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MEN'S HOCKEY: Another tough matchup for BSU as No. 7 Western Michigan comes to Bemidji for nonconference series

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MEN'S HOCKEY: Another tough matchup for BSU as No. 7 Western Michigan comes to Bemidji for nonconference series
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BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State hockey team won’t quite accept a moral victory: in the end, a loss is still a loss.

But if BSU’s performance in last weekend’s Ledyard National Bank Classic was any indication, the Beavers proved they can at least hang with any team in the country if they’re playing good hockey.

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The Beavers (5-10-3) lost a pair of one-goal games against UMass and New Hampshire on Sunday and Monday. In Monday’s game, BSU scored the game-tying goal late in the third period and took the No. 4-ranked Wildcats into overtime before losing 3-2.

BSU head coach Tom Serratore said the Beavers could have won both games in the holiday tournament in New Hampshire if a few bounces had gone their way.

“Last weekend, you look back at it, and you’re so close,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating, because we actually played very well for the most part.”

Take away some lapses in both games that gave their opponents extended power play opportunities and the Beavers could have won both games.

“We had one period I’d like to have back, and that’s the second period against UMass,” Serratore said of the weekend tournament.

No one would blame the Beavers for wanting a mulligan there. BSU held a 2-0 lead at the first intermission but the Minutemen scored three times – including twice on the power play – to take a lead and eventually win 4-3.

“After the first period we had a 2-0 lead, and we can’t give up those types of leads,” Serratore said. “We’ve done that too much this year.”

The Beavers also scored an early goal against New Hampshire but couldn’t hold on to the one-goal lead in the first period.

Instead, BSU returns to Bemidji on a two-game losing streak and are set to host yet another top-10 team at the Sanford Center.

The Beavers entertain No. 7 Western Michigan in a nonconference series scheduled for 7:37 p.m. today and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

“They’re a very systematic team,” Serratore said of the Broncos (11-5-2). “They defend extremely well and they take a lot of pride in their defensive game.

“Take a look at what they’ve accomplished the last three, four years. They’ve really emerged as a top 10 team in the country and they might have one of the top defensive cores in college hockey.”

Indeed, the Broncos have the No. 8 scoring defense in the country and have a number of talented defensemen on the roster who block a lot of shots. Danny DeKeyeser and Luke Witowski are expected to play a lot against the Beavers, as are Ben Miller and Dennis Brown.

BSU senior winger Brance Orban said the Beavers didn’t know much about the Broncos other than their tough defense.

“We don’t know too much about Western except they’re ranked in the top ten,” said Orban, who has scored two goals and tallied four assists in the past six games for the Beavers. He’s the team leader with 15 points and 10 assists.

“They have maybe the best defense in the country. We have to try and play our game: get pucks to the net, get after it on special teams and outwork them.”

Perhaps luckily for BSU, Western’s offense has struggled mightily as of late. The Broncos have scored just 39 goals in 18 games – 50th in the country – and much of those struggles have been in the past month. In December the Broncos had two four-goal games but were also shut out twice.

In last weekend’s Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit the Broncos managed one goal in two games. They managed to get by Michigan State in a shootout before falling 4-0 to the red-hot Michigan Tech Huskies.

The Beavers haven’t been much better scoring (44 goals in 18 games), but Orban, Jordan George, David Boehm and Jeff Jubinville have been BSU’s consistent point-getters as of late.

Although both teams have trouble scoring, goaltending has been consistent. BSU’s Andrew Walsh has a .923 save percentage while Frank Slubowski’s goals against average (1.98) is near the top nationally for WMU.

That could mean a pair of low-scoring games. Capitalizing on early scoring chances and eliminating penalties will be the key to success.

BSU is just 63-for-78 (79.5 percent) on the penalty kill and have given up four power play goals in the past five games.

“We’ve gotten ourselves in trouble with back-to-back penalties,” Serratore said of some of his BSU’s struggles on the penalty kill this season. “It’s not necessarily penalties, but it’s when you give them up back to back. It’s a lot to ask of your guys when basically you’re killing for four straight minutes.”

The Beavers have a quick turnaround for this weekend after arriving back in Bemidji around midnight Wednesday morning.

But Orban said they’d be ready to come back and play.

“I know we’re going to be ready for it at home,” he said. “We’ve gotta make some hay now. We had a little slip up against UMass and that OT game against UNH… that hurt bad. But we have to find a way to get it done at home.”

NOTES: For this weekend’s series, the Sanford Center is offering a special student discount for either game.

Any student from any high school, college or university can purchase a ticket in the BSU student section for just $5 with a valid ID. Student tickets are limited and are available at Sanford Center.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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