BEMIDJI -- A bug has bitten the Bemidji State men’s hockey team as of late, but it isn’t the coronavirus.

“COVID we thought was going to be our biggest nemesis and it hasn’t,” head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s been injuries.”

The latest Beaver to pick up an injury is leading goal scorer Owen Sillinger, who received a hit from Northern Michigan’s Hank Sorensen last Friday that resulted in a one-game suspension for the Wildcat defenseman.

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Forward Nick Cardelli and defenseman Will Zmolek have been absent for most of the year, and blue-liner Elias Rosén sat out four games earlier this season. Even program stalwarts like forward Aaron Miller and goaltender Zach Driscoll have missed games recently, among the other bumps and bruises the team has suffered, before returning to action.

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“It seems you get one guy back and then you lose somebody,” Serratore said. “It can weigh on you. It weighs on the coach probably more than the players. The players are resilient. … We’re trying to figure out lines a little bit because, with our injuries, it’s not easy.”

“(It’s the) next-man-up mentality, to be honest,” Miller said. “You can’t go into a game being nervous or scared. You want to be in the lineup, and now with people being injured, people are getting the chance to be in the lineup. You’ve just got to do your part.”

To add insult to injury, NMU tallied four third-period goals following Sillinger’s departure en route to a 5-1 loss. BSU’s play improved Saturday and twice rallied from one-goal deficits, only to fall 3-2 in overtime.

“We weren’t ourselves on Friday,” Serratore said. “We weren’t hard to play against. It was almost like we were the road team. … (On Saturday) we could have won that game…. If our guys put up that type of effort, if they compete that hard, if they execute that hard on Saturday, I’m happy about that.”

Bemidji State freshman Eric Martin (11) fights for puck possession against Michigan Tech on Dec. 13, 2020, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State freshman Eric Martin (11) fights for puck possession against Michigan Tech on Dec. 13, 2020, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Tangle with Tech

The Beavers (7-6-3, 2-3-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) will travel for their final two-game road series of the regular season this weekend at Michigan Tech (14-5-1, 4-2-0 WCHA). Puck drop is set for 6:07 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, and 5:07 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The Huskies climbed into the USCHO.com rankings at No. 18 this week, while BSU dropped out of the poll after having been slotted No. 17.

The teams split a December nonconference series in Bemidji, with Bemidji State earning a 6-3 win before Tech posted a 3-0 shutout one day later.

Michigan Tech has won 13 of its last 16 games since that 3-0 victory and now ranks among the nation’s hottest teams. The Huskies’ only losses during that stretch are from getting swept at Bowling Green and falling 3-1 to Lake Superior State on Tuesday.

Blake Pietila has held down the fort in net with a 1.53 goals against average and .944 save percentage, ranking him second and third nationally in those categories. Junior forward Trenton Bliss ranks fifth in the WCHA with 20 points (9g-11a).

Based on their position within -- or just outside of -- the national poll, each team will want to use this as an opportunity to impress the NCAA selection committee. BSU has even less margin for error after last weekend’s losses to Northern Michigan.

“We definitely think about it,” Miller said of the polls. “There’s no Pairwise, so every game matters here and we don’t have that many games left already.”

“After a weekend where you only get one point out of six, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Serratore added. “You need to get back on the horse and start riding again.”

At a glance

Who: BSU at Michigan Tech

Where: Houghton, Mich.

When: 6:07 p.m. Friday; 5:07 p.m. Saturday

Radio: Beaver Radio Network/92.1 FM

Web stream: FloHockey.tv