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Big weekend for Bemidji boys hockey starts with Brainerd

High school hockey fans are in for a treat this weekend as the Bemidji boys squad will be hosting Brainerd 5:30 p.m. today and Hermantown 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Both games will be played at Nymore Arena.

The Lumberjacks, 14-1-1, finally cracked the top-15 in the Let's Play Hockey Class AA poll as they moved up a few positions to that No. 15 spot in Thursday's poll.

Brainerd isn't ranked but the Warriors own a 12-4 overall record. BHS is 4-0-1 against Section 8AA foes while Brainerd is 2-2. Moorhead is 3-1-1 in the section while St. Cloud Tech is 3-2, Buffalo 2-2, Monticello 2-4, Roseau 1-1, Becker 0-1 and River Lakes 0-4.

Gaining separation from the section peers is tonight's goal and if the Jacks can sweep their remaining three section games, the top playoff seed will be theirs.

That task begins tonight.

"We have three section games left (tonight against Brainerd, Feb. 4 at Roseau and Feb. 8 against Moorhead) and each one is all-important," said BHS coach Wade Chiodo. "The section is very tight and we're looking to gain the top seed. That is why Friday's game is so important."

Continuing its winning ways is also at the top of Bemidji's list and the team will be severely challenged Saturday when Hermantown comes to town. The Hawks entered Thursday's game against Ashland ranked No. 2 in the state Class A poll with a 14-0-1 record.

Bemidji and Hermantown have played three mutual opponents. The Hawks own a 4-3 win over East Grand Forks and a 9-4 victory over Crookston. They also tied Thief River Falls 3-3.

Bemidji is 4-0 against those teams, slapping EGF 4-1 and 2-1, Thief River Falls 5-2 and Crookston 6-0.

Chiodo is very happy with his team and how it is playing. But he isn't fully satisfied.

"At this point the kids have done extremely well at working hard and playing their roles," the coach said. "But there are things we need to do better such as shoring up our transition hockey and the D-zone (defensive zone).

"We are our most effective when we win the loose puck battles, win at the boards and apply pressure all over the ice," Chiodo continued. "And we've been pretty effective at doing those things this year."

Offensive balance and solid goaltending have been keys to this winter's success. Steven Heller is the team leader in points (9-13-22) but seven teammates have at least 15 points.

That list includes Matt Serratore (9-11-20), Max Hazelton (12-7-19), John Forseth (6-13-19), Jordan Heller (9-10-19), Tyler Follis (10-9-19), Tyler Tatro (2-13-15) and Easton Halbert (3-12-15).

"Each of our top three lines, on any given night, can be the one that dominates or gets the big goal," Chiodo said. "And with Jeremiah (Graves) in the net, we have a solid backstop.

"I'm very happy with how the kids have responded but it is important for us to continue to get better. The playoffs are right around the corner."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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