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Matt Read has scored 19 goals to lead Bemidji State. He led the Beavers to the Frozen Four last season.

Bemidji’s top scorer relishes work that goes into defense

Maybe it began this way for the guy Bemidji State hockey coach Tom Serratore calls his “marquee player”: With a diva’s reluctance.

“You’re gonna play defense for a while,” Lorne Read told his young son Matt one day, or words to that effect.

“Do I have to?” Matt replied, or words to that effect.

He had to.

“Yeah, it was without my consent, I guess,” Matt Read says now. “I always wanted to play forward.”

All these years later, he still does. But because his father (and his coach at the time) stuck him back on the blue line for a couple of years, he plays forward with both a scorer’s nose for the net and a blue-liner’s harder nose for the gritty work in his own zone that so often creates scoring opportunities.

“I didn’t like playing defense,” says Read, Bemidji’s leading scorer, “but I think doing that when I was younger, you learn how much respect defense gets and how much work ethic you have to put in your own zone. Now I consider myself almost a defensive forward. I hate being scored against when I’m on the ice.”

Strange talk, perhaps, for a guy who’s made his own name as a scorer. The London, Ontario, native has skated on Bemidji’s top line since his first game as a freshman; as a sophomore last year, he led Bemidji to the Frozen Four for the first time in history with 15 goals, 25 assists and 40 points, tying Brendan Cook for the school’s single-season points record.

This time around, he comes into Bemidji’s semifinal NCAA regional match against Michigan with 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points again.

“Matt’s our marquee player, no question about it,” says Serratore, whose team won its third consecutive College Hockey America regular-season championship this year. “When we recruited him, we felt he would create an immediate impact. And in college hockey, it’s very difficult for a freshman to have an impact.”

But Read did, picking up an assist in his first game. Skating right wing on the top line, he was the CHA Rookie of the Year in 2007-08, scoring nine goals and 27 points – the fifth-best scoring season for a freshman in Bemidji’s Division I history.

“We knew he was that good when we recruited him,” Serratore says. “He had the skill set, he had the speed, and he plays with a tremendous amount of intensity. And he’s gotten better every year.

“He’s one of those kids that has a tremendous work ethic off the ice and on the ice. He’s very committed to be a hockey player.”

All Read knows is he’s glad to be playing where he’s playing, even if, growing up in Ontario, he never gave college hockey much thought.

But he caught Serratore’s eye after putting up 62 points in 58 games with Des Moines of the USHL, and before long he was headed to Minnesota.

“When I got here, they pretty much told me ‘You’ll be playing on the first line,’ ” Read says. “I had kind of a slow start, but Tom Serratore had enough confidence in me to keep me there, and I kind of got rolling.”

And kept rolling.

“There’s no question he came into his own last year,” Serratore says. “We got into a huge run from the middle of January on. It wasn’t an accident. A lot of it was attributed to Matt’s offense that particular time of the year.”