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The Bemidji State hockey players saluted the record crowd following Saturday’s game against Minnesota. BSU and the Gophers will meet again Friday in the first game of a best-of-three playoff series in Minneapolis. BSU Photo Services.

A new season: Beavers prepare for rematch with Gophers in WCHA playoffs

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BEMIDJI — Forget everything that happened in the regular season.

The Bemidji State hockey team might have closed out a disappointing year with an 11th-place Western Collegiate Hockey Association finish and only 17 league points. And that 12-game winless streak that ate up a good portion of the second half of the Beavers’ season wasn’t ideal.

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But now BSU’s playoff bed is made — a first-round playoff series at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis for a rematch with the second-ranked (and second-seeded) Golden Gophers. Minnesota swept the Beavers in the final regular season series of the year last weekend at the Sanford Center.

“I’d be lying to you if I said we were doing cartwheels going over there, but there’s nothing we can do,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “That’s the draw we have.”

BSU may have finished 5-16-7 in the league, but there’s only one thing the Beavers do going into the playoff series against Minnesota.

“Everybody’s 0-0,” said BSU senior goaltender Mathieu Dugas. “It’s a new season, so we’ve just got to have that mentality.”

Dugas made 35 saves in BSU’s 5-1 loss to the Gophers Saturday night. The Beavers couldn’t get much going in Saturday’s game after taking Minnesota to the brink in Friday’s contest.

Saturday’s game found the Gophers controlling the puck with ease and forcing the Beavers to play at their own pace.

The result was something of a snowstorm after the first period. Minnesota, already up 2-0, put 23 shots on Dugas in the middle frame and outshot BSU 40-24 in the game.

The Gophers had just 28 shots total against the Beavers in Friday’s game — a 4-3 comeback win for Minnesota.

“I think Minnesota wanted to make a statement, and they did a good job,” Serratore said of Saturday’s game. “They carried the play. I didn’t think we were good away from the puck.

“We better be sharp away from the puck next week or they’re going to have time to make plays.”

BEAVERS KNOW WHAT THEY Must DO

BSU played much better Friday night — capturing a 3-2 lead early in the third period before the Gophers scored two late goals to steal the victory.

The Beavers were able to slow the pace down in that game, resulting in even numbers of shots on goal, faceoffs and scoring chances.

But forcing the Gophers to slow down and play their style is hard to do even once. Doing it twice — and forcing them to play that way on their big Olympic ice sheet at Mariucci is even tougher.

“You always want to try and avoid playing on big ice, but it is what it is,” Serratore said. “They’re obviously a good team. Take a look at what they can accomplish offensively.”

Seven different Gophers scored goals this weekend, while 13 different players got in on the scoring action and garnered at least a point.

The Beavers had nice production from its third line — Cory Ward scored two goals Friday, while linemates Danny Mattson and Radoslav Illo had assists — and Matt Prapavessis scored BSU’s other two goals. But in general the Beavers will have to find a way to get goals from their top-line guys if they want to steal two wins from Minnesota in this weekend’s best-of-three series.

Luckily for the Beavers, though, they’ve got a clean slate to work with. Anything can happen in the playoffs.

“Two years ago Alaska went in (to Mariucci), beat them and went to the Final Five,” Dugas said. “Two years ago we went into Omaha, beat them and went to the Final Five. There are a lot of examples of upsets in the playoffs ... we just have to have the mentality that we can do it.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. 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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