MEN'S HOCKEY: Rejuvenated Beavers look forward to second half
BEMIDJI — For the banged-up BSU men’s hockey team, the recent holiday break was like finally finding an exit off the highway after driving for miles with a sputtering engine.
The Beavers played 10 consecutive weekends without a break since the season started Oct. 11, and the wear-and-tear was starting to show. BSU is winless in its last six games and had just 11 healthy forwards at its disposal in that span.
“It’s good to get a break,” BSU senior forward Jeff Jubinville said. “The first half was really a grind for us with no bye weeks, so I think we needed it. I think it’ll benefit us.”
The refreshed Beavers will see if that rest paid off this weekend when they host Northern Michigan in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at the Sanford Center (7:37 p.m. today, 7:07 p.m. Saturday).
In the games leading up to break, injuries to forwards Nate Arentz, Charlie O’Connor and Matt Hartmann had forced BSU (5-9-6, 5-5-4 WCHA) into using a few defenseman on the fourth line.
The Beavers hobbled into break with a 5-1 loss to Alaska-Fairbanks to close out 2013, but they’ll return in 2014 with 14 healthy forwards. Arentz and O’Connor have healed from their respective injuries and John Parker — a transfer from Maine — has officially joined the roster and can start playing after being forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.
“It’s nice to have some healthy bodies and have numbers in practice,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s nice to have some healthy forwards.”
Hartmann is still questionable and Serratore said he wasn’t sure when the senior from White Bear Lake would return.
“It’s great to get all these guys back,” said sophomore center Cory Ward. who leads BSU with 12 goals and 16 points in 20 games. “It’s amazing how many injuries a hockey team goes through in the season. Everybody brings something special so having those guys back is great. The guys are fresh and we’re excited.”
BSU will be without freshman Phil Marinaccio for Friday’s game due to a WCHA suspension — he was whistled for a spearing penalty in the third period of the Dec. 14 loss against Fairbanks — but other than he and Hartmann everyone is available for this weekend’s series against NMU.
Serratore said he hadn’t put much thought into the exact nature of the lineup composition because he was still focused on getting the team back into shape. Improving offense in 2014 is a major concern.
“We’re still working on special teams, conditioning and timing right now,” he said. “Getting our energy back. We’re trying to be strong on the forecheck, have some sustained pressure in the offensive zone. We have to manage the puck better and forecheck has to be better.”
The Wildcats (6-10-2, 4-5-1) have also struggled on the offensive side, scoring just 39 goals in 18 games. Stephan Vigier leads them in both goals (10) and points (15) while three other players have reached double digits in points.
But, Serratore notes, NMU head coach Walt Kyle has built this year’s team around defense. Freshman goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom has a 2.25 goals against average and 92.5 save percentage in 16 games played. As a team NMU has allowed 2.17 goals per game.
“They’re very structured in their play and very good defensively,” Serratore said of the Wildcats. “They’re in good spots, have a good forecheck. They’re just a very systematic team.
“Walt Kyle is just a heck of a coach…. he’s one of the best coaches in college hockey. We have to make good decisions with the puck because their positional play is going to be very good.”
The Beavers, currently tied for fourth place in the conference standings with Bowling Green at 14 points, would like to make the most of these home games. After this weekend’s series they have just five more games remaining at the Sanford Center.
“We have to win every game at home and then be studs on the road too, now,” Jubinville said. “You start looking at the standings in the second half with the season winding down, so the more points we get we know it will benefit us at the end of the season. We need all we can get.”