Bemidji State men's hockey: Beavers seeking first WCHA win in home series against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth
Just two weeks removed from playing the then No. 2 ranked team in the country in North Dakota, the Bemidji State men's hockey team is anticipating another stiff challenge in this weekend's series against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth.
Just another week and another ranked opponent in the league that is the WCHA.
"We've been thrown to the wolves a little bit here and the thing is, it never gets any easier," Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. "After Minnesota-Duluth, we have St. Cloud State. Then after Anchorage it's Denver. It's a mental and physical challenge. You have to stay out of the box and play good on special teams."
The Beavers host the unbeaten Bulldogs at the Bemidji Regional Event Center at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday. Tickets remained available for both games as of Thursday afternoon.
Bemidji State (0-2 overall, 0-2 WCHA) has not played since the season-opening and home-opening series sweep at the hands of North Dakota.
Minnesota-Duluth (5-0-1 overall, 2-0 WCHA) enters this weekend as perhaps the hottest team in the country and winners of five straight games.
The difference in games played between the two teams is notable, but BSU has worked to keep sharp on the ice during practices.
"We're trying to get into a rhythm and good habits during our practices," Serratore said. "We've been using video during some practices. It's been a long month for the guys and the coaches."
A week off can seem like an eternity during the college hockey season, but the Beavers used the time to make mostly mental adjustments.
Bemidji State struggled in the 5-2 season opening loss to UND, but showed up with a better effort in the second game against and held a lead midway through the game before the Sioux pulled away for a 5-4 win.
"It (the series) gave us a good message to realize what's going to be in store every weekend in this league and the mentality you need to have night in and night out," Serratore said.
Bemidji State played the Bulldogs in a home-and-home series last January. The Beavers swept the series and claimed the Babe the Blue Ox traveling trophy with 4-1 regulation win and a 5-4 overtime win. The overtime victory came in Duluth when Ben Kinne tied the game with two seconds remaining in the third period and Jordan George scored the winning goal 36 seconds into overtime.
That sweep was critical in ensuring BSU's at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The losses marked UMD's struggles down the stretch and the Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tournament despite reaching the WCHA Final Five.
BSU defenseman Brad Hunt is expecting a strong two games from UMD this weekend.
"I think we've got a bit of an upper hand knowing - but last year is a different year and this year is a whole new ballgame ... new rink, new league ... we've got to go into this like it's the top team in the country because they're going to be one of the top teams in the country when it comes down to the end of the year as well."
The Bulldogs enter the weekend off to its best start since the 2003-04 Frozen Four season.
UMD has two potent scoring lines: the top line of Justin Fontaine-Mike Connolly-Jack Connolly line with 12 goals and 33 points, and the second line of Kyle Schmidt-Travis Oleksuk-J.T. Brown with 10 goals and 28 points. Brown, a freshman, has three goals and six assists.
UMD is averaging five goals per game and has a power play running at 27.6 percent, which ranks fourth in the WCHA.
Jordan George, Matt Read, Ian Lowe, Hunt and MacQueen are all tied for BSU's team lead in points with two. George leads the team with two goals.
The Beavers' power play is running at an even 20 percent with two goals on 10 attempts. The power play accounted for half of BSU's goals in the UND series.
An early statistic quirk is the plus-minus category. Ryan Cramer, who assisted on MacQueen's opening-night goal, is plus-1 through two games and the only BSU player with a positive rating. Jake Areshenko, Garrett Ladd and Shea Walters are at even zero. Every other player carries a minus rating into the UMD series.
Hunt and MacQueen talked the benefits of recent practices and adjustments made during the off week. With two weeks to reflect on a pair of losses, the players are eager to get back onto the ice.
"Real anxious," MacQueen said of the desire to play a game again. "Nobody wants to take a week off. Everybody wants to play. But I think it was a good thing we took the week off. That opening weekend - all the hype, all the excitement - guys were really excited for it. Now that we're all settled down everyone should be good."
The Beavers are not ranked in the most recent national poll, but did receive 10 votes despite the losses to North Dakota and are 47 votes shy of the top 20 where eight of the 12 WCHA teams are listed among college hockey's best.
Attention to detail during each shift is Bemidji State's focus this week and far more important than the polls or the individual stat sheet.
"We want to make sure we're consistent," Serratore said. "We want to have energy throughout the game, finish tough and be a tough team to play against at home. We want to make sure this place is just as difficult to play as the John Glas Fieldhouse was. We want this to be a tough place for teams in our league to come in and try to get a win."