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Beaver hockey notebook: Crowd comes alive at The Sanford Center

The Sanford Center was buzzing for the first time since opening night.

Sweeping the No. 4 ranked Division I hockey team in America can have that effect, and Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore confirmed the crowd's energy in the two victories over Nebraska-Omaha equaled the festive opening-night atmosphere against North Dakota back on Oct. 15.

"I don't think there's any question," Serratore said. "We recognized it, we saw it ... (the fans) saw 120 minutes of not only great Beaver hockey - it was just entertaining hockey this weekend. That was WCHA hockey at its finest and it was just unbelievable hockey. The pace was great, there was a lot of great players on the ice, there was a lot of plays being made, it was physical. In all aspects of the game it was just exciting hockey."

One play Saturday seemed to sum up the weekend best and will likely be the talk of the WCHA this week.

The crowd rose to its feet when BSU goalie Dan Bakala passed the puck up the rink to Jordan George with just under 10 seconds left in the second period while BSU was on the power play. George skated across the blue line along the side board and backhanded a drop pass to Matt Read. Though Read nearly missed the shot, he deflected the puck enough to reach Lowe on the far side of the net, and his backhand goal tied the game at 1-1 with 0.7 of a second to spare.

"I thought there was maybe a little less than 10 (seconds left) - everybody was just yelling at me to shoot, shoot, shoot," George said of the moment he crossed the blue line. "I thought it (fan support) was huge. Especially when you have the fans behind you, you play a little harder and you go a little harder. It was definitely a helper."

The crowd went into a frenzy at the buzzer and bags of stuffed animals were thrown onto the ice as part of the Teddy Bear Toss charity drive organized by BSU's Student Athlete Advisory Committee. When rink announcer Tom Kaplan announced the goal was under review, the crowd remained in the stands and matched that energy again when it was confirmed a few minutes later.

"I think it was an emotional game and there was a lot on the line," Serratore said. "If there was any kind of defining moment in the game, it was probably that."

The fan intensity from the goal carried into the third period and for a time, the BSU men's hockey team was feeding off the crowd's energy like games past in the John Glas Fieldhouse.

"There was just a lot of energy in the building," Serratore said of Saturday's game. "You sensed it and we did too. That helps everybody, including the goaltender. There's always a sense of excitement and a sense of confidence when you're at home. And when you're playing well at home, it really energizes everybody."

The Glas may have been small, but the low ceiling and bleacher seat atmosphere made it an intimidating place for opposing teams to play. BSU was 502-145-41 in games played there.

Fans are still acclimating to the dazzling new Sanford Center. The place was too quiet - except the stereo system - to feel like a WCHA arena earlier this season. It's an understandable part of the process in making something new feel like home. Some North Dakota fans have said Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks went through a similar experience when it opened in 2001. Who knows what Minnesota-Duluth will experience when Amsoil Arena opens at the end of this month.

Cheering for goals is a routine part of the fan experience. How fans sustain that energy through the game is what makes WCHA arenas unique.

Winning sure helps in creating an arena atmopshere and the Beavers sparked the 3,737 fans Saturday in its third straight victory. BSU sophomore Aaron McLeod said the crowd was "definitely electric."

During the third period one teen-age hockey player in the stands ripped his shirt apart in Hulkamania fashion and the rest of his shirtless teammates joined in the moment by spinning their shirts above their heads like a rally towel.

From the boisterous student section (all dressed in white Friday), to the majority of the seats in the horseshoe and through the luxury boxes - The Sanford Center felt like a true WCHA fan experience yet uniquely Bemidji.

Will last weekend's series start a trend and make The Sanford Center a hockey venue to be reckoned with in the second half?

The fans will answer that question when Bemidji State returns home next month to start the second half of the WCHA against St. Cloud State.

Read ties Erickson

With the assist on the second-period goal, Read tied Luke Erickson for BSU's career points record. Erickson had 52 goals and 69 assists for 121 points from 2003-07.

Read has 50 goals and 71 assists after last weekend.

Scouting Wisconsin

BSU wraps up the first half of the season Friday and Saturday at Wisconsin.

The Badgers are ranked No. 16 in the latest national poll and are coming off a road split at Alaska-Anchorage. The Badgers lost 2-1 Friday and won 3-1 Saturday.

Wisconsin went 0-4-1 against North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan in November before breaking the streak with a 4-1 victory over Michigan State on Nov. 27.

BSU lost to eventual national champion Wisconsin 4-0 in the NCAA tournament in 2006 in the only prior meeting between the two teams.

WCHA weekend

No. 1 UMD and No. 10 Denver split the final series at the DECC with the Pioneers winning 5-4 in overtime Friday and a 2-1 win Saturday.

There were three sweeps last weekend.

Colorado College swept Michigan Tech by 7-3 and 5-0 scores in Houghton.

North Dakota swept St. Cloud State by 3-1 and 6-2 scores. UND scored five goals in the first period Saturday.

Minnesota was swept on the road at Minnesota State, Mankato by 3-2 and 2-1 scores.

National poll

Bemidji State moved back into the national poll this week and received three votes.

Yale moved into the No. 1 spot after wins against No. 13 Union and No. 16 Rensselear last weekend.

Minnesota-Duluth dropped to No. 2. Other WCHA ranked teams are North Dakota (5), Denver (9), Nebraska-Omaha (10), Wisconsin (16). Receiving votes were Minnesota (30), Colorado COllege (17), Mankato (9) and BSU.

Women's poll

The Bemidji State women's hockey team received four more votes in the national poll. BSU has six votes in the poll that ranks the top 10 teams and needed 10 more votes to crack the top 10 this week.

BSU split with No. 7 Minnesota last weekend and the Gophers held that spot in this week's poll.