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Bemidji State men's hockey team on the road at Niagara for big conference series

Get ready for a wild ride.

As Bemidji State men's hockey head coach Tom Serratore says, the remaining 14 games on the regular season schedule will determine "what the Beavers are made of."

Nine of those 14 games will be on the road, starting with a big College Hockey America series against rival Niagara today and Saturday at Dwyer Arena.

The Beavers (14-4-2, 8-0-0 CHA) have started the season fast and have been ranked among the top 11 nationally the entire season. They want the roll to continue, but realize it's not going to be easy.

"The bottom line is we need to win," Serratore said. "We have a good thing going and want to keep it going. But we also know we have a bull's eye on our backs. Teams have been, and will continue to be, up for us in every game."

The Beavers are coming off a bye week with their last action a three point weekend at Western Michigan Jan. 2-3. The Beavers posted a 0-0 tie in the first game and came back the next night with a 3-0 win.

"It was a great weekend for us," Serratore reported. "We ended the first half of the season getting swept by Mankato and then had an extended break. Getting three of four points on the road coming off the long break was just what the doctor ordered.

"We were pretty strong in all facets of the game - offense, defense and special teams. We didn't allow a power play goal for the series and then we scored three on the power play in the Saturday game. The series gave us a shot at having a strong second half of the season.

"That is a major goal of the team - to finish what we started."

After failing to post a win in their first 10 games (0-8-2), the Purple Eagles have gone 5-4-0 since then. Included are victories over St. Lawrence and Colgate the last two weekends.

The Beavers swept Niagara at the John Glas Fieldhouse Dec. 4-5, winning 8-2 and 3-2.

"This is a big weekend for us," Serratore said. "If we want to get to the NCAA tournament we need to win games. If we want to win the CHA regular season title, we need to keep winning games.

"We want to enter the post-season feeling good about ourselves. I believe there is a major correlation between how well a team is playing at the end the regular season and how well they'll perform in the post season. Our push to the postseason begins this weekend."

Niagara (5-12-2, 1-3-1 CHA) is a team, for whatever reason, whose record is not an indication of just how good they are, Serratore reported.

"They had a very difficult schedule their first half, starting the season with seven of their first 10 games on the road," he said. "That zapped them a bit. But they are playing well now and have built some confidence. We're expecting a real battle."

The Purple Eagles are led in scoring by senior forward Chris Moran (3-19--22), while senior forward Ryan Olidis tops the squad in goals with 11. No one else is near double figures in goals for the Purple Eagles who average 2.79 goals per game.

Niagara has used three goalies at various points in the season. Junior Adam Avramenko has the most starts with nine, featuring a record of 2-3-2, a .898 save percentage and 3.27 goals against average. Sophomore Chris Noonan has seven starts with a record of 3-6-0, a .909 save percentage and 3.20 goals against average.

The Purple Eagles have allowed an average of 3.50 goals per game.

"We'll find out what we're made of over the remainder of our regular season schedule," Serratore reported. "This weekend is just the beginning of what's to come - a bunch of tough games on the road."

In order to continue the success so far, Serratore said the Beavers need to play with a high level of intensity, play strong defensively and perform well on special teams.

"We've been very inconsistent on special teams," he said. "But we've been so good defensively it's allowed us to be in games."

While the power play numbers look good (19.8 percent), the statistic is a bit misleading, Serratore continued.

"Look at how many games we haven't scored on the power play," he said. "We had three at Western Michigan in one game, but I'd rather be consistent and have one in three straight games."

The Beavers have been able to generate offense the entire season, averaging 3.50 goals per game. "We need to continue to get three goals a game," Serratore said. "If our special teams can get consistent, we'll get there. If not, it's going to be tough for us."

BSU continues to be among the top teams in the nation in several statistical categories.

The Beavers are second defensively, allowing 1.80 goals per game and sixth on offense with an average of 3.50 goals per game. The scoring margin of 1.70 is second nationally.

Individually, sophomore goalie Dan Bakala is second in save percentage (.937), second in winning percentage (11-2-2, .800), and third in goals against average (.1.71).

Sophomore defender Brad Hunt is fifth among defensemen in points per game (5-15--20, 1.00), while freshman Jordan George (7-13--20) is fifth in points per game among rookies (1.00).

Junior Matt Read is 12th in points per game (12-15--27, 1.35), 21st in goals per game (0.60) and tied for eighth in game winning goals, along with teammate Ryan Cramer, with three.