MEN’S HOCKEY: Beavers look to upend high-powered Badgers in NCAA opener

Fourth-seeded Bemidji State (15-9-5) will get an up-close look at Hobey Baker favorite Cole Caufield when it takes on top-seeded Wisconsin (20-9-1) in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at noon on Friday, March 26.

Wisconsin star forward Cole Caufield (8) was mobbed by his teammates after Caufield's overtime goal lifted the Badgers over Penn State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on Monday, March 15, 2021 at Compton Family Ice Arena on the Notre Dame campus. Big Ten Conference/Mike Miller

Virtually no other college hockey player can match the goal-scoring prowess of Cole Caufield.

The Wisconsin sophomore is the clear favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award as the sport’s top men’s player. And for good reason.

Caufield scores nearly a goal per game with 28 in 30 games, one of the best averages the sport has seen in more than a decade. The right winger’s 49 points also lead the nation.

If Bemidji State wishes to advance to the East Regional final, it’ll have to go through Caufield.

“He’s dangerous,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “You’re going to have to pay close attention to him when he’s on the ice. He has an uncanny way of just getting open. That’s why he will be the Hobey Baker winner. He’s the best player in college hockey.”


The fourth-seeded Beavers (15-9-5) will get an up-close look at the young star when they take on the top-seeded Badgers (20-9-1) in the East Regional semifinals at Bridgeport, Conn. Puck drop is scheduled for noon CT on Friday, March 26.

UW, the Big Ten regular-season champion, fell to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament title game, but still managed to earn the fourth overall No. 1 seed for the Big Dance.

Caufield isn’t the only threat in a stacked Wisconsin lineup. He isn’t even the team’s only Hobey Baker finalist.

Sophomore center Dylan Holloway is tied for fourth in the country with 34 points from 11 goals and 23 assists.

What do the two also have in common? They’re first-round NHL draft picks.

Wisconsin boasts 10 NHL draft picks: Caufield (Montreal) and Holloway (Edmonton), as well as fellow forwards Linus Weissbach (Buffalo), Owen Lindmark (Florida), Jack Gorniak (Montreal), Sam Stange (Detroit) and Ryder Donovan (Vegas), plus defensemen Ty Emberson (Arizona), Tyler Inamoto (Florida) and Josh Ess (Chicago).

The only NCAA Tournament teams with more NHL prospects are Minnesota (14), Boston College (13), Boston University (13) and North Dakota (12).


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Bemidji State senior Tyler Vold (22) shoots in the first period against Alabama Huntsville on March 7, 2021 at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“They’ve got a couple of first rounders who are very, very dangerous, plus they’ve got a good team,” Serratore said. “You don’t just fall from the sky and become a No. 1 (seed). They’ve got depth. They’ve got high-end players. They’ve got a dangerous power play. … They’ve got a lot of different attributes.”

Bemidji State on the other hand is the only team in the tournament without an NHL draft pick.

The Beavers might not have the offensive firepower of Wisconsin, but they may have the right recipe to pull off the first-round upset, starting with the penalty kill.

BSU’s 93.3% penalty kill is the second-best in NCAA history, but will have to contend with the Badgers’ top-ranked 31.5% power play, the third-best of any team in the last decade.

“They’re very good (moving the puck) east-west,” Serratore said of the Badgers. “The biggest thing is you’ve just got to try to keep the puck to one half of the rink, but sometimes that can be very difficult with how quick they move it and how they position their flankers. … We have an experienced penalty-killing group. They’ve just got to use their instincts.”

“It’s one of the staples to our game,” senior defenseman Tyler Vold said of the PK. “We work hard on it every week in practice and it’s something we take pride in.”

Goalie Zach Driscoll has delivered in big games for Bemidji State this season on his way to earning Third Team All-WCHA honors.


For UW, Robbie Beydoun is slated to start in goal Friday. Beydoun has split starts with Cameron Rowe throughout the season after arriving as a graduate transfer from Michigan Tech, where he played three seasons from 2017-20.

Neither team carries much NCAA Tournament experience, with BSU making its first NCAA appearance since 2010 and Wisconsin its first since 2014. Badger forward Ty Pelton-Byce is the only player to have previously played in an NCAA Tournament game. He was a freshman on Harvard’s 2017 Frozen Four team.

“We have an older team here this year. I think that helps a lot, especially in these situations,” BSU senior forward Aaron Miller said.

At least one No. 4 seed has won a first-round game in every NCAA Tournament dating back to 2006. Yale (2013) and Providence (2015) have even won national titles as No. 4 seeds.

As did the 2009 Beavers, this year’s team will hope to be the latest No. 4 seed to make a tournament run.

“I don’t think there’s really too many underdogs in the tournament right now,” Miller said. “It’s the top 16 teams in the nation. Any team can beat any team on any given night. There’s so much parity in NCAA hockey.”

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Bemidji State senior Aaron Miller (16) reaches for the puck in the first period against Lake Superior State on March 3, 2021 at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)


History with the Badgers

Wisconsin owns a 6-0-1 record in the all-time series between the programs, who were WCHA foes for three seasons from 2010-13. Their last meeting came Feb. 9, 2013, a 3-2 UW win in Madison.

Friday won’t be the first time the Beavers and Badgers have met in the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin defeated BSU 4-0 in the Midwest Regional semifinals at Green Bay, Wis., en route to the 2006 national championship, its most recent title. Future NHLers Joe Pavelski netted a hat trick and goalie Brian Elliot pitched a 15-save shutout.

Quick hits

  • Bemidji State is ranked No. 14 in the USCHO poll and No. 15 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Wisconsin is ranked No. 4 in both polls.

  • BSU went 9-5-2 against USCHO top-20 teams and won six straight versus ranked opponents between Jan. 8 and Feb. 20.

  • The Beavers are 5-4-1 against opponents ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey top 10, including a 4-1-0 mark in its last five contests.

  • Only 2015-16 Yale (94.4%, 85-for-90) has fielded a better penalty kill than 2020-21 Bemidji State (93.3%, 70-for-75) in NCAA history.

  • John Buccigross and Barry Melrose will be behind the mic for Friday’s game on ESPN2.


Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at
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