Virden’s Tyler Kirkup is helping the Bemidji State University men's hockey team be successful in 2021.
The Minnesota NCAA Division I school squad is riding a four-game winning streak after knocking off Minnesota State University, 4-1, on Jan. 29. That team was ranked second nationally in one poll and third in another. The win catapulted the Beavers into the top 20 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. As of Feb. 1, BSU was No. 18 with a 6-4-2 record. A third-year forward, the son of Suzanne and Kary Kirkup has helped his team on both ends of the ice.
“He’s a good two-way centreman,” Beavers head coach Tom Serratore said. “He’s a heavy player. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s hard to handle down low. When he’s moving his feet, he’s really effective. He’s not only effective in the defensive zone, but he can drive the net. He can get to the far post. He can protect the puck. He can add a physical element to our forward group. It’s nice to have a big, strong centreman like him.”
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Kirkup had three assists through 11 games. In early January, he recorded helpers in back-to-back contests to help the Beavers to a victory and a tie.
“I know my role on the team,” Kirkup said. “I’m a lot more comfortable than I have been. Since freshman year, I’ve definitely developed a lot the way I wanted to. I feel good and I feel like I’ve been playing up to par.”
The former Virden Oil Capitals junior hockey player has earned ice time this season with his play on defence as well as offence. Already this season, Kirkup has blocked a career-high 10 shots.
“Our team is a big defence-first team, I would say,” he said. “Our coach really drives that it into our head to take care of that before we get on the offensive side of things. I’ve definitely taken more care of that since coming here. … I think I take a lot of pride in just doing the little things right in the defensive zone so that we can win games.”
Kirkup is pleased to be able to be on the ice this season.
“We didn’t really know if we’d be able to play this year or when or what was really going on,” Kirkup said. “It’s really nice being able to get back out there and play.”
Last March the Beavers won their Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinals series, 2-1, over Lake Superior State University. They were slated to take on Bowing Green University in the semifinal round when things were cancelled. When asked what he missed when he was away from the team, Kirkup said:
“Being in the dressing room with all the guys. It was pretty lonely having to go home and quarantining by myself for a month. It was really nice getting back and seeing everybody.”
Things are definitely different. Kirkup said all of his schooling is via Zoom or other online methods. As well, he regularly fills out COVID-19 screening paperwork, has his temperature checked, and under goes COVID testing.
Games have been postponed this season. As well, contests are rarely conducted with fans in the stands.
“It is not as loud, but they do what they can … they have the fan noises like they do in the NHL,” said Kirkup, who noted that in regular times BSU usually draws an enthusiastic crowd.
When the squad played at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, spectators were allowed. The boxscore showed a reported attendance of 300.
“It was nice to have fans again,” Kirkup said.
He has succeeded at BSU in the classroom as well as on the ice. Last season he was named a WCHA Scholar-Athlete and selected for the WCHA All-Academic Team. He said to be successful academically you have to be focused on doing your work. The business finance major enjoys the numbers aspect of his chosen field.
In an unusual season, Kirkup’s family cheers him on as they always have.
“Obviously, it’s kind of a bummer because they used to come to every home game last year and some road games. They are still watching every night I play,” he said. “My mom, dad, sisters, aunties and uncles are all watching (online) … They are always texting me and stuff, telling me how I played and asking me ‘what’s up’ so it’s nice. … They’ve always been there for me and supporting me.”