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MEN'S HOCKEY: BSU hosts another ranked team in hard-hitting Lake State

BEMIDJI — Lake Superior State doesn’t give up many goals. Bemidji State has been scoring consistently.

One of these things will have to give when the two teams meet for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend at the Sanford Center (7:37 p.m. today, 7:07 p.m. Saturday).

BSU head coach Tom Serratore knows the physical Lakers (6-3-1, 2-2-0 WCHA) will pose some significant problems down low for the Beavers (4-6-2, 4-3-1 WCHA), who have seen an improved and more balanced offense from last season.

“Their style of play is so hard to play against,” Serratore said. “They defend well, and they’re strong. It’s hard to get to the net on those guys… it’s not easy.”

Only twice this season have the Lakers given up more than three goals in a game — once in a 6-5 overtime win Oct. 19 against Union and again on Nov. 2 against Wisconsin, when the Badgers stuffed eight goals past LSSU goaltender Kevin Murdock.

Aside from those games, the Lakers have been solid defensively. Murdock and Kevin Kapalka have combined for a solid goalie rotation while the towering defensive presence of players like Kevin Czuczman (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), Zach Loesch (6-5, 212), Andrew Perrault (6-2, 197) and Eric Drapluk (6-1, 194) has made it increasingly difficult for anyone to score on the No. 16-ranked Lakers this season.

Take out that anomalous Wisconsin game, in which nothing was working for the LSSU defense, and the Lakers give up just 2.3. goals per game — which would be the best in the WCHA.

Bemidji State defenseman Matt Prapavessis said he knows how difficult it is to play the Lakers and is expecting a defensive battle — but only if the Beavers can clamp down and take care of the puck in their own defensive zone.

“They’re a strong team, they like to go down low,” Prapavessis said. “We’ll just have to match them defensively. We need to get pucks in deep and take care of them. They have a lot of big strong guys so we have to match their physicality.”

“They’re going to be big and they’re going to hit a lot,” freshman defenseman Ruslan Pedan added. “We can play the same game. We have to be good offensively, score some goals and go from there.”

The Beavers know they’ve had trouble holding on to leads and keeping the puck out of the net — their 3.08 goals per game in 12 games is among the worst in the conference (only Alabama-Huntsville is worse at 5.00). They’ve allowed as many goals as they’ve scored (37) and have let opposing teams outshot them 372-297.

“We’ve got to work on lowering our goals against average,” Serratore said. “We’re giving up too many shots. We gave up 33 on Saturday (against Alaska-Anchorage), and the last thing you want to do is give up 33 shots.

“As much as we’re happy getting 30-plus shots, you wanna make sure you’re in the mid-20s. It makes your life a lot easier. We have to get back to defending a little harder.”

One thing working in the Beavers’ favor right now is special teams.

BSU’s power play, anchored by defenseman Ruslan Pedan and forwards Markus Gerbrandt, Jeff Jubinville and Danny Mattson, is No. 13 in the nation at 10-for-46 (21.7 percent) while the penalty kill is No. 8 at 49-for- 56 (87.5 percent). The combined special teams is No. 3 in the country, behind Michigan and Denver.

Still, Serratore knows the team has to get better scoring goals 5-on-5 if they want to continue their success.

“Our power play is going good right now, but it is going to struggle. It’s a roller coaster,” he said. “If you’re going to have tough times on the power play you want to make sure you can generate offense on 5-on-5. We’ve got to get better at 5-on-5 play.”

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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