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Bemidji State men's hockey: Beavers open challenging second half with Western Michigan

Ryan Adams and the BSU men's hockey team open the second half of the season at Western Michigan. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

After an electrifying first half of the season, the Bemidji State men's hockey team hits the road to open the second half with a nonconference series against Western Michigan University.

Tonight's game is set for a 6:35 p.m. start with Sunday's matinee to begin at 3:35 p.m.

The series against the CCHA foe is the first for the Beavers in three weeks. BSU had an extended holiday break following at rare sweep at home at the hands of Minnesota State, Mankato.

It was the only blemish on a spectacular first half of the season for Bemidji State (13-4-1, 8-0-0 CHA). The Beavers have hovered in the top 10 of the national rankings all season and now stand at ninth.

Yet, the sweep by Mankato was a bitter pill for the Bemidji State coaching staff and players. "Those games obviously didn't sit well with us," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "We take a lot of pride in how we play at home. Getting swept at The Glas is not something we're used to.

"That series was important because we wanted to maintain our consistency. Also, we wanted to make some hay at home because our second half schedule is so difficult (11 road games and five at home). It didn't happen and hopefully we learned some valuable lessons."

The extended layoff should pose no problems for the Beavers, Serratore continued, in fact its timing was probably perfect.

"The first half of the season is always a grind and feels like it lasts two years," he said. "The break gave us a chance to rest and get healthy. The guys came back in good shape and we'll be ready to go. I don't have any problem with the time off."

The Western Michigan series starts what becomes a pattern for the second half of the season for BSU - the Beavers play five of their next six games on the road. "It's going to be very challenging," Serratore reported. "It'll be interesting to see where we're at in two months.

"After our strong start we have a lot on the line. The bar has been raised in terms of expectations for the season. We have the ability to accomplish some things we haven't in the past."

Western Michigan (6-9-3, 2-9-3 CCHA) is also coming off an extended three week break. The Broncos fell to Ferris State in a home and home series 3-0 and 4-2 on Dec. 11/12.

This weekend's series is the continuation of what should turn out to be a long term scheduling agreement in the future for the Beavers and Broncos. Serratore said Western Michigan would return to BSU during the 2011-2012 season.

The teams have played four times in the past, the last during the 2005-06 season, with the series deadlocked at 2-2-0. BSU is 1-1-0 at Lawson Arena.

The Broncos and Bemidji State have played several common opponents this season. WMU defeated Alabama-Huntsville 2-1 twice early, a team BSU has defeated four times this season, while falling twice to Ohio State (4-2, 4-2) and posting a loss and tie against Miami (3-0, 1-1). BSU fell to OSU 2-1 in overtime and defeated Miami 3-2.

The Broncos have struggled a bit offensively this season, averaging 2.3 goals per game. The team is led in scoring and goals by sophomore J.J. Crew (7-6--13), with three others at five goals. These include freshman Trevor Elias (5-5--10), senior center Chris Clackson (5-4--9) and senior forward Jared Katz (5-4--9), a transfer from Wayne State University.

The Broncos are led on the blue line by sophomore defender Greg Squires (1-12--13), who is tied for the team lead in scoring. WMU has made its mark this season defensively, allowing a stingy 2.7 goals per game. Senior Riley Gill has seen the majority of action in goal and currently stands with a record of 5-7-2. He's sports a fine .925 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average. Junior Jerry Kuhn is 1-2-1 with a .911 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average.

"Western is a big and physical team that is very difficult to play against," Serratore reported. "They compete hard and we've had some great battles with them in the past. They are very similar to Northern Michigan, who we played earlier in the year.

"After getting swept by Mankato in our last games it's important for us to get back on track. It's key for us to come out of the series with a win."

BSU in national rankings

The Beavers enter the second half of the season with the third best winning percentage in the nation at .750 (13-4-1). It is one of several categories in which the Beavers are ranked among the nation's best.

Defensively, the Beavers are ranked fourth nationally, allowing just 2.00 goals per game. Offensively the Beavers are ranked fifth, averaging an impressive 3.72 goals game. The scoring margin of 1.72 is tied for second nationally.

Individually, sophomore goaltender Dan Bakala is third in winning percentage (10-2-1, .808), seventh in goals against average (1.98) and eighth in save percentage (.927).

Sophomore defender Brad Hunt is sixth in points per game among defensemen at .94 (17 points in 18 games). Freshman Jordan George is third nationally among rookies, averaging 1.11 points per game (7-13--20).

Junior Matt Read continues to play at an extremely high level for the Beavers. He is tied for second in shorthanded goals (3), tied for sixth (along with teammate Ryan Cramer) in game winning goals (3), 12th in goals per game at .67 (12 goals in 18 games), and 13th in points per game at 1.33 (24 points in 18 games).

Senior captain Chris McKelvie has been on a hot streak offensively, entering the weekend fourth on the team in scoring with a career high 6-6--12 points. He has scored two goals and five assists in the last six games.

"Our guys have shown they pay attention to detail and work hard as a group," Serratore said. "When we do those things we are a difficult team to play against. That's what we'll need to do week in, week out in second half to be successful."