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MEN'S HOCKEY: Beavers excited for home-and-home with UND

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BEMIDJI — The last time North Dakota visited Bemidji, the team from Grand Forks was still known as the Fighting Sioux and still played in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

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That also happens to be the last time the BSU men’s hockey team beat UND — a tight 1-0 victory Nov. 20, 2011, at Sanford Center.

The Beavers will get another chance to defeat UND in front of their home fans tonight at the Sanford Center — the first game of a home-and-home non conference series this weekend. The teams make the short return trip down U.S. Highway 2 Saturday night in Grand Forks.

“It’ll be pretty cool this weekend,” BSU defenseman Sam Windle said. “I know there will be a lot of energy in our building with our fans, and they always being a lot of fans too.

“Hopefully we can get a win here, then go into Grand Forks and and try and get a win in front of their crowd.”

But the Beavers (7-11-6) know beating UND (11-7-2) won’t be an easy task. UND has deep scoring up and down the lineup — what else is new? — but defensivley they’re a lot different than in years past, according to BSU head coach Tom Serratore.

“The biggest challenge against UND is competing with their depth,” Serratore said. “They have four lines that can score and their d-corps is very active offensively.”

UND doesn’t have any one player with eye-popping numbers — Rocco Grimaldi leads the team with just seven goals and 12 assists in 20 games — but all but two forwards on the roster have scored at least one goal this season.

Defensively, BSU players have noticed that UND is more skilled than they usually are on the blue line — Dillon Simpson, Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue are all in the top 10 in scoring on the team.

“We know they always have great recruits,” BSU forward Brendan Harms said. “They always bring in a lot of skilled guys up front but it seems like their back end a little different this year. I know in the past they’ve had big defenders but this year they’re a little more skilled back there, so that’s that’s the biggest thing we have to watch out for.”

BOTH TEAMS STREAKING North Dakota comes into this weekend riding a seven-game winning streak that includes a pair of victories over Northern Michigan — a team that swept BSU Jan. 3-4 at the Sanford Center.

UND head coach Dave Hakstol said in a press conference it wasn’t one thing that has powered their current streak.

“We’ve been finding good ways to win games,” he said. “It’s different parts of our game each night that’s helping us get over the hump. A couple weeks ago against Western Michigan it was special teams, our power play and penalty kill made the difference.

This past weekend (against Colorado College) our special teams struggled but we had good scoring depth, and that turned the tables for us. We have to concentrate on getting better every week.”

UND beat CC 5-3 in National Collegiate Hockey Conference action Friday before rallying from a 2-1 deficit Saturday to win 3-2.

The Beavers are also riding a streak — albeit a short one.

BSU swept Lake Superior State 5-2 and 3-1 last weekend, snapping an eight-game winless streak that included four ties.

BSU scored four power play goals against the Lakes, including two apiece by Harms and Matt Prapavessis.

It was a big boost for the Beavers — especially after being swept at home against Northern Michigan the previous weekend.

“We’re really happy because those were probably two of the biggest games of the year,” Windle said. “We needed those bad. We did a lot of small things that we hadn’t been doing — we had the puck in the offensive zone a lot more, which helps our defense more.”

HOME-AND-HOME A BIT DIFFERENT The home-and-home series, while standard fare for East Coast-teams, isn’t something the Beavers are accustomed to — at least, not lately.

BSU and UND occasionally traded off home series before they were in the WCHA; and the Beavers also had a similar setup with Minnesota-Duluth.

The proximity of Bemidji to Grand Forks gives both teams the option of sleeping in their own beds all weekend. The Beavers are taking full advantage. UND left Thursday night and opted to stay the night in Bemidji rather than bus into town early this morning.

“The preparation is the same,” Serratore said. “The only thing we’re doing different is we’re not staying in a hotel. But really both teams are in the same boat.

“It’s nice for our fans... I think it’s great. I wish we had more teams with closer proximity to do it more often. You go to Hockey East, they can do that all the time. But it’s fun for the fans and it’s fun for the players as well.”

Harms — a freshman from Steinbach, Manitoba — is excited for his first taste of the BSU/UND rivalry. He said Manitobans are very familiar with UND so it holds a special significance for him.

“I’m super excited for this weekend,” he said. “Growing up in Manitoba, the main school we know if is UND. There are a couple guys on UND I’ve played with and against. I know there’s a nice rivalry between the two schools, and to be a part of that, it’ll be cool. I heard both games will be pretty packed so it should be really fun.”

BRIEFLY Junior defenseman Sam Rendle (broken thumb) and senior forward Matt Hartmann (concession) were the only major injuries for the Beavers this weekend as of Tuesday’s media day. …

Serratore said he didn’t know if freshman goaltender Jesse Wilkins — who picked up his first two wins of the season last weekend at Lake Superior — would be starting or not. Wilkins is 2-1-3 with a 2.28 goals against average and a .935 save percentage...

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. 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.
(218) 333-9772
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