Bemidji State men's hockey team faces Nebraska-Omaha in key series
The hay isn't quite in the barn yet ...
With only four games left in the regular season, it's the time of year when every men's college hockey series is the biggest of the year. And it's the time when practice time normally begins to be cut shorter with the foundation having been set or the "hay put in the barn."
But the Beavers aren't quite at that stage, according to head coach Tom Serratore.
"There's light at the end of the tunnel, but we're not there yet," he said with a smile. "We still need to get better; there are things we need to work on."
The No. 6 Beavers head south to begin a key nonconference series at No. 19 University of Nebraska-Omaha tonight. The Mavericks (17-13-6, 13-12-3 CCHA) seem to be peaking at the right time, recording a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games.
"This is a huge series for both teams," Serratore reported. "We've put ourselves in a good a position in the PairWise rankings and know we have to keep winning to stay there. At the same time, UNO has a chance to move up by beating us - especially after they just won at Miami.
"Then, we know UNO and the Beavers are going to be travel partners for years to come after we join the WCHA next season. A strong rivalry will develop because of that - we might as well get things started now."
The Beavers are coming off a series sweep, shutting down Niagara at the John Glas Fieldhouse in style with a pair of wins. The Beavers (21-7-2, 13-3-0 CHA) clinched their third consecutive regular season league title with a 3-2 win Friday.
BSU then followed up with a convincing 6-1 win on Saturday in the last college hockey game ever to be played at the Glas.
Serratore reported the Beavers had an up and down weekend.
"For two periods on Friday we were not very good," he said. "We were sloppy and didn't play with much intensity. But, in the end, we found a way to win. As coaches our expectations are high; I just felt we had more to give.
"The highlight was killing the five minute major late in the third period with the game on the line. It was textbook how the guys played it. They anticipated well, dumped the puck when they got control and made good line changes. They played with a lot of desperation and intensity."
On Saturday, the Beavers took a 3-0 first period lead and cruised from there.
"We got a three goal cushion early and were able to build on it," Serratore reported. "It was nice to win like that and get a victory playing Beaver hockey like so many teams have done at the Glas over the last 43 years."
The Mavericks split on the road at Miami last weekend, falling 6-2 in the opener before rallying to win 4-2 Saturday. The win snapped a Miami 23 game undefeated streak in CCHA play.
"They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games; winning at Miami last week and sweeping Michigan at home the weekend before," Serratore reported. "They have been playing very good hockey the second half of the year."
UNO has found it's scoring touch the last couple of months. During their last 11 games the Mavericks have scored 46 goals, an average of 4.18 per game. They have posted four or more goals in nine of those 11 games.
For the season UNO averages 2.9 goals per game, while allowing an average of 2.90.
UNO literally takes the scoring by committee approach to heart with nine players scoring 20 or more points this season. Senior defenseman Eddie DelGrosso leads the team in points with 25 on five goals and 20 assists. Junior forward Rich Purslow is next with 24 (12 goals-12 assists). Senior Jeric Agosta paces the team in goals with 14.
In goal senior Jeremie Dupont and freshman John Faulkner have split time in net. Faulkner has seen the majority of action, standing at 12-10-4 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.72 goals against average. Dupont is 5-3-2 with an .886 save percentage and 3.04 goals against average.
The Mavericks have been very tough at home this year, posting a record of 13-2-2.
"Omaha has been very difficult to play against in their arena this year," Serratore reported. "Thirteen of their 17 wins have come at home. This is going to be a great challenge for us. We've competed well on the road this year so far; we'll see how we respond to this next test.
"UNO plays an up tempo style and has good team speed. They are a very old, veteran team in the sense that they have a lot of veteran USHL players."
The Beavers will be looking to win their first game ever against UNO, standing 0-4-0 to this point. The Beavers were swept in 1999 and 2003 in Omaha.
"This is a huge weekend for both teams," Serratore reported. "The PairWise rankings are very volatile now so we want to keep winning.
"I don't know if we are quite in a playoff mode yet. As a coach, I don't know if we're truly consistent yet, putting together a full 60 minutes. I believe we need to work on our consistency and being difficult to play against."
Doing so against a team that is on the rise in both the PairWise and Ratings Percentage Index would be a great place to start.
The Beavers continued to rank high in several national statistical categories. BSU is fifth defensively, allowing an average of 2.20 goals per game and sixth in offense, averaging 3.67 goals per game. The scoring margin of 1.47 ranks second.
The Beavers have the third best winning percentage in the nation at 21-7-2 (.733). Only two teams have more wins.
Individually, goalie Dan Bakala is fourth in save percentage (.924), sixth in goals against average (2.15) and fourth in winning percentage (17-5-2, .750).
Freshman Jordan George is third among rookies in scoring (13-18--31, 1.07 ppg), while sophomore Brad Hunt is fifth among defensemen in scoring (7-21--28, 0.93 ppg).
The Beavers are tied for fourth in the PairWise rankings.