BEMIDJI, MINN. — On Feb. 28, 2013, two rival schools located about 7 miles apart faced off for a berth in Minnesota's boys' state hockey tournament. Tommy Muck's heavily favored Eagan Wildcats met Zach Driscoll's Eastview Lightning in the Class 2A, Section 3 final.
"They took us down in a big upset to go to state my junior year," Muck, then a junior defenseman, said of Eastview's 4-1 win. "The funny thing about that is we actually played them in the last game of the regular season before sections, right?"
"A 7-1 loss," Driscoll, then Eastview's sophomore goalie, responded. "Coach left me in for all seven. Imagine the confidence going into the section final game."
"We had a good rivalry," added Muck, who would get his state tournament berth a year later.
Fast forward 5 ½ years, and Muck and Driscoll no longer are rivals, but teammates with key roles for Bemidji State's men's hockey team. The Beavers open the 2019-20 season at home on Friday and Saturday against St. Cloud State with Muck, a senior, as their captain, and Driscoll, a junior, as the goalie who started 26 of 38 games last season.
Beavers coach Tom Serratore has high praise for both players.
"He's been a guy we've really relied on since he came in his freshman year," Serratore said of Muck. "He's logged some heavy minutes for us. What you see with Tommy is just an honest, hardworking, reliable player."
Though Muck's name hasn't dotted the score sheet often — he has no goals and 14 assists in his three seasons — Serratore counts on him for a structured defensive game and the leadership that he's providing for a blue line that includes four freshmen this season.
"Since his freshman year, he's been playing against the opponent's top line," the coach said. "He's been the first guy over the boards on the penalty kill. You need him in crunch time. If there's a minute to go and we're up a goal, he's on the ice."
Driscoll, meanwhile, posted a 10-12-4 record with a 2.32 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in his debut season with the Beavers 2018-19. Though Serratore hasn't named his starter for the opener, he has confidence in the 6-0, 172-pounder.
"He's quick, athletic. He takes his craft very seriously," Serratore said. "Do we have trust in Zach? Absolutely. We want guys competing for that position." Henry Johnson, a junior who played 12 games last season, and freshman Michael Carr are battling for playing time, too.
While Muck, 23, took a relatively straightforward route to Bemidji State — honing his game for two seasons in the USHL, mostly with the Madison Capitols — Driscoll's theme song could be Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere."
Driscoll, 22, left Eastview after his junior year to play first with Austin of the NAHL before landing with Omaha of the USHL. In 2015-16, he played for Penticton of the BCHL, finishing with a 1.90 GAA and .933 save percentage. That helped him land at St. Cloud State, where he went 6-6-1 with a 3.18 GAA and .888 save percentage in 14 games. He saw his chances of playing for the Huskies decreasing, so he opted to return to Omaha, where he trimmed his GAA to 1.90 in 2017-18.
"Having that extra year of junior eligibility helped me a lot and gave me a year to develop and grow as a player and leader," Driscoll said. "I'm glad it worked out for me."
Muck shares that sentiment about his time at Bemidji State, and he wants to finish it on a high note in a season that starts against a pair of rivals, first St. Cloud State, then North Dakota in Grand Forks the following weekend.
"You're thrown right into the fire. You're playing against some of the best guys in college hockey," he said. "… Anytime you go up against a Minnesota team or a rival, it's kind of a battle for the land.''