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MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State travels to Michigan for battle with physical Ferris State

Bemidji State’s Mitch Cain (27) celebrates his goal with Bob Kinne (26) and Matt Hartmann (21) during Saturday’s game against Minnesota State Mankato. The three scored six points during last weekend’s split with the Mavericks. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — If there’s any team in college hockey that most closely resembles what Bemidji State has done in the past 10 years, look no further than the Ferris State Bulldogs.

A longtime head coach? Check — Bob Daniels is in his 22nd season at the helm in Big Rapids, Mich.

A successful program using recruits who may not be the highest on everyone’s list? Check — The Bulldogs made the Frozen Four in 2012 without having a single NHL Draft pick on the roster.

A cozy arena where the team is boarderline dominant? Check — Ferris is 53-28-12 at the 2,493-seat Ewigleben Arena over the past five seasons.

The two like-minded programs will face off this weekend (6:07 p.m. today and Saturday) for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series in Michigan — their first conference meeting.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s a very difficult place to play. Ferris is a great program and they’re very difficult to play at home.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how much offense you can generate. It’s a smaller rink with shallow corners. They’re very aggressive and they defend extremely well.”

The Bulldogs (5-2-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) have only played two home games this season and split the nonconference series with St. Lawrence on Oct. 18 and 19.

But much like the Beavers at the old John Glas Field House, the Bulldogs like to use their cozy rink to their advantage.

“It’s a small intimate place,” Serratore said. “They’re very successful there, borderline dominant there. It’s a low ceiling, they pack it in. They’ve got a great student section.

“They have very shallow corners and a small neutral zone. They know how to play to the nuances of that rink. They’re well-coached and have talented players so with all those things added up, that makes it a tough place to play.”

Junior Justin Buzzeo leads the Bulldogs with five goals and five assists in seven games played while seniors Garrett Thompson and Justin DeMartino are also atop the team’s point leaders.

Junior goaltender C.J. Motte, who was on the shortlist for the league’s preseason goaltender of the year award, is 5-0-0 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average.

FSU head coach Daniels thinks the series will be a physical battle, naming BSU goaltender Andrew Walsh as one of the better ones in the league.

“They’ve got some defensemen with some pretty gaudy numbers early on,” Daniels told the Big Rapids Pioneer Tuesday. “(Matt) Prapavessis and some of the other guys have the ability to score on their defensive corps. Having Andrew Walsh in net, you’ve got a goaltender that has put up similar numbers to CJ Motte.”

Prapavessis doesn’t have any goals for the Beavers (3-4-1, 3-1-0), but has six assists.

Daniels also pointed out the Beavers’ ability to score up and down the lineup. Top-liners Danny Mattson (1g, 7a) and Cory Ward (5g, 0a) are in the top three of BSU’s scoring column but just about every forward who’s been on the ice this season has at least one point. That includes the fourth line of Matt Hartmann, Mitch Cain and Bob Kinne, which tallied six points in last weekend’s split with Minnesota State.

“When you get beyond the coaching, the two teams are very similar in that we both have a couple of strong lines that put up decent numbers, but we still have scoring from throughout the lineup,” Daniels said. “They’ve got a top line with Mattson and Ward that’s similar to our line with Garrett Thompson, but they get scoring from all four of their lines.”

Last weekend the Bulldogs swept Alabama-Huntsville on the road. Twelve players had at least a point for Ferris.

Although Ferris has some scorers, they are, like BSU, known for their defensive style, according to Serratore.

“They’re on you,” he said. “They’re on you very fast. They don’t give you a lot of time and space. They’re aggressive on the penalty kill and they’re aggressive defensively.

“They overload you on the puck so they’re always trying to overload the puck. You can probably compare it to a swarming defense. You don’t have a lot of time and space so you better be on your toes.”

That’s just fine with Walsh.

The junior goaltender from Dawson Creek, B.C., has played every minute for the Beavers this season. He’s played the most minutes (482:33), seen the most shots (236) and made the most saves (216) of any goaltender in the conference.

Walsh knows with the weird bounces a puck can take on a small rink like Ewigleben, he may see a ton of shots. That’s fine with him.

“A smaller rink, for me it means you’ll see a lot of weird angle shots,” he said. “They’re a team that likes to get the puck on net, which I’ll be expecting. I feel like in games where I’ve had a lot of shots and expecting shots from everywhere, I’ve been able to play well. Hopefully we can keep that going into this weekend.

“And when you’ve got the other team’s student section behind me yelling and screaming it makes for a good experience and a fun time.”

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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