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MEN'S HOCKEY: Wisconsin poses unique challenge for Bemidji State as winless streak hits 10

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BEMIDJI – Bemidji State’s winless streak hit 10 following last weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series sweep at the hands of St. Cloud State at the Sanford Center.

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Traveling to Madison, Wis., isn’t the ideal way to keep it from hitting 11.

The Beavers (5-16-5, 4-12-4 WCHA) enter this weekend’s WCHA series at Wisconsin looking to finally – mercifully – get something to go their way.

“Right now it’s the time of the year where we’re struggling,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s been tough on us. You hope you don’t go through a stretch like this, but we are right now and we’ve got to scratch and claw our way out of it.”

BSU suffered its third and fourth losses in their recent 0-8-2 slide with a pair of losses to WCHA-leading St. Cloud State. The Beavers managed to score just one goal and didn’t get a single power play opportunity – the Huskies didn’t take any penalties.

Serratore said he didn’t think his team played badly. But when a team can’t score goals, every mistake it makes is magnified. Against the Huskies, the Beavers made multiple turnovers that proved costly and led to St. Cloud goals.

“The bottom line is, we didn’t have many turnovers, but it doesn’t matter how many you have,” he said. “You get a couple bad ones, it kills you. That’s what happened to us against St. Cloud. We have to manage the puck well, since it’s almost like a chess match over there.”

Against the Badgers (11-9-6, 8-8-6 WCHA), goals will once again come at a premium. Wisconsin doesn’t score a lot – just 58 goals this year – but the Badgers also don’t give up goals. Goaltenders Joel Rumpel, Landon Peterson and Adam Miller have combined to give up a 53 tallies.

“They’re playing very well now,” Serratore said. “They’re hard to score against. They haven’t scored a lot but they don’t give up a lot, so again, they’re just a team that defends extremely well.

“You can’t get any outnumbered rushes on them. Their forecheck takes that away. They want you to turn pucks over, they want you to counter-attack. It’s very similar to what you saw last two weekends against St. Cloud and Omaha. You have to manage the puck really well.”

Last weekend against St. Cloud State the lone Beaver to score was defenseman Brady Wacker – a score from the blue line that wasn’t your typical greasy, front-of-the-net score that BSU players seem to specialize in.

And the BSU power play is still struggling mightily. The Beavers didn’t get any opportunities last weekend but they’re still 0-for-17 in their last six games.

Wisconsin’s power play isn’t great either – the Badgers are just 8-for-78 overall (10.3 percent), one of the worst in the country.

But the Badgers have improved since some early struggles. Wisconsin started the season poorly. They spent the first month or so of the season without Mark Zengerle, who led the team in scoring last season, and went 1-7-3 in the months of October and November.

The Badgers were riding an 11-game unbeaten streak that ended last Saturday with a 4-1 loss to North Dakota in Grand Forks.

“Sometimes it takes a while,” Serratore said. “Some teams start off slow and in the second half you get good chemistry and things start going well. That’s kind of year they’ve had. Different times of the year people play different types of hockey.”

No issues with goaltending

Although the Beavers had some goaltending issues last weekend against St. Cloud State – most notably replacing sophomore Andrew Walsh with senior Mathieu Dugas after Walsh gave up two goals in two minutes in Friday’s game – Serratore said the coaching staff liked the way both goalies have played in this winless stretch.

“The goaltenders are playing alright,” Serratore said. “They’re not playing lights out, but they’re not playing bad. If they’re playing lights out, they’re going to win games for you. But the coaches have no issues with our goaltending right now.”

After spelling Walsh in Friday’s game, Dugas gave up a quick goal before settling down and making 22 saves. He got the start again Saturday and made 29 saves despite giving up four goals.

Dugas, who is 1-6-1 overall with a 3.03 goals against average and a .902 save percentage, only recently found himself back in the rotation. He started a stretch of six consecutive games from Nov. 17-Dec. 7 but didn’t see action again until starting against Nebraska-Omaha Jan. 26.

Walsh is 4-10-4 overall with a 2.81 GAA and a .909 save percentage.

Serratore said during Tuesday’s press conference that he wasn’t sure who would be getting the nod this weekend.

“It’s one of those things that we’re going to worry about it later in the week,” Serratore said. “You’re just hopping they can steal one for you here or there.”

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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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