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Coaches, players are ready for playoffs

Minnesota captured the WCHA regular season championship but by this time next year no college hockey fan will be talking about that accomplishment. Instead, those fans will be remembering the national champion and the playoff run that was required to hoist the trophy.

"Hockey is noted for its playoffs," said Bemidji State University men's coach Tom Serratore. "When you say playoffs to a hockey player he gets it. It's a different mentality in the playoffs.

"When you are eight years old to when you are done playing hockey it's all about the playoffs," Serratore added.

That special time has arrived for the Beavers. Today at 7:37 p.m. BSU will square off against North Dakota in the first game of a best-of-three series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. The second game will be 7:07 p.m. Saturday and the rubber match, if needed, will be 7:07 p.m. Sunday.

The series winner will move on in the WCHA tournament while the series loser will see its season come to a close.

"When you play for the right to play the next game you prepare a little differently," Serratore said. "The mindset is different. This is playoff hockey and you must pay attention to detail."

Serratore is ready for UND and the playoff challenge. He also believes that his players are equally ready to hit the ice.

"Every weekend brings different types of challenges but the kids perk up at this time of the year," Serratore said. "There is a huge emphasis in the sport of hockey to the playoffs and the special feeling it brings."

During the regular season the teams split a November series at the Sanford Center. The Fighting Sioux took the opener 5-2 while the Beavers posted a 1-0 shutout in the rematch. Dan Bakala had 26 saves in the 1-0 victory and Jordan George notched the lone goal while BSU was on the power play.

The Beavers enter the series on a two-game winning streak as they swept Alaska-Anchorage 2-1 and 5-4 last weekend.

Overall Bemidji State is 17-16-3 and its 11-14-3 WCHA record was good for ninth place. UND is 20-12-3 and finished fourth in the league with a 16-11-1 mark.

"This will be a very challenging series in their barn and in a very hostile environment," Serratore said. "UND relies on Danny Kristo, Corban Knight and Brock Nelson. They generate a lot of offense and play in all situations.

"But UND also is getting mileage from their youngsters and great goaltending," the coach continued.

Last weekend's sweep at Anchorage was the shot in the arm the Beavers needed. Those two victories not only ended the regular season on a positive note, they also helped prevent a trip to Denver in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.

"It was nice getting a couple of wins under our belt," Serratore said. "We're stronger mentally now than we were at this time last week. Two wins will do that.

"Going to Anchorage is not an easy trip but the guys responded well and I'm proud of them. Those wins have the guys feeling very good about themselves and we're going to UND with quiet confidence."

George will lead BSU's offense this weekend as the junior has 18 goals, 12 assists and 30 points. Contributing at least 20 points are Shea Walters (12-13-25), Brad Hunt (5-19-24), Brance Orban (9-13-22), Aaron McLeod (8-14-22) and Ben Kinne (10-11-21).

Bakala brings an 11-11-2 record, a 2.57 goals against average and a .914 save percentage into the series.

"UND is very difficult to play against, especially at their place, and we'll have our hands full," Serratore said. "But this is playoff hockey and we're very excited to begin."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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