GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - It's time ...
That's the feeling of the Bemidji State men's hockey team as it opens play in the NCAA Tournament in Grand Rapids today, taking on Midwest Regional top seed Notre Dame in a 6:30 p.m. start at Van Andel Arena.
The Beavers realize they have a huge task ahead, competing against the tournament's overall No. 2 seed in the Fighting Irish.
At the same, the Beavers feel they have proven themselves capable of playing against any team in the country. It will mark the first game ever between the two teams.
"They are arguably the best team in the country," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "They won the CCHA regular season title and the playoff tournament. They are in the midst of having three great years."
This is the third appearance in a row at the national tournament for Notre Dame. Last year, the Fighting Irish advanced to the national championship game before losing 4-1 to Boston College.
"The Notre Dame kids are feeling this is their year, their turn at the top of the mountain," Serratore reported. "They certainly don't have many deficiencies."
A look at the season-long national statistics certainly bear out the idea that Notre Dame (31-5-3, 21-4-3 CCHA) is in the midst of a banner year.
The Fighting Irish lead the nation in team defense, allowing just 64 goals in 39 games - an average of 1.64 per game. The offense at 3.44 per game currently ranks sixth nationally.
In special teams, Notre Dame leads the nation at 23 percent success rate on the power play, while the penalty kill is second nationally at 89.7 percent.
Individually, senior goaltender Jordan Pearce leads the nation in goals against average (1.61), is second in winning percentage (30-5-3, .829) and third in save percentage (.934).
The offense shows great depth, as 15 players have scored in double figures.
Senior forward Eric Condra leads the way at 11-28--39, with sophomore Cale Ridderwall leading the team in goals (17). Additional threats include senior Christian Hanson (16-15--31) and freshman Billy Madday (16-14--30).
"Defensively, they have a veteran group who's very accountable and on offense a lot of depth at forward," said Serratore. "They are extremely well-coached, being very patient and systematic. They won't give you many opportunities.
"They have a very well rounded team that's going to be very difficult to play against."
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said he believes the Fighting Irish defense has played consistently well this season, while the offense has been more up and down.
"Our power play has also been streaky," he said. "Our emphasis lately has been on scoring timely power play goals."
Jackson said he doesn't buy the thought the Fighting Irish should be huge favorites against the Beavers.
"We don't expect to be given anything and don't think that way," he said. "Every team has an equal shot in a one game playing situation. Look at what happened between Air Force and Michigan (Friday).
"We're approaching the Bemidji State game the same way we approached the CCHA championship game against Michigan - we have to look at it that way."
In watching film, Jackson said he's very impressed with BSU's team speed.
"They try to spread the ice which allows their speed to be effective," he said. "They use speed on the power play as well, so we have been concentrating on playing the guys without the puck strong. The guys without the puck become dangerous with teams using that style and that's where you have to really concentrate on defense.
"They also have a good goaltender in Matt Dalton and good defensemen. They bring a lot of energy to the game and are a reflection of (Serratore) in that regard. We expect this to be a difficult game."
Serratore reported the Beavers have concentrated on being on their toes against the Fighting Irish.
"The biggest thing is, you can't the way you play. You have to realize the tougher the opponent and the bigger the game the better you have to take care of the puck. In games of this magnitude against a team like Notre Dame, mistakes get magnified. They have a multitude of people who can beat you."
In order to be successful the Beavers will have to pay a lot of attention to detail.
"Take care of the puck and then when you get opportunities, capitalize on them. If our attention to detail is good, we'll be o.k."
Offensively, Serratore reported the Beavers think their top line of Tyler Scofield-Matt Read-Matt Francis can play with anybody.
"They will get their chances," he said. "We have to also concentrate on secondary scoring, or at least getting good puck possession time out of our other lines."
The Beavers top line has been burning it up the second half of the season, scoring 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points in the last month. That's nearly 75 percent of the Beavers total scoring during that stretch. Read has posted 5-3--8 the last three games, including a pair of two goal efforts to lead the Beavers to the CHA Tournament championship.
Dalton has been a rock in net for the Beavers. His current 2.42 goals against average ranks second all-time at BSU for goaltenders with at least 1,500 minutes played and is tops among Division 1 era goaltenders.
Jackson said basically the same thing as Serratore about what the Fighting Irish have to do to be successful.
"We have to play smart." he reported. "We haven't seen a team this year that plays quite like BSU. I have a lot of respect for the way they play. We know they'll play hard and bring a lot of energy.
"We will, too."
The line up
Bemidji State will be back to full strength with the return of sophomore forward Ryan Cramer and junior defenseman Graham McManamin.
Tyler Scofield-Matt Read-Matt Francis
Ben Kinne-Shea Walters-Ryan Cramer
Jamie MacQueen-Travis Winter-Tyler Lehrke
Ian Lowe-Chris McKelvie-Brandon Marino
Cody Bostock-Brad Hunt
Chris Peluso-Graham McManamin
Ryan Adams-Kyle Hardwick