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MEN'S HOCKEY: Beavers look for first win this weekend against Gophers at home

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BEMIDJI — Last season, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team saw enough maroon and gold to make eyes bleed.

The Beavers hosted Minnesota in their regular-season finale at the Sanford Center before making the return trip to Minneapolis the next week for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

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The Gophers won all four, ending BSU’s disappointing season.

This year the Gophers make the return trip to the Sanford Center (7:37 p.m. today; 7:07 p.m. Saturday), but much has changed.

The teams are now in different conferences (Minnesota left for the Big Ten Hockey Conference) and both squads lost many talented players from last season. The Beavers saw nine seniors graduate while the Gophers lost just one senior but five more players left college to play in the pros.

Still, despite the roster turnover the Beavers are hungry for a little payback against the No. 3-ranked Golden Gophers.

“They might think nothing of it but for us it’s still a challenge,” junior defenseman Sam Windle said. “We want to beat them every game, just like it’s in our conference.”

His defensive mate, junior Sam Rendle, agreed.

“It’s always exciting when they come to town and it’s always one of the better environments here at the Sanford Center,” he said. “They’ve had a big turnover like we have too. I know they have a lot of young guys and we had some young guys, so it’s kinda two teams with a lot of freshmen in the lineup.”

The Gophers (2-0-0) enter tonight’s matchup fourth in the nation in scoring offense after tallying nine goals in two games during the Ice Breaker Tournament they hosted in Minneapolis. Thirteen different Gophers scored at least a point. Juniors Kyle Rau and Sam Warning led the way with four points apiece.

“They have such a good team,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They can beat you with four different lines, three different pairs of defenseman. So you have to make sure you have good structure to your game, good effort.

“You need to put 60 minutes together. That’s the biggest thing against Minnesota.”

For the Beavers (0-1-1) playing 60 solid minutes was an issue last weekend against St. Cloud State.

During Saturday’s game the Beavers led 2-0 going into the third period but yielded two late goals — including a power play goal — that allowed the Huskies to tie the game. It’s something the Beavers are working on.

“It’s definitely something we need to shore up,” Rendle said. “We knew with a lot of young guys coming in it might take a little bit to get the scoring going so we took it upon ourselves to keep the games as low as possible. We did a good job but we need to make sure as a defense we can hold onto leads.”

Junior goaltender Andrew Walsh made 70 saves over the weekend to help keep those scores as low as they were. Saturday night he stopped 44 shots to help preserve the tie. The Beavers lost 3-2 on Friday and tied 2-2 on Saturday.

“Walshie was the No. 1 star Saturday night,” Serratore said. “He was the reason there was a tie. He was dialed in. There were some great backside saves he made…. he was just a champ out there all weekend, but Saturday he was the best player on the ice.”

Walsh made 110 saves against the Gophers in his three games last season but the Beavers came up one goal short each time.

Another big weekend from Walsh will be imperative if the Beavers have any chance of pulling the upset — but the young Beaver offense will also need to find a way to score on Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox.

“It’s not so much Walshie against Minnesota, it’s Bemidji against Minnesota,” Serratore said. “We have to make sure, again, we have 18 other players that have to show up. It has to be a team effort. We have to make sure we’re cohesive.

“He’s going to have to stop pucks, but we’re going to have to score goals and we’re also going to have to support him in the defensive zone.”

Offense passed first test

Four different Beavers scored goals last weekend; sophomore Phil Brewer led the way with a goal and an assist. Junior Danny Mattson, sophomore Cory Ward and freshman Nate Arentz also scored.

With four freshman forwards playing in the games last weekend (Arentz, Brendan Harms, Charlie O’Connor and Phillip Marinaccio), Serratore was impressed with how they handled themselves.

“Overall I thought the freshmen passed with flying colors,” he said. “We inserted some of these guys into some roles early on that we typically haven’t in the past. I thought they delivered pretty well.

“Obviously the offense is still a work in progress. Hopefully they get better and more experienced and things become second nature. But you just can’t buy experience at the supermarket… you have to sit back and play these guys and let themselves play into the comforts of playing collegiate hockey.”

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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.
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