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Rough stretch gets no easier for Bemidji State men's hockey

BEMIDJI – Nobody on the Bemidji State hockey team can remember a skid like this.

“It’s been a long time. I don’t know if we’ve had a down stretch like this,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said of his team’s struggles this season. “Not as a head coach, anyway. When I was an assistant coach we had a tough time right when we went Division I. But it’s been tough.”

The Beavers, who are 5-14-5 overall and 4-10-4 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, are 0-6-2 in their last eight games. They haven’t won a game in 2013 and are winless since defeating 10th-ranked Denver 5-1 Dec. 15 at the Sanford Center.

“It’s definitely tough to only have five wins right now this late in the season,” said senior Aaron McLeod. “It’s the 20th week of the season here. But we’re playing pretty good hockey as of late. So we just need to make sure we continue to do that.”

McLeod, who leads the team with 10 goals in 24 games, said he hasn’t experienced a drought like this in his hockey career.

And he isn’t alone.

“All the teams I’ve played on have been pretty successful throughout all the years I’ve been playing hockey,” senior defenseman Brady Wacker said. “So it’s kinda something new to a lot of us, but you just have to stick with it, I guess. We have to keep a positive attitude and try and keep moving forward.”

The Beavers were swept by No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha last weekend despite playing what Serratore characterized as “120 minutes of good hockey” following Saturday’s game – a 2-1 loss to the Mavericks.

Now BSU hosts another ranked team – No. 12 St. Cloud State – in WCHA play this weekend. And finding some way to get a point – any kind of point – would be a huge boost to the team’s confidence.

“I think last weekend we played pretty good but we couldn’t even salvage a tie, so that’s frustrating and a bit disheartening,” said Wacker, who scored his first goal of the season in Friday’s 5-3 loss to UNO.

“Even when we are playing good we still can’t seem to find ways to win. I think we just have to find character and stay together. We’ve got to try and run into a greasy one here and maybe get on a roll.”

One major problem area for BSU: Scoring.

The Beavers’ 52 goals this season are the second-worst in the WCHA, ahead of only Alaska-Anchorage.

BSU’s 2.17 goals per game ranks 51st nationally.

“We’re just fighting it,” Serratore said.

“We’re playing pretty good hockey, we just can’t score goals. But the effort’s there. At the end of the day as a coach, that’s the most gratifying. The kids are working hard, they’re trying, and our attention to detail has been pretty good. We’re just not scoring goals.”

The Beavers did manage to put three goals on the board Friday – the most goals they’ve scored since beating Denver in December – but the BSU defense allowed the Mavericks to come back after the Beavers scored the game’s first goal.

They also failed to capitalize on five power play opportunities over the weekend, including a nearly 3-minute man-advantage late in the second period Saturday.

That puts the Beavers at 0-for-17 in their last four games.

“We’re trying to do a lot of things on the power play,” Serratore said of how to improve the power play without going into specifics. “If you’re not converting there, it makes things more difficult from an offensive standpoint. It always gives you a little insurance. We have to try and get on track right there.

“I mean, if we get a power play goal or two this past weekend, the whole complexion of the series changes.”

This weekend the Beavers will have to deal with a St. Cloud State team coming off a three-point weekend at No. 7 North Dakota.

“They’re on fire right now,” Serratore said. “You don’t go into North Dakota taking three out of four points unless you’re playing really good hockey.”

The Huskies are 15-10-1 overall and are in first place in the conference at 12-5-1.

Drew LeBlanc leads St. Cloud with 35 points in 26 games while Ben Hanowski has been lighting it up of late for the Huskies; he scored three goals against UND last weekend.

“We have to be aware of who’s on the ice,” McLeod said of St. Cloud State. “We know who their best players are and we know they have two really good lines with a lot of offense.”

He hopes doing the little things this weekend will help the Beavers snap out of their funk.

“Being good on the penalty kill is going to be big, since they have a very good power play. We just have to capitalize on our chances. Do the little things and pay attention to details.”

The teams are scheduled to face off at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday at the Sanford Center.

NOTE: This weekend is Bemidji State Athletic Hall of Fame weekend, and BSU will be honoring a few inductees during Friday night’s game.

The 1972-73, 1978-79 and 1979-80 hockey teams, all of whom won national championships in the NAIA era, will be inducted, as will Brian Carlton, who was a BSU foreword from 1976-80 and holds the BSU single-season record for assists with 41.

“I told our guys (Tuesday) we’re expecting 104 alumni back,” Serratore said. “Guys who wore the green and white before. So we’d like to make them proud. That’s the biggest thing right there. It will be an exciting weekend for everyone. It should a great atmosphere at the Sanford Center.” …

The Beavers head into the series owning a 45-39-4 record against the Huskies, a rivalry that started Jan. 18, 1948 and was based largely during the time both teams competed at the NAIA, NCAA Division II and Division III levels and were members of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA).

Since the teams both made the move to NCAA Division I, the Huskies have had BSU’s number, winning 19 of their last 23 meetings.

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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