BEMIDJI – With just six games left in the regular season, the Bemidji State hockey team’s goals have changed just a bit.
While shooting for home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs is now all but impossible, the Beavers have set their sights on making sure they’re firing on all cylinders as the season comes to an end.
“Honestly, we just need to stay on the right track right now. Everyone makes the playoffs in this league and anything can happen,” senior forward Brance Orban said. “We upset Omaha a couple years ago in their place, so it’s just a matter of getting hot. We just need to push in the right direction and get ready to go come playoff-time.”
The Beavers (5-17-6, 4-13-5 WCHA) saw their four-game losing streak come to an end last Friday when they rallied to force a tie against Wisconsin. They’re currently 11th out of 12 teams in the WCHA with 13 points.
“It weighs on you,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said of his team’s ongoing 12-game winless skid. “It’s in the back of your mind. Luckily in hockey you can mix in some ties and get some points that way. A tie always feels good, doesn’t matter what kind of year you’re having.
“We’ve had some ties to mix in, but it’s tough. Any time you make a mistake when you’re struggling like this, it’s magnified. You just sit there and say to yourself, ‘We need a break,’ but sometimes you need to make your own breaks.”
The Beavers, who are 0-9-3 in their last 12 games and winless in 2013, will get an opportunity to make their own breaks when they host a similarly struggling Minnesota-Duluth team at the Sanford Center this weekend.
The Bulldogs (10-15-3, 8-11-3 WCHA) have lost five in a row including consecutive sweeps at the hands of Denver and Minnesota State-Mankato. UMD is just six points ahead of BSU in the WCHA standings with 19.
The Beavers and Bulldogs split their series Dec. 7 and 8. UMD won the Friday night battle 4-2 while BSU took the Saturday finale 2-1.
The Bulldogs started the season 7-8-2 but since the Christmas break they’re 4-7-0 – including a recent 1-5-0 stretch in their past six games.
“They’re not struggling as bad as we are but they’ve had a tough four-game stretch here where they’re also trying to figure some things out,” Serratore said of the Bulldogs. “Bottom line is, they’re always strong defensively. And their power play is very good. They have a lot of speed.
“This weekend, you’re going to see two teams playing with some desperation.”
UMD’s power play is No. 15 nationally, but recent defensive issues have put them near the bottom in scoring defense; opponents have scored 3.0 goals a game on the Bulldogs. That’s No. 42 nationally. The Beavers give up 3.07 goals a game, a rank of 46th.
The Bulldogs have given up 22 goals in their past six games.
“They’re fighting for points too,” said BSU senior Aaron McLeod. “It’s going to be a tough test; we just have to be sure we’re on top of our game. We want to get four lines humming and try and get a win Friday night.”
The Beavers have struggled just as much as the Bulldogs as of late, especially on the defensive front. In getting swept by Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State earlier this month, BSU gave up 15 goals.
The situation in net has been murky, as senior Mathieu Dugas and sophomore Andrew Walsh have alternated playing time.
Dugas kept the Beavers in last Friday’s game against Wisconsin with a masterful 38-save performance to force a tie. But in Saturday’s game he gave up all three goals and made just seven saves before Walsh relieved him in the second period.
Serratore said Tuesday that he planned on going with Walsh in net today, but neither goaltender has put himself forward as a clear No. 1.
Walsh is 4-10-4 with a 2.73 goals against average in 18 starts while Dugas is 1-7-2 with a 3.04 average in 10 starts.
“Ideally you’d like to have your goaltending situation solidified in the second half of the year,” Serratore said. “We always have, but when you’re struggling like this, you’re trying to find offense and win games, sometimes things aren’t as traditional as they have been in the past.”
That means doing whatever he can, including rotating goaltenders, to try and put some sort of fire under the Beavers.
“It’s a team game and goaltending hasn’t been the only reason why we’ve been struggling, but we’re trying to mix things up,” Serratore said. “We’ve done a little flip flopping the last three weeks. You try and do things different… we’ve been changing our line combinations, our power plays around. You have to. You’re just trying to figure some things out.”