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Beavers face uphill battle at Denver this weekend

Sophomore goalie Mathieu Dugas rejects a shot during Saturday's shutout victory over Alaska-Anchorage. He will start in goal tonight at Denver. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

DENVER -- The Bemidji State men's hockey team travels to the Mile High City this weekend to face No. 13 Denver in an important series for both teams.

Defending WCHA regular season champion Denver is trying to keep pace with the top of the league and Bemidji State is looking to move into the middle of the WCHA standings.

"It's another week in the WCHA against one of the better teams in the league and one of the best in the country," Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. "Denver has probably had the most success out of any WCHA team over the last decade: they've got good forwards, a good backline, they're very well-coached and they can produce a lot of offense."

The Beavers (2-5-1 overall, 2-5-1 WCHA) play the Pioneers (6-4-2 overall, 5-2-1 WCHA) at Magness Arena with local starting times at 8:37 p.m. today and 8:07 p.m. Saturday. The games will be televised on FSN Rocky Mountain and on FCS Atlantic on Friday night.

The focus for Bemidji State this weekend will be puck control.

"I think the big thing for us is we need to manage the puck better and that's something the coaches have emphasized," Serratore said. "We want to do that on a consistent basis and get pucks deep. The turnovers are magnified in the WCHA and if we can limit the turnovers we will be happy because it will give us a chance to win."

Serratore pointed to last week's split with Alaska-Anchorage where the Beavers lost 5-4 Friday and won 4-0 Saturday.

"We don't want to be a roller coaster," Serratore said. "We had 32 turnovers in the loss to Anchorage and the next night we remedied that. That helped us out offensively and being consistent there is a big part of playing hockey at a high level."

One common area between the teams was the tough schedule to start the season. The Beavers opened the season with back-to-back home series against North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth before facing St. Cloud State on the road.

The Pioneers opened on the road in Vermont, then followed with home series against Boston College and Wisconsin before a road trip to North Dakota.

"They've (BSU) had an early season schedule very similar to ours," Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said. "Very, very challenging. I think they are a team that is going to really be a factor as we get deeper in the schedule but certainly going to be a challenge for us and we're looking forward to it."

Bemidji State enters this weekend with the top two scorers in conference play. Senior Matt Read and sophomore Jordan George lead league scorers with 11 points each. Read's seven goals lead BSU and are tied with North Dakota's Matt Frattin for the most in WCHA play. Junior Brad Hunts's eight assists rank third nationally among defensemen.

Gwozdecky said he pointed out those numbers to his team this week.

"Bemidji State is an interesting opponent for us," Gwozdecky said. "They are part of the WCHA and a new opponent and as a result none of our players have played against them ... They have talent on their roster."

Though Denver is the defending champion, the road to repeat will be a challenge for the Pioneers. Denver lost last year's Hobey Baker candidate goalie Marc Cheverie along with Joe Colborne and Patrick Wiercioch to NHL contracts during the offseason.

Despite losing veteran Jesse Martin for the season to a neck injury against North Dakota last month, the Pioneers have fought through the adversity with a young roster to maintain a winning record early on.

Denver's roster features nine NHL draft picks and is led by sophomore Drew Shore's (Florida) eight goals. Junior Luke Salazar and freshman Jason Zucker (Minnesota) each have seven goals.

The Pioneers are coming off a home sweep of Minnesota State University, Mankato with 3-2 and 6-1 wins.

A trend that has developed with the Beavers this season is early scoring. The Beavers have scored goals in the opening minute of the last three games.

"That's just a lot of luck and we'll take it any time we can get it," Serratore said. "We want to make sure we can play with a lead and maintain it."

Serratore has elected to start goalie Mathieu Dugas in net tonight. He started last Saturday's win against the Seawolves and the start against the Pioneers will be his fourth this season. Saturday's starter has not been determined.

Second line forward Ryan Cramer, who has missed the last three games to a muscle pull in his stomach, may return for today's game and has a "60 percent" chance of playing according to Serratore.