MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State enters home stretch, prepares for trip to North Dakota
BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State men may not be in the running for home ice in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, but the Beavers still have plenty to play for this weekend.
BSU (6-17-7, 5-13-6 WCHA) makes the short trek to Grand Forks down U.S. Highway 2 today and Saturday to take on North Dakota in what will be the final series between the two teams as members of the WCHA. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. today and 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND (17-9-6, 12-6-6 WCHA) is currently sitting in a tie for third in the league standings with 30 points. But the difference between first (St. Cloud State) and third is just 3 points. These last two weekends of conference play will be key to determining the conference race.
“North Dakota has a lot to play for,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “I mean, we all have a lot to play for, but North Dakota wants to win the league championship and put a ring on their fingers. They’re going to be playing hard as they always do. They have a great program, and a great hockey team. It’s going to be a hostile environment like always .”
The Beavers, meanwhile, are tied for 10th place with Michigan Tech. Each team has 16 points but Tech owns the tiebreaker with head-to-head record.
“We all have a pretty good idea of what’s going on,” BSU senior forward and captain Ben Kinne said. “We know playoffs are just around the corner. We’re kind of using this as a prelude to the playoffs; we want to play well going into that no matter where we finish or who we play. We want to be playing our best hockey.”
The Beavers have only won one game in Grand Forks in program history, and that was back in 1970. In BSU’s Division I era, the Beavers have defeated UND just once, a 1-0 WCHA win at the Sanford Center on Nov. 20, 2011.
UND, of course, has always been a dominating program, and this season is no different. The team formerly known as the Sioux has a strong, deep senior class that includes Danny Kristo, Corban Knight and Carter Rowney. Freshman Rocco Grimaldi is also playing well for UND this season.
“I think we all know they just have an abundance of talent,” Serratore said. “They have some high-end players led by Knight, Kristo, Grimaldi. Those three kids are three of the top 10, 15 in the league for sure.
“They’re just extremely dangerous and have a great supporting cast… You could go all day naming their supporting class. They just don’t have many flaws.”
Kristo and Knight have 43 points apiece – tied for second in the league overall – while Grimaldi has 27 this season.
“You look at their roster, and they’re led by their senior class,” Kinne said. “With Knight and Kristo, those kids are all so good. Kristo has something like 150 career points… they’ve had some success. They know how to win.
“They definitely know how to play, and it’s something we want to emulate their hard work and passion on the ice. Hopefully we can match that and come out with something.”
UND has only lost once in the last six games – a 5-4 loss to Denver last weekend in Colorado. The Beavers know it will be a challenge, especially since offense has struggled.
The Beavers managed five goals two weeks ago against Minnesota-Duluth in their last series, but in general they haven’t scored a ton in their past 12 games – just 18 goals.
“Obviously we’re not the kind of team that’s going to produce a while ton of offense,” Kinne said. “We haven’t shown that in that past couple games. We definitely have to hunker down on defensive side.”
Brance Orban currently leads the team with 20 points overall, including eight goals. Aaron McLeod has a team-high 11 goals and 16 points while Jordan George has 8 goals and 17 points.