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Bemidji State men's hockey: Defense takes the spotlight at UND Holiday Classic

Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala ranks third in the country in save percentage at .938. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

It has been 158 minutes, 37 seconds since there's been an even-strength goal in a University of North Dakota men's hockey game.

That stretch spans more than two-and-a-half games and goes back to a Brad Malone goal early in the second period Nov. 14 against St. Cloud State.

Don't expect them to start flowing this weekend when Bemidji State, Miami of Ohio and Ohio State come to Ralph Engelstad Arena for the Subway Holiday Classic.

Bemidji State, Miami and UND are the three stingiest teams in the country. The Beavers rank first nationally, allowing just 1.67 goals per game.

Miami gives up 1.71 per game and UND 1.75 per game.

All three of those teams have veteran defensive corps and standout goaltenders.

Bemidji State sophomore Dan Bakala ranks third nationally with a .938 save percentage. Miami's Cody Reichard is fourth with a .936. UND's Brad Eidsness, who hasn't allowed an even-strength goal in eight periods, ranks 15th with .929.

"We have four quality teams here," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "It's easy to bill this as three of the top six (nationally), but don't forget Ohio State in that mix. They are a tournament team from last year and a young team. When they've played at the top of their game this year, they've been as good as anybody. They have a lot of talent in their lineup.

"The rest of the field speaks for itself. It's a nice showcase for college hockey and it should be some fun games."

The Sioux scored just two goals last weekend in Denver -- both on the power play -- and they've been held to one even-strength goal since losing captain Chay Genoway to an injury four games ago.

That's been the main reason why the Sioux have dropped the last three games by one goal.

"We realize that we're not indestructible," alternate captain Darcy Zajac said. "We have to come out, perform and play hard. Every team in the country is good enough to win on any given night. We need to be ready to play any night. Our preparation has to improve."

Hakstol said that the team has practiced well this week.

"We're not happy that we've lost three games in a row," said Hakstol, whose team is 7-4-1. "That doesn't sit well with anybody around here.

"In each one of those losses, we didn't give ourselves the best chance to win. In all three cases, the reasons were a little different. Taking three games on the chin like we did has a way of really sharpening your focus. If there was any lack of focus or preparation in the previous couple of weeks, there's certainly no lack of either this week. Hopefully that will put us back on track."

It won't be easy to get the offense going against two of the four Central Collegiate Hockey Association programs that made the NCAA tournament last season.

The Sioux will take on Ohio State at 7:37 p.m. Friday and No. 1 Miami at 7:37 p.m. Saturday. Bemidji State plays Miami at 4:07 p.m. Friday and Ohio State at 4:07 p.m. Saturday.

UND, Ohio State and Miami all rank 20th or worse in average offense, while leaning on defensive crews. Bemidji State has come alive offensively in the past two weekends, but it still relies on team defense, too.

"I think we've done a good job in our own end," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. "We've blocked shots, contested shots and haven't given up a ton of second opportunities. I'm proud of our defensive effort. That area was a huge concern early and it's always going to be a concern.

"It's a long season and you don't want to get in stretches where you are struggling defensively."

Brad Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.