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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Chasing history

Chris McKelvie led the Bethel University men’s hockey team from the basement of the MIAC to the road to their second conference title in program history.
Ashlee Mortenson
Bethel University Head Men’s Hockey Coach Chris McKelvie looks on from the bench during a timeout during a 6-5 win over Hamline Feb.16, improving the Royals’ record to 16-5-3.

Chris McKelvie looks on from behind the bench as his Royals take a 4-0 lead over 10th-ranked St. Scholastica in their Feb. 2 matchup. At the west end of Bethel University Arena McKelvie sees the gold banner of the 2006-2007 Royals, the only team in program history to win a conference title. With a win tonight, the Royals will move into first place in the MIAC — a place McKelvie has been working to get the program to since he took over six years ago. 

McKelvie began his journey to Bethel first as a player at Bemidji State University, where as captain he led the Beavers to their first Frozen Four appearance at the Division I level in 2009. After graduating, McKelvie bounced around the American Hockey League for seven seasons with three teams. 

Eventually, McKelvie found his way to Army West Point as an assistant coach alongside his twin brother Zach for two years. 

In the spring of 2018, McKelvie received a call from former Bethel Athletic Director Bob Bjorklund on his way home from practice, urging him to apply for the Royals’ head coaching vacancy. The Royals were coming off of a 3-19-3 season, and Bethel’s lone MIAC title came at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

Bethel University goaltender Austin Ryman covers the puck in the Royals’ 6-5 win over Hamline in the regular season home finale. Ryman finished third in the MIAC with a 2.11 goals-against average in 18 games. (Ashlee Mortenson)

“It’s hard for me to say whether the program was in a good spot or not,” McKelvie said. “I think from a wins-and-losses standpoint, it certainly wasn’t in a great spot.” 

Starting in goal for the Royals tonight is Austin Ryman, whose 14 saves so far have helped build the Royals’ four-goal lead. Like McKelvie, Ryman’s path to Bethel was anything but straightforward. 

Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Ryman left home at 16 to play hockey in Wenatchee, Washington. Eventually returning to Fairbanks to play junior hockey, he earned a scholarship to play Division I at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he couldn’t get playing time. 

“There was really no point for me to stick around,” Ryman said. “I’m a guy who wants to play. You want to be in the picture as a goalie.” 

Ryman had a friend at Bethel, and he asked for him to put in a good word with the coaching staff. After a couple of months of dialogue with the coaching staff, Ryman entered the transfer portal and made the 3,000 mile trip to St. Paul to continue his hockey career. 

“It was kind of a seamless transition,” Ryman said. “It was a long way from home, Alaska to Minnesota, but [the coaches] did a really good job of making it feel like home.” 

Ryman had a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 21 games last season. This year, Ryman ranks third in the MIAC in both categories. Ryman’s goaltending partner, senior Travis Allen, leads the MIAC in both goals-against average and save percentage. 

Allen, like Ryman, took an indirect route to Bethel, playing for multiple junior hockey clubs in New Jersey, St. Cloud and finally in Utah. Then, at a tournament in Las Vegas over Christmas break in 2019, Allen’s goalie coach put him in touch with McKelvie.  

Savannah Danz

COVID-19 took over Allen’s freshman season at Bethel. The 2021-2022 season, however, saw Royals win 15 games, lose 11 and tie one — their best finish since the 2007-2008 season, and best under McKelvie. Good enough for fifth place, Bethel even defeated fourth-seeded St. Scholastica in the quarterfinals of the MIAC tournament, advancing the Royals to the semifinals for the first time since 2007. 

“I think for those of us who were there during that time, it sort of showed what it takes to get to a playoff game and win a playoff game,” Allen said. “I think it just opened the eyes of the whole program to say, ‘Alright, you know, we’re headed in the right direction.’” 

The Royals suffered a setback in 2022-2023, finishing the season 10-14-1 on a five-game losing streak. But Bethel opened this season 9-2-2 heading into Christmas break, putting the Royals back on track for McKelvie’s five-year plan to compete for the MIAC championship. 

“If you take COVID out, we would be right on track for this, which is kind of cool,” he said. 

Midway through the second period, two Saints goals within 25 seconds cut the lead in half at 4-2. In the third, the Saints scored again on a shot into traffic, bouncing off multiple players and sticks before trickling into the back of the net. The Bethel lead is 4-3 with 13 minutes to play. 

A flurry of Austin Ryman saves with less than a minute to go sealed the 4-3 Royals win. A 2-1 overtime win in Duluth one night later gave the Royals a weekend sweep and first place in the MIAC. 

Bethel University Head Men’s Hockey Coach Chris McKelvie led the Royals through the best season in team history with a .733 winning percentage in 2023-2024. “It’s been a joy to be able to coach here and help build a program with the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff that we have,” McKelvie said. (Ashlee Mortenson)

The Royals ended the regular season on a four-game win streak, but it was not enough to take the regular season title. Augsburg put together a four-game win streak of its own, pushing past Bethel into first place and taking the MIAC regular season crown. 

Despite falling short of the regular season title, the Royals still have a chance to take home a share of the conference title as the second seed in the MIAC tournament. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night at Bethel University Arena in Blaine. General admission tickets are $10 or $2 with a student ID and can be purchased at the arena or through the Bethel Athletics website. 

“We have an opportunity to win the playoff title and go to the national tournament,” McKelvie said. “And we’re all going to be sitting here 20 years from now talking about the quality of men we have, and hopefully we get to pair that with championships.”

McKelvie’s Royals open with a semifinal rematch against St. Scholastica. The 2023-2024 team has already made team history, finishing with a record of 17-5-3. The next step will be earning a bid in the NCAA Division III tournament. It’s been 16 years since the Royals last national tournament appearance, but this team isn’t ready to go down yet.

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About the Contributors
Christopher Wrzesien, Staff Reporter
CJ Wrzesien, 24, is a communication major and journalism minor. He enjoys watching baseball, playing the guitar and playing the immaculate grid daily. If you need random sports information he's your guy. [email protected] | 407.937.9251
Ashlee Mortenson, Staff Photographer
Ashlee Mortenson, 20, is a junior missional ministries major and communications minor. In her free time, Ashlee enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching “That 70’s Show”, embroidering, working on random art projects, collecting mugs and spending time with friends. [email protected] | 612.940.8029
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