BEMIDJI -- This weekend’s series between the WCHA’s top two teams is the biggest of the season for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team. But that’s no different from any of the team’s four other series that remain on the docket, if you ask head coach Tom Serratore.
“Every game and every series from now on -- and not only for the Beavers, for every team in our league -- is the most important series of the year,” Serratore said, “because that’s where we’re at at this time of year. … I’m not trying to downplay anything. It’s the biggest weekend of the year. But then after this weekend, the next one is going to be (the biggest).”
A share of first place in the conference will be at stake when the second-place Beavers (13-7-4, 13-3-2-1 WCHA) march into Mankato to meet No. 3 Minnesota State (22-3-1, 16-2-0-0 WCHA), who sits atop the standings with 48 points, six more than BSU.
“They’re above us in the WCHA and we’re right there with them,” freshman defenseman Will Zmolek said. “We know these are two big games. We need all the points we can get.”
The teams previously met in the third-place game at the Mariucci Classic last month, a 2-0 MSU nonconference win that didn’t count towards the league standings. Bemidji State is unbeaten in its last six games (5-0-1) since the loss to keep pace with the Mavericks, winners of their last seven.
It’s difficult to find any shortcomings with Minnesota State.
The Mavericks rank within the top six nationally in scoring defense (first), power-play efficiency (first), penalty killing (second) and scoring offense (sixth). And you can’t forget goaltender Dryden McKay, who, as the national leader in goals against average (1.25) and save percentage (.946), has cemented himself as a Hobey Baker candidate.
“I mean (in) every statistical category they’re right up there,” Serratore said. “That reinforces how good of a hockey team they are. They’ve got depth. The front side of their game is good, (and) the back side of their game defensively is strong.”
MSU could be without its top two centers Marc Michaelis and Jake Jaremko, though their absences didn’t keep the Mavs from rallying to a 3-2 win at Bowling Green last Saturday. Michaelis, the WCHA’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 33 points, needed to be helped off the ice in Friday’s 6-3 win at BGSU due to an apparent leg injury. Jaremko missed last weekend’s series due to an upper body injury.
A decision on whether they’ll play may not be made until after Thursday’s practice or close to game time Friday, head coach Mike Hastings said at his press conference Wednesday.
This weekend’s clash also boasts one of the best special-teams matchups you’ll find anywhere.
Minnesota State and Bemidji State rank second (91.92 percent) and third (91.14 percent) nationally on the penalty kill, respectively. On the power play MSU leads the nation at 29.13 percent with BSU sitting 13th at 21.69 percent.
Bemidji State’s PK will have its hands full, though the Beavers are the more disciplined of the two teams. MSU averages 11.31 penalty minutes per game to BSU’s 8.79, the eighth-lowest average in the country.
“You better have good habits when you play Minnesota State,” Serratore said of the Mavericks’ power play. “Positionally you better be good, you better have good sticks (and) you better be able to react quick because they’ve got a lot of talent.”
At a glance
Who: BSU at Minnesota State
When: Friday 7:07 p.m.; Saturday 6:07 p.m.
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/92.1 FM