Bemidji State men's hockey: Pressure still rides on BSU as regular season wraps up in Huntsville
The schedule may say these are the final games of the regular season, but for the Bemidji State men's hockey team the playoffs start now.
The No. 8 Beavers (22-8-2, 13-3-0 CHA) head south for the last time as members of College Hockey America, facing the University of Alabama-Huntsville today and Saturday. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m. tonight and 3:30 Saturday from the Von Braun Center.
The Beavers, who have already clinched the CHA regular season crown and the top seed in the league playoff, are in the midst of a major battle on the college hockey national stage. Going into the weekend, BSU has played itself into solid contention for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. More than that the Beavers are strongly in the running for a high seed in the tournament.
Bemidji State currently sits in fifth place in the PairWise rankings, a method used to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. To stay there, however, the Beavers have to be focused on one thing -- winning.
If an at-large bid is to be realized, and a possible high seed at that, the Beavers can ill afford losing games against CHA opponents at this point. UAH currently is ranked 45th in the Ratings Percentage Index with Robert Morris 42nd and Niagara 48th.
Losses to these teams would certainly knock the Beavers down in terms of RPI and PairWise. Just how far depends on many other factors, including how other PairWise top 20 teams fare in their regular season finales and league playoffs.
Again, the only way to take the mystery out of all the calculations is for the Beavers to win.
"Easier said than done" is a mantra that can be heard from BSU head coach Tom Serratore. He's constantly reminding everyone that there is an extremely fine line between winning and losing in college hockey; that there is little margin for error.
Looking ahead to this weekend Serratore said, "We're scratching and clawing for our lives. If we keep winning we'll be in good shape. If we lose we don't know what will happen.
"We have to play with a lot of desperation from here on out. We've put ourselves in a good position to this point. Now we have to get it done on the road."
The Beavers left Bemidji Wednesday night and will not return until after the CHA Tournament is completed. After finishing the weekend series at UAH, the Beavers will remain in Huntsville until Tuesday and then fly to New York in preparation for the CHA Tournament in Niagara March 12-13.
"This is going to be a great test for us -- being on the road for nine days. Nothing is going to be easy," Serratore reported.
"Through this weekend and then the CHA Tournament, we're going to be playing teams that will be prepared for us. Plus, they all want to earn that auto-bid to the NCAA tournament as well as rain on our parade.
"But, we've delivered all year and we're excited about this latest challenge."
The Beavers are coming off a road split with nonconference foe Nebraska-Omaha, winning the opener 3-1 before falling 3-2 on Saturday.
"On Friday, we were very good defensively," Serratore reported. "No doubt they had the territorial advantage, but we took advantage of our opportunities to get 2-0 lead. After they came back early in the third to make it 2-1, we were in survival mode. But, we survived. I thought we did a great job of taking away the middle of the ice and not allowing many shots."
On Saturday night it was a different story.
"The worst legs we've had all year," Serratore reported. "We played a very lethargic first two periods. But we played with a lot of intensity in the third. We changed the forecheck a bit and we're able to make a game of it.
"No question, UNO was the better team that night. But we were able to hang in there."
The Chargers enter the regular season finale looking to build some momentum for the playoffs.
UAH (10-16-2, 6-9-1 CHA) has found some success down the stretch, going 5-3-0 in their last eight games. Included was a four game winning streak.
The Chargers played a strange three game series at Niagara last weekend, falling 4-3 and 3-1 before winning the finale 3-2 in overtime.
The Beavers and Chargers played four games in the span of three weeks earlier in the season with BSU winning all four. The Beavers pulled out a pair of hard fought and intense 2-1 overtime wins at Huntsville, before returning to Bemidji to win 6-1 and 6-3.
The Beavers enter the series remembering those two overtime wins earlier and expecting the same battles this weekend.
The Chargers have the main ingredient necessary to compete with any team -- a strong goalie. Cameron Talbot currently stands with a sterling .920 save percentage and 2.75 goals against average. UAH has allowed an average of 2.9 goals per game.
Offensively, the Chargers are led in scoring by Andrew Coburn with 19 points on six goals and 13 assists. Cody Campbell is right behind with six goals and 12 assists for 18 points.
The Beavers continue to find themselves highly ranked in both team and individual statistical categories.
BSU is currently fifth defensively, allowing an average of 2.19 goals per game and sixth in scoring, averaging 3.59 goals per game. The scoring margin of 1.40 is third nationally.
The Beavers have the third best record in the nation with a .719 winning percentage.
Goalie Dan Bakala is sixth in winning percentage (18-6-2, .731), seventh in save percentage (.924) and ninth in goals against average (2.14).
Jordan George is fourth in rookie scoring (13-19--32, 1.03) with sophomore Brad Hunt fifth in scoring among defensemen (7-22--29, 0.91).