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Bemidji State men's hockey team set for first games vs. Northern Michigan

Bemidji State's Ian Lowe. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

It's almost like starting the season all over again.

After opening the 2009-10 schedule with an impressive two game sweep of nonconference foe Air Force, the Beavers promptly went on a two-week break.

Bemidji State finally returns to the ice tonight, heading to Marquette, Mich. for a two game series against Northern Michigan.

It will mark the first time ever the two teams have played.

NMU also opened the season nearly two weeks ago and took a break. The Wildcats opened Oct. 9 with a 5-3 loss to Michigan Tech in the opening round of the Superior Cup. NMU turned around two nights later and defeated Minnesota-Duluth 3-1.

"We're going to be facing a veteran team that has a lot of experience," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "NMU has 13 juniors and seniors who have all seen a lot of ice time the last few years.

"They also have two of the better players in the country in forward Mark Olver and defenseman Erik Gustafsson."

Gustaffson, Serratore continued, may be the best defenseman the Beavers face all season. "He's very versatile; an excellent two-way defenseman who has great hands," he said. "Olver has the skills to be a league MVP."

Olver was NMU's top point and goal producer last season with 16 goals and 19 assist for 35 points. Gustaffson was the CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman last year, ending with four goals and 30 assists.

"They have some very good high end players, and when combined with all the experience they have, NMU is really looking for big things this year and next," Serratore reported.

"We're looking forward to a major challenge and a real battle. This series will tell a lot about where we stand overall at this point."

Serratore reported the Beavers have used the extended practice time over the last 12 days to tie up loose ends.

"We've been spending a lot of time getting our systems in place and the special teams established," he said. "We're ready to play some games after all this practice time."

The practice sessions have been impressive, Serratore continued. Tactically, the Beavers are far ahead of where they were at this time last year. "We haven't had to spend a lot of time off ice, explaining things," Serratore reported.

"Our veterans have done a good job of not only teaching the younger guys how we do things, but also paying attention to detail. We want to play a regular game now to see if it all transfers to Friday and Saturday nights - when the pace is much quicker and the pressure is on."

The season opening sweep of Air Force was gratifying, but a lot of questions remain to be answered, according to Serratore. "No doubt, our young guys still have to make a lot of progress. But we know that's a gradual process," he said.

"Goaltending is still a question mark as well. We need to play more games to see if someone is going to really step up and grab the No. 1 spot."

Now that Northern Michigan is on the BSU schedule, Serratore said don't be surprised if a nice rivalry develops with the teams playing each other regularly in the future.

"Marquette is a fairly easy bus trip for us, about seven hours," he said. "Our schools, and communities, are very similar. And we really like and respect the NMU coaching staff. I can see us playing each other on a consistent basis."