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Bemidji State men's hockey: Beavers, Niagara play for CHA lead in rare Thursday-Friday series

Bemidji State's Shea Walters (left) checks Niagara's Tyler Gotto (right) during Bemidji State's 3-1 win on Jan. 24 at John Glas Fieldhouse. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

This is exactly where the Beavers hoped to be at this point of the season --playing at league foe Niagara with first place in the College Hockey America conference on the line.

Well, maybe not exactly. It's certain that if the Bemidji State men's hockey team had its druthers, it would love to have put regular season league title away by now.

But that's not reality.

History shows the CHA regular season title has typically come down to the last weekend of play. The Beavers are hoping this year will be no exception.

Bemidji State (13-14-1, 9-4-1 CHA) faces Niagara (15-11-2, 8-3-1 CHA) in a rare Thursday/Friday series this week. There is no doubting the importance of the series.

The Beavers currently stand in first place, but have played two more league games than Niagara. Regardless, the Beavers hold destiny in their hands. If BSU wins its last four games the team would finish the regular season with 27 league points (13-4-1). Under this scenario, the best Niagara could finish would be 25 points (12-5-1).

However, the opposite is also true. If Niagara sweeps this weekend and then wins out, the Purple Eagles would finish with 29 points (14-3-1), while the best the Beavers could do would be 23 points (11-6-1).

How about if there is a split this weekend? The Beavers would then be 10-5-1 for 21 points, with Niagara 9-4-1 with 19. If both teams then won their remaining league games, the Beavers would end at12-5-1 for 25 points and Niagara 13-4-1 for 27 (winning the league title).

The various scenarios could continue ad nauseam, but hopefully the point has been made -- this series is a big one for BSU.

The Beavers will be playing after a short turnaround, just finishing at series at Robert Morris on Sunday. The Beavers took Monday off and then practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in Pittsburgh before getting on a bus and traveling to Niagara Wednesday evening.

"We have a real short recovery time off a tough series at RMU," said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. "It's going to be interesting to see the attitude of the guys and how we play after a series like that."

The Beavers are coming off what be described as a disheartening series at RMU, falling 3-0 and tying 3-3 in overtime Sunday. It was a stark turnaround from just two weeks prior when the Beavers blitzed the Colonials on their home ice 5-3 and 5-1.

"I thought it was a good point for us to earn on Sunday," Serratore reported. "You want to come away with something from the series and we all know how hard it is to win on the road."

Credit must also be given to the Colonials for the way they responded. "They played very well," Serratore reported. "It was a Jekyll and Hyde difference from the team we played two weeks before. They definitely deserved to win on Saturday -- they came out with something to prove, made some adjustments to their penalty kill that slowed down us a bit and got good goaltending."

Sunday night was a different story. The Beavers responded by playing very well and taking leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but the squad wasn't able to hold on to the advantage.

"The second period was strange," Serratore said. "We scored in the first eight minutes to make it 3-1 and then they took it to us over the last 12 minutes and tied the game. Obviously, I'd like to have four or five minutes of that second period back.

"But then, in the big picture, we ended up getting five of eight possible points at RMU this season."

The Beavers now know the importance of this series against Niagara. "I'm proud that the guys have put themselves in a position where this series is very important," said Serratore. "This is what we work so hard for -- the opportunity to compete for a conference championship.

"We know our backs are against the wall, but I'm proud of where we are. It seems like we've been on the road forever. By the time the season is done we'll have played 10 CHA games on the road and eight at home.

"We'll see what happens the rest of the way."

Niagara is coming off a split at Alabama-Huntsville, winning the opener 4-2 before falling 3-1. Prior to the loss the Purple Eagles were riding a five game unbeaten streak, much the same as the Beavers were on a five game winning streak before Saturday's loss to RMU.

The Beavers and Purple Eagles have played each other four times this season and stand 2-2-0. The Beavers last traveled to Niagara last November, winning the first game of the series 3-1 before falling by the same score the next night.

Both games tonight and Friday are set for a 6:35 p.m. start from Dwyer Arena.

Following this series Niagara will make it up its two games in hand by playing at Robert Morris Feb. 27-28. Bemidji State will play two exhibition games that weekend.