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COLUMN: Gophers series means a lot for BSU

A week after upsetting then-No. 2 North Dakota -- and having to wait for a long week of practice at home in Bemidji -- it would, perhaps, be an understatement to say the Bemidji State hockey team is itching to make the four-hour trip to Minneapolis this weekend.

The Beavers take on No. 1-ranked Minnesota Friday and Saturday. Even without that number in front of the Gophers' moniker, a BSU-Minnesota series always has special significance.

And the series is a chance for the Beavers to again prove themselves after splitting with North Dakota -- and the Gophers' top ranking gives it just a little more meaning.

"We're really excited," BSU junior center Cory Ward said. "Especially after how last weekend went, we get another chance at a top-5 team. We want to prove that we're going to be taken seriously."

That's right -- the Beavers want to show the college hockey world that the 5-1 win in Grand Forks wasn't a fluke. That all those five goals didn't just bounce in as a result of luck. Or that it wasn't because North Dakota just let them win because UND wasn't prepared or that it had nothing to do with how Beavers played at all.

Dig hard enough on the shadier corners of the college hockey Internet and you can find all of those explanations for BSU's convincing road victory.

It's all ridiculous, of course. As anyone who watched the game would attest, the Beavers outplayed UND because they were a stronger team that night.

Bemidji State lost 2-1 the next night, but UND was by no means a more dominant team. (In fact, you could present the argument that UND's game-winner Saturday was a fluke and I wouldn't disagree with you.)

It's still early in the season -- too early to make any sweeping predictions about any team -- but from two games, the Beavers look more polished, more skilled than a year ago. Maybe it's just years of talent finally clicking. After all, BSU just lost four players from last season.

A win against Minnesota obviously won't automatically turn the Beavers into champions overnight. Likewise, a series sweep at the hands of the Gophers, defending national runners-up, won't mean the season is lost.

The Beavers have defeated the Gophers just once, a 6-2 victory at Mariucci Arena on Nov. 15, 2009.

Playing well against the Gophers this weekend would be a perfect pick-me-up for a BSU team that has struggled in the win-loss column since joining the WCHA.

"Bemidji State is a great program," sophomore forward Brendan Harms said. "We have a great group of guys this year. Our biggest thing is to have a great season this year and put ourselves back on the map."

Friday night's game will be played on national television (Big Ten Network at 8 p.m.) for Minnesota's home opener. A difficult environment, to be sure. But the Beavers have already spoiled one top-5 team's home opener. Why not another's?

"It would be huge," Harms said. "They're No. 1 ranked right now. We want to get as many wins as we can this season and if we can win in Minnesota, it will be even better."