Shakeup of lines yields good results for Beaver men's hockey team
The Bemidji State men's hockey team made a major lineup adjustment in last Saturday's 3-0 win over Northern Michigan.
The top scoring line of Jordan George, Matt Read and Ian Lowe was split up for the first time this season after Friday's 4-0 loss: Emil Billberg replaced George on the top line and George was moved to the second line with Jamie MacQueen and Ryan Cramer.
The non-conference game was an ideal time to adjust the line combinations and it may have worked well at times in the win, but BSU head coach Tom Serratore is not committed to keeping the same lines for this weekend's series against No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha at the Bemidji Regional Event Center.
"We'll see if it does (gets results) long term," Serratore said. "But we just felt we needed to balance out our lines a little bit and we wanted to try and increase our offense. It's been difficult to get some secondary scoring and we just thought this might be an opportunity for some other lines to pick it up."
Billberg, a senior, played on the top line for the first time in his career and scored BSU's only even-strength goal in the second period to give the Beavers a 1-0 lead.
"I don't really know what his (Serratore's) thoughts were, but obviously it worked out tonight," Billberg said after the game. "It was pretty tough weekend. But we brought it tonight and we just got to bring that with us next week when we play Nebraska-Omaha. They're the hottest team in the country right now."
One thing Serratore liked about the lines switch was moving George to center the second line to generate more scoring opportunities.
"Jordan George is such an exciting player and he's got great speed and he's got great quickness," Serratore said. "We just rolled the dice and said 'let's try it.' It was nice to get rewarded for that."
George assisted on Billberg's goal, scored on the power play and threaded a blue line-to-blue line pass through NMU's defense to spring Lowe on a breakaway during the second period.
Saturday's game marked the second time the George-Read-Lowe line was split up since George arrived at BSU last season and Friday's loss was only the the third time this season that line was held scoreless.
The George-Read-Lowe line accounted for 69 goals and 70 assists in 45 games dating back to last season.
Should the combinations switch again, Serratore remains confident his top lines can make the adjustments.
"Those guys have the ability of gelling together because they all have tremendous hockey sense," Serratore said.
The second period has been troublesome for BSU all season, but the Beavers broke the trend in Saturday's win.
Heading into Saturday's game, BSU had been outscored 13-2 in second periods this season including 1-0 in Friday night's loss.
BSU was exceptional in the second period against NMU on Saturday. The Beavers outscored the Wildcats 2-0 and outshot NMU 19-3. The Beavers went on to outshoot Northern Michigan 37-17 in the game.
The BSU penalty kill that was inconsistent to start the season has stabalized in recent weeks.
The Beavers did not allow a power-play goal against the Wildcats and were a perfect 6-for-6 in penalty killing situations.
"It's huge and it gives us more confidence on the kill," Serratore said. "We've killed very well over the last five games."
Beginning with BSU's 3-2 overtime win at St. Cloud State on Nov. 5, the Beavers have killed 29 of 32 penalties for a 90.6 percent success rate and have only allowed one power-play goal in the last five games.
In the five games prior to that win, the Beavers were killing power plays at a 69 percent rate. BSU's penalty kill rate is now at 79 percent.
Dean Blais' Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks may be the surprise team of the WCHA and college hockey this season.
UNO (9-2-1 overall, 6-1-1 WCHA) did not play last week and is currently the No. 4 ranked team in the USCHO.com Division I men's national poll.
The Mavericks split with North Dakota in Omaha in its most recent games. UNO lost 6-5 on Nov. 19 and won 1-0 on Nov. 20 behind Alex Hudson's game-winning goal with .3 seconds left in regulation.
BSU split with Omaha last February in a non-conference series with a 3-1 win and a 3-2 loss.
Around the WCHA
In the lone WCHA series last weekend, Alaska-Anchorage split on the road at Colorado College. The Seawolves won 4-3 in overtime Friday despite being outshot 17-4 in the first period. CC won 2-0 Saturday.
North Dakota defeated Notre Dame 6-3 and tied 2-2 at Grand Forks in a series between nationally ranked teams.
In the College Hockey Showcase, Minnesota lost to Michigan State 5-2 on Friday but rallied to beat Michigan 3-1 Saturday in two games in Minneapolis. Wisconsin tied Michigan 4-4 and defeated Michigan State 4-1 in two games in Madison.
Minnesota State went on the road and swept U-Mass Lowell by 8-3 and 3-2 scores. Denver defeated Lake Superior State 6-3 and Air Force 3-1 to extend its Division I-best winning streak to six games.
Idle Minnesota-Duluth maintained its No. 1 ranking in the USCHO.com Division I Men's Poll with 49 of the 50 first place votes this week.
WCHA teams ranked in the top 20 are Nebraska-Omaha (4), North Dakota (7), Denver (10) and Wisconsin (15), Minnesota (17). Colorado College was not ranked but received one vote.
After receiving two votes last week, Northern Michigan received no votes following the loss to BSU and fell out of this week's poll.
Women receive votes
The Bemidji State women's hockey team received votes in the USCHO.com Division I Women's National Poll for the third consecutive week.
The Beavers received two votes for the second straight week after a 2-2 tie (1-0 shootout loss) to No. 9 Ohio State last Friday and a 3-1 loss to the Buckeyes Friday.
BSU hosts No. 7 Minnesota this weekend at the BREC. Game times are 2:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday.