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Bemidji State men's hockey team returns from off week to host MSU, Mankato

Bemidji State captain Ben Kinne. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Purple has been a frustrating color for the Bemidji State men's hockey team in recent years.

Bemidji State is 1-7 against Minnesota State University, Mankato dating back to 2007 and the two teams meet again this weekend at the Sanford Center (Friday 7:37 p.m., Saturday 7:07 p.m.).

"We've had our hands full with Mankato over the course of the last four years," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "Our senior class is 1-5 against them and they've beat us a lot. We realize how good of a hockey team they are and it's going to be challenging for us this weekend."

BSU rebounded from a 2-1 overtime loss to Mankato and ended a seven-game losing streak to the Mavs with a 4-1 win to split last February's series at Mankato.

Mankato (8-17-1, 4-13-1 WCHA) is 11th in the league standings and trail Bemidji State (11-11-2, 5-9-2 WCHA) in 10th place by three points.

The Mavericks have struggled with numerous injuries to key players this season and had three wins through the first week of December.

But Mankato turned its season around and are 5-5 over the last 10 games, which includes a home split against Nebraska-Omaha in a pair of overtime games last weekend.

"Early in the year and throughout the season, we've been having injuries and we still have some," said MSU sophomore Zach Lehrke, a Park Rapids native. "Guys are getting back into the lineup. We started out slow but I think we're coming together as a team. We're getting good goaltending and we're starting to score."

Forward Eriah Hayes is the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring a hat trick in the 5-4 win against Omaha. His 18 points tied for second in team scoring with Matt Leitner behind freshman Jean-Paul LaFontaine's team-leading 12 goals and 21 points.

The Beavers have not played since the road sweep at the hands of current No. 15 Denver two weeks ago. BSU had leads in both games but lost 6-3 and 3-2.

Last week's bye ended a slow stretch where the Beavers played six games in six weeks. There are no off weeks left the rest of the way with 12 games remaining over six weeks before the WCHA playoffs start.

Serratore said the team focused on small games and rushing drills at last week's practice, and returned to a normal practice routine to prepare for Mankato.

"I think it's early enough to have these by weeks that there isn't overkill in practice," he said. "Even though it's not easy, our guys have shown great maturity in our practices and they've been good."

Junior forward Jordan George is BSU's leading scorer with a team-best 12 goals and 19 points. Behind him his senior defenseman Brad Hunt at 17 points, who is battling a four-game scoring drought. He has not gone four games without scoring since his sophomore season.

Sophomore forward Radoslav Illo brings a five-game point streak (two goals, three assists) into the series.

"This is my second year, so I would say I understand the game a little bit better and I read the play a little bit better," Illo said. "Sometimes you don't have to skate as much when you read the play. I like the guys I play with and our power play is working pretty well, so that's one of the biggest things out there."

Freshman forward Danny Mattson brings in a four-game point streak into the series with a goal and four assists in his last four games played.

Playing at the Sanford Center might be a good place for the Beavers looking to shake the struggling trend against the Mavericks. After a 5-8-3 home record last season, the Beavers have played tough in Bemidji and are 8-3-1 on home ice this season.

"The bottom line is we're finding ways to win," Serratore said. "Whether that home ice advantage is the key, who knows? It sure doesn't hurt. Last year we found ways to tie a lot and lose at home ... We're very comfortable, confident at home. I think we realize that when we have a lead, we're good at home and when we're down, we can come back."

BSU received a verbal commitment last week from Carter Struthers, a defenseman from Weyburn Saskatchewan. He is the first known defenseman to commit to BSU for the 2013-14 season.

The commitment was announced in a press release by his current team, the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Struthers stands at 6-foot-5, 204 pounds. He has three goals and 18 assists for 21 points in 31 games this season with Weyburn.