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BSU men's hockey: Beavers go back to work at Dartmouth tournament

Bemidji State is looking to find more scoring punch on the roster behind Matt Read and Tyler Scofield. Emil Billberg (16) responded in the last series against Alabama-Huntsville. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

After a 22-day break the Bemidji State men's hockey team returns to action today, playing in the Dartmouth Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The Beavers take on the University of Massachusetts in the tournament's opening round game at 3 p.m. (CST). Bemidji State will then play either host Dartmouth or Army Monday afternoon, based on the results of today's games.

The last action for BSU was a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville Dec. 5-6. The team practiced for about 10 days after the sweep, then went their separate ways. Players returned to Bemidji on Friday for a quick skate before boarding a plane Saturday morning.

Playing a big game after such an extended lay off is unfamiliar territory for the Beavers and head coach Tom Serratore.

"I hope the players come back in decent shape," he said. "I hope they worked out and skated a bit during the break and are ready to go. That's half the battle. We know it's going to take a while for them to get back to where they want to physically.

"The games this weekend probably won't be as intense as you'd like. That's because the boys won't be physically ready to expend all that energy."

UMass (8-6-1, 4-4-1 Hockey East) will provide the Beavers a major challenge to be sure. The Minutemen have an impressive early season resume, defeating ranked teams in Michigan State, North Dakota, Boston University (when BU was ranked No. 1 in the country) and Boston College. But UMass has also shown signs of inconsistency.

The Minutemen lost to Merrimack, UMass-Lowell and St. Lawrence - all teams that appeared on paper UMass should defeat handily.

After starting out the season very strong at 5-2-1 and earning a national ranking, UMass struggled, going 3-4-0 in its next seven.

The Minutemen have proven to be a strong two-way team thus far, averaging 3.3 goals a game while allowing an average of 2.0. UMass has allowed the opponent more than two goals only once this season, while the season high for goals was nine.

The anchor of a great team defense, of course, is strong goaltending and the Minutemen have not one, but two, top notch goalies. Sophomore Paul Danton stands 6-3-0 with a 1.63 goals against average and .935 save percentage. Junior Dan Meyers has started one less game and features a record of 2-3-1 with a 2.30 goals against average and .925 save percentage.

Offensively, the Minutemen are led by the trio of senior Cory Quirk, senior Alex Berry and sophomore James Marcou - who have accounted for 52 of the Minutemen's 131 total points (40 percent). Marcou leads the teams with 19 points on seven goals and 12 assists. Quirk is next (5-12--17), followed by Berry (6-10--16).

"UMass has a potent offense," Serratore reported. "We've watched them a lot on video and they don't seem to have many deficiencies. They are very quick and skate very much like a WCHA team. They have a very good power play and are well balanced.

"They have the best team in tourney, on paper. When all is said and done, I believe they will be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid."

The Beavers are currently riding a five game winning streak that has turned around the first half of the season. After starting out 1-6, the Beavers have won six of their last seven to "come back from the dead," as Serratore puts it.

"We have re-established ourselves, which is good for the team's confidence. The winning streak certainly helped solidify the first half of the season," he said. "Coming into the season looking at the schedule I thought if we could be 8-6 at this point I'd take it. We came close."

Despite the turnaround, Serratore reported the BSU coaching staff doesn't how well the team has been playing overall. "I think a lot of the winning streak comes down to that we were riding some good goaltending," he said.

Sophomore Matt Dalton emerged as the go-to goaltender for the Beavers during the streak, posting a miniscule 1.00 goals against average over the five games. The Beavers as a whole played very well defensively during the streak as well.

But the needs emerge when taking offense.

"We need to generate more offense, more shots," Serratore reported. "I believe we have been very easy to play against at times. Three times this season we didn't have 20 shots in a game - that's very uncharacteristic for a BSU hockey team."

The Beavers have averaged just 23.4 shots per game this season and 2.4 goals.

Some of the difficulties on offense could be a lack of continuity, Serratore said, since the Beavers have been banged up for most of the first half of the season. Regardless, the Beavers need to start generating more offense in order to be successful.

"We don't have the high octane we've had in the past," he said, "and lack some depth offensively. If you don't have depth and you start to rely on a couple of guys, if they get shut down you're looking at a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 type games.

"We rely heavily on guys like Matt Read and Tyler Scofield, but we need scoring from our secondary-type guys. Who's going to provide it? Our second leading scorer is a freshman defender (Brad Hunt)," Serratore stated.

Sophomore Emil Bilberg provided that boost in the last two games the Beavers played, scoring a big goal each night of the UAH sweep.

"That's what we need, but we need more of it from more players," Serratore reported. "We've had some freshmen who've played a lot in the first half season. They know the college game now and may be ready to cut loose in the second half."