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Bemidji State goaltender Andrew Walsh looks for the puck in last Friday’s game against Lake Superior State. Walsh made 63 saves last weekend to help the Beavers sweep the Lakers. In the past, BSU has relied on goaltending to defeat Nebraska-Omaha, to Walsh may be called upon to make a number of saves this weekend. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State travels to Omaha one last time; has shot at 1,000th program win

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BEMIDJI – Whatever happens in this weekend’s series at Nebraska-Omaha, the Bemidji State hockey team will be making some history.

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Sure, this is the last time the Beavers will play at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center as a WCHA opponent. It’s also the start of conference play in the final season of the WCHA as we know it.

But, perhaps more significantly, a victory this weekend against the Mavericks and the Beavers (1-1-0) will reach the 1,000-win plateau – the 18th college hockey team to do so.

It won’t be easy against a UNO team (2-2-0) that recently split with nationally ranked Northern Michigan last weekend and gave Notre Dame a good game earlier this season.

“Omaha’s a great road trip,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They have good weather; it’s a great crowd down there. It’s nice.”

Maybe the Beavers are so enamored with the city of Omaha because of this stat: In the past five games in Nebraska, the Beavers are 4-0-1 against the Mavs, including a sweep in the 2011 WCHA playoffs.

“It’s a tough barn to play in but we’ve had pretty good luck there, actually,” BSU forward Brance Orban said.

Some of that luck over the years can be attributed to goaltender Dan Bakala, who shined against the Mavs in Omaha. In two games at CenturyLink last season, Bakala made 73 saves to help BSU pick up four points; he was similarly spectacular in 2010-11 in four games in Omaha.

“I think if you take a look over the course of the last couple years, a lot of it was Danny Bakala,” Serratore said. “We’ve had very good goaltending against Omaha. We’ve fed off that. If we have that again, it gives us a fighting chance.”

Sophomore Andrew Walsh did that in last weekend’s series split against Lake Superior State. He made 63-of-64 saves with a goals against average of 0.51.

“The thing you don’t want to do against Omaha is you don’t want them to score early goals because they’re a difficult team to play from behind,” Serratore said. “We score first, it gives you some confidence, it gives your goaltender a little confidence, and hopefully it’s a hockey game.”

UNO used early scoring momentum in both of its wins this season. Against Army Zahn Raubenheimer scored less than five minutes in and the Mavs rolled to a 5-1 win.

Last weekend against Northern Michigan, it was a similar story, as Brock Montpietit and Michael Young each scored midway through the first period and UNO held on to win 5-2.

Montpietit and Bryce Aneloski lead the Mavs with five points apiece. Defender Andrej Suster is third on the team with four.

“They’re a 200-foot hockey team, and they turn their guys loose,” Serratore said. “The thing is about those guys, if you have the puck in the offensive zone, they can just take time and space away so quick. You have to move the puck quickly, you have to stay active, and you have to try and get to open ice.”

Lake Superior State played a more physical, slow-it-down game and forced a 2-0 shutout in the series opener. The Beavers got back on track offensively Saturday with a 5-0 win. Five different players scored, including Radoslav Illo, who had a goal and assist and currently leads the team with two points.

“Saturday we played a great game,” Illo said. “We got more hits, dumped the puck, played a little bit more simple than Friday.

“Friday night I don’t think we played a bad game, but the penalties kind of put us down a bit. But not a big deal, we learned from it in time to go to Omaha this weekend with positive energy.”

With a trip to Colorado College on the horizon next weekend and a series with ranked Michigan Tech set for next month, the Beavers just want points.

“You want to get points,” Serratore said. “Take a look at our schedule, and our first four conference games are on the road. So you don’t want to get too far behind the eight ball. You get some points, mission accomplished. But that’s easier said than done.”

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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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