MEN'S HOCKEY: Beavers look to end home struggles this weekend against Ferris State
BEMIDJI — If the BSU men’s hockey team hopes to make a push for home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, it will have to do what it hasn’t done much this season — win at the Sanford Center.
BSU is 8-15-7 overall and 8-10-3 in league play but just 3-8-4 at home.
With the next four out of their six remaining regular season games set to take place here in Bemidji, the Beavers would like to win out.
But they know that’s a tall order, especially considering this weekend’s opponent is No. 4 Ferris State.
“They’re a really solid team,” BSU senior winger Radoslav Illo said. “Right now they’re ahead of everybody like they have been all year. We know it will be a good two games. We know it will be hard but we think our compete level is pretty high right now and if we play a full 60 minutes we can beat this team.”
The Bulldogs (20-6-3, 15-3-2 WCHA) come into this weekend’s series (7:37 p.m. today; 7:07 p.m. Saturday) on a three-game winning streak which included a sweep against Northern Michigan. With 32 points the Bulldogs are two points ahead of second-place Minnesota State and have two games in hand on the Mavericks; they’re eight points ahead of third-place Michigan Tech.
“The biggest thing is they never beat themselves,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They’re very disciplined, very structured. They like to get pucks deep, they flip pucks in neutral zone and they like to pressure their forwards on our defensemen in neutral zone.
“They play a very difficult style. That’s a reason why they’ve won 20 games so far.”
When BSU and Ferris met in Big Rapids, Mich., Nov. 8-9, the Beavers proved they could, at the very least, hang with the Bulldogs.
In the series opener the teams went back-and-forth all game. Cory Ward scored a go-ahead goal early in the third period but Ferris’ Justin Buzzeo tied it later in the game and the Bulldogs went on to win 5-4 on Jason Binkely’s overtime goal.
In the finale Ferris shot out to a 4-0 lead in the first period before BSU scored the next three goals to get back into the game but lost 5-3.
This weekend the Beavers will have to shut down Hobey Baker Candidate Garrett Thompson, who along with Buzzeo leads the Bulldogs with 25 points and try and find a way to solve their other Hobey Candidate, goaltender CJ Motte. Motte is 19-4-3 with a 92.7 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average.
“Take a look at their ranking, it fits their talent level,” Serratore said. “They’re a heck of a hockey team and they’ve kept it going all year. They haven’t had many lulls.”
The Bulldogs’ only lull, perhaps, was against Minnesota State in Mankato Jan. 17-18, where they were swept 6-2 and 4-3.
Last week the Beavers had a similar experience in Mankato — they were swept despite playing a pair of solid games.
“I feel like we played a decent two games on the road,” Illo said. “In this time of year though you have to be a mature team, you can’t so many penalties. That killed us in both games. We were leading in both games too. We can’t do that and let them take it away.”
BSU scored the first goal in both games only to see the Mavericks take it away in both games. Friday night it was a four-goal third period. Saturday night, it was two goals on a five-minute major penalty kill that did the Beavers in.
“We have to be better defensively this weekend,” freshman defenseman Ruslan Pedan said. “We’ve been creating some offense which was good, but our defense has to be there. It should be good this weekend so we can do that.”
The Beavers, currently in a tie for sixth place with Alaska, can’t afford any bad mistakes — it could mean the difference between home-ice and missing the playoffs entirely. BSU and Alaska both have 20 points but Lake Superior State, currently outside of playoff position in ninth place, has 18. Alaska Anchorage and Bowling Green are currently tied for fourth (home ice position) with 23 points
Illo said the Beavers have to take care of business at home — this weekend against Ferris State and then two weeks from today against Alabama-Huntsville — if they want a shot at home ice.
“We have four games at home and our goal right now is to win every single one to try and get home ice,” he said. “Then if we can go to Bowling Green and at least get a split, we’ll be happy. We think it’s possible. But we need to bring it both games this weekend and battle hard.”