coming to our building, you’d better be ready. There’s lots to like there as far as (Bemidji) is concerned.”
Michael Bitzer returns in goal. The junior posted a 2.16 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 34 games last season.
“He’s been our rock the last two years, and he’s going to be our rock again this year,” Serratore said. “He’s not only a good goaltender, but he’s got a great mentality. His work ethic, his approach to the game, his athleticism, he’s been a winner his whole life.”
“He’s as proven as any goalie in the league,” Bergeron said.
The Beaver defense consists of four sophomores, two freshmen, one junior, and one senior, who hasn’t played a game the last two seasons.