Bemidji State men's hockey: Niagara invades Glas for big conference series
Only six games into the College Hockey America schedule, it's a little early for the Bemidji State men's hockey team to call a single series critical.
While the league title may not be on the line this weekend when the Beavers host arch-rival Niagara University (10-9-1, 3-1 CHA) at the John Glas Fieldhouse, there's little doubt this is a big series for both teams.
The series begins a string of 10 straight CHA games for the Beavers (8-12-0, 4-2 CHA), starting with the Purple Eagles tonight and ending Feb. 19-20 in Niagara. BSU then concludes the regular season at home against Robert Morris March 6-7.
Suffice it to say to say it's crunch time.
"Starting this weekend it's to the point where we'll get into the routine of saying 'this is the biggest series of the year,'" said BSU assistant coach Bert Gilling. "The run for a banner starts now for our league. Every game from here on out is crucial."
Having only an 18 game schedule, the season sets up differently for CHA teams. BSU split with the Purple Eagles in Niagara in November. Following this weekend, the two teams conclude the series in New York in about a month.
"Niagara would probably be happy with a split this weekend," Gilling said. "That way we'd have to go back to there place and sweep to win the season series. And sweeps this time of year, in all the college hockey leagues, are very difficult to come by."
The Purple Eagles enter the series 3-3 in their last six games. The squad is coming off a split with nonconference foe Quinnipiac last weekend, falling 6-4 before rebounding to win 5-1.
The Purple Eagles are led in scoring by junior Chris Moran with eight goals and seven assists for 15 points. Right behind is senior Vince Rocco at 14 points (five goals, nine assists). Egor Mironov and Paul Zanette also have scored five goals this season.
The Purple Eagles average 2.7 goals per game.
One of the major keys to the Niagara success is senior goalie Juliano Pagliero. His record stands at 10-8-1 with a 2.17 goals against average and .927 save percentage. He has seen action in all but one game this season.
"They have the best depth at forward in the league," said Gilling, "and an experienced goaltender who is very solid. Their offense hasn't kicked in like it normally does - they don't have a player who's averaging one point per game.
"When you see those numbers, you look to see what kind of power play success they've been having and it's at about 14 percent, which is low for a Niagara team.
""We're hoping they just don't get it going against us."
The Beavers are coming off a disappointing road sweep against Minnesota-Duluth last weekend. The sweep extended the Beavers' losing skid to five straight.
"We were a little disappointed with the effort on Friday night," Gilling said. "(BSU goalie Matt Dalton) gave us a chance, but the better team won.
"On Saturday we had a much better effort, more fight and generated better chances. The guys showed a lot of fight to make it a 3-2 game after being down by three. We gave ourselves a chance to win."
The Beavers enter the Niagara series with some major questions on the table. "For us, everything starts with the drop of the puck Friday night," said Gilling. "Can we sustain the effort and intensity for 60 minutes, not for a night, but both nights?
"We know there will be highs and lows over the course of a game and a series. But we'd like to see more good than bad in terms of effort."
Scoring comes at such a premium in college hockey these days that a single goal often times becomes monumental. "That's why goaltending is so important," Gilling said. "It will be a major key this weekend and should be a great showdown."
The showdown features the savvy veteran Pagliero against the upstart sophomore Dalton. They played on even terms the last time the two teams met as each goalie recorded a 3-1 win.
Special teams will also be a key this weekend, Gilling reported. "The question for us is can we win the battles? Can we create a sustained offense?"
The Beavers have averaged only 23 shots per game this season, a low total for BSU. "We've made a concerted effort to emphasize getting more pucks to the net," said Gilling," "getting for our forwards to go to the net hard and then swarm with some sustained pressure so we get the second and third shots as well.
"We've seen it in spurts this season, but haven't been able to sustain it. Can we do it for five to six minutes at a time? Hopefully, the guys will provide us with the answers starting this weekend."
The line up
The Beavers will have their full squad available for the second straight weekend. The lines include:
Tyler Scofield-Matt Read-Matt Francis
Jamie MacQueen-Travis Winter-Brandon Marino
Ben Kinne-Shea Walters-Ryan Cramer
Chris McKelvie-Tyler Lehrke-Ian Lowe
Cody Bostock-Brad Hunt
Chris Peluso-Ryan Adams
Kyle Hardwick-Tyler Jundt