BEMIDJI -- There’s no doubting how much is at stake this weekend for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team.
Back from their weekend off, the No. 16 Beavers will butt heads with No. 19 Northern Michigan in a WCHA series at Marquette, Mich., that pits two of the league’s top teams.
Not only are they fighting for second place in the conference, for which BSU has a seven-point advantage on third-place NMU entering the weekend, but both are in the hunt for a potential NCAA Tournament bid. The latest Pairwise rankings slot the Beavers (16-8-4, 16-4-2-1 WCHA) and Wildcats (16-10-4, 14-7-1-1 WCHA) in 17th and 19th, respectively, just outside the tournament field.
“There’s a lot on the line,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “We both put ourselves in good position just to have a great matchup this weekend. They’ve got such a good hockey team. They’re just very strong. They’ve been consistent all year.”
Expect a playoff atmosphere inside Berry Events Center.
“I think we’ve been kind of focusing on these last 10 as playoff games,” senior co-captain Tommy Muck said. “It’s going to be a hostile environment. … It’s going to be playoff hockey when we go there. We’ve got to be raring and ready to go. I’m excited though. Those are the games that you want to play in and those are the games that get you prepared for the postseason.”
While Bemidji State was idle, NMU was dealt a road sweep at the hands of No. 3 Minnesota State last weekend, falling 7-3 and 1-0. The first-place Mavericks, who are off this week, pushed their lead to 11 points on BSU.
“We got some much-needed time off,” Muck said. “Especially with six games to go, that was a huge week, just to get guys rested. A lot of guys have bumps and bruises right now.”
With home ice for the WCHA quarterfinals all but assured, a sweep would put the Beavers in the driver’s seat for home ice in the semifinals with only two weekends to go in the regular season.
The Beavers will have to contend with the nation’s top goal scorer Griffin Loughran and his 21 tallies, and find a way to contain him on the wider Olympic ice surface in Marquette.
“There’s more space, so you have a little bit more time, yet you think you have more time than you actually do,” the defenseman Muck said. “You’ve got to get on guys quicker. You’ve still got to pressure the puck. Shift length is a big thing as well to focus on.”
Muck is enjoying a career-year and coming off a nine-point January that earned him WCHA Defenseman of the Month honors. The Eagan native has logged three goals and 12 assists during his senior campaign, accounting for more than half his 29 career points.
“I wish there was a secret recipe to it,” he said. “Kind of like all of us, we just stick to it. It’s coming this year and you get rewarded for playing the right way. Our team’s been playing the right way and we’ve been getting rewarded. With team success, a lot of individual success comes as well.”
At 8-1-1 since the start of 2020, the Beavers are one of the hottest teams in the WCHA, as are the Wildcats with their 7-3-2 mark since the calendar flipped. This weekend’s matchup could repeat itself next month in the WCHA playoffs, but Bemidji State isn’t looking that far ahead.
“You just have to take it game by game,” Muck said. “We have six (games) left and ultimately we just want to be playing our best hockey going into playoffs.”
At a glance
Who: BSU at Northern Michigan
Where: Marquette, Mich.
When: 6:07 p.m. Friday; 5:07 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/92.1 FM