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Beavers, Gophers vying for playoff positions in WCHA men's hockey

Eric Stromgren | Bemidji Pioneer Drew Fisher and the Bemidji State men's hockey team travel to No. 7Minnesota this weekend.

The Bemidji State and Minnesota men's hockey teams have much at stake this weekend.

With the regular season down to six games, the Beavers have a shot at gaining home ice in the playoffs and the No. 7 Gophers lead the MacNaughton Cup race heading into this weekend's series at Mariucci Arena (Friday and Saturday, 7:07 p.m.).

"The race is so tight right now," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "You have to play your best and try to win games. You have win games right now and we're all in the same mode right now."

The Beavers (15-12-3, 9-10-3 WCHA) are on a three-game winning streak and enter the weekend three standings points out of the final WCHA playoff home ice position. BSU swept then No. 10 Colorado College last weekend and improved to 11-4-2 in the last 17 games.

The Gophers (19-7-4, 13-6-3 WCHA) saw its three-game winning streak end last weekend with a sweep at current No. 10 Denver, which cut its first-place lead on second-place Minnesota-Duluth to one point in the standings.

The chief concern for the Beavers heading into the series is adapting to the larger 200-foot long, 100-foot wide Olympic size ice sheet. The Beavers are 9-33-4 all-time on Olympic ice during the Division I era and are 1-2-1 this season.

The Beavers practiced Thursday on an Olympic sheet at the IRA McDonald Venue in Grand Rapids on the way down to Minneapolis.

"The Gophers really know how to spread the rink out and use the sheet they have," Serratore said. "We have to manage the puck, be good on special teams, have good dumps, defend well and we have to generate offense hopefully with our low play."

The Beavers have been winning recent games with strong goaltending, power play production and a converting rush offense.

Dan Bakala was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week after stopping 52 of 55 shots against Colorado College last week. He is 6-1-1 in his last eight starts and has 125 saves in his last four games to go with a .939 save percentage.

BSU senior Shea Walters played a key role in the offense recently and carries a four-game point streak into the series. The Hibbing native has two goals and three assists in that span, which includes a game-winning goal against Colorado College last Saturday for his 10th goal of the season.

It was a goal Walters converted by skating aggressive to the net, and that kind of play is what Serratore likes about BSU's game right now.

"I think the guys are converting and their hard work is giving them opportunities," Serratore said. "Our work ethic has been very good. I think we've been very tenacious, we've been strong on pucks and when you're strong on pucks, there's going to be opportunities on offense."

Bemidji State captain Ben Kinne credited simple plays like getting to the net along with improved chemistry with all four lines for the offensive boost.

The Beavers have 14 goals in the last three games after scoring just 12 in the previous six games.

Kinne, a St. Paul native, talked more about defense against the Gophers. He said BSU needs to force Minnesota's offense to play from the perimeter and limit its of rush offense.

"It's going to be a fast-paced game," Kinne said. "They have a lot of talent and we're going to have to try and keep up with that. Hopefully it will be a good show for the fans and the whole state of Minnesota will be able to watch it, so hopefully it will be a fun series."

Scholar Athletes

There were nine BSU players added to the WCHA Scholar Athlete list this week.

Receiving the award are Jake Areshenko, Dan Bakala, Kyle Brodie, Darcy Findlay, Drew Fisher, Brad Hunt, Jeff Jubinville, Garrett Ladd, Jamie MacQueen, Aaron McLeod, Brance Orban and Brady Wacker.

Students must have one year of residency prior to the current academic year and must also have a grade-point average of at least 3.50 on a 4.0 scale for the previous two semesters or three quarters. Students may qualify if the overall GPA is at least 3.50 for all terms at the present institution.

New commits

BSU received verbal commitments for the 2012-13 season from junior hockey players Markus Gerbrandt and James Hanson in the last week.

Gerbrandt, a forward, has 29 goals and 28 assists in 52 games this year for Fort McMurray of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The Edmonton native has 82 goals and 102 assists in 194 games spanning three seasons with the Oil Barons.

Hansen, listed as a 6-foot-1, 220-pound defenseman, has three goals and eight assists this season for Waterloo of the United States Hockey League. The Maple Grove native who played at Osseo High School is in his second season with Waterloo.