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MEN’S HOCKEY: Bemidji State commences CCHA play at Northern Michigan

If the regular season represents playing for keeps, as Bemidji State men’s hockey head coach Tom Serratore suggested prior to the season opener, the start of CCHA play symbolizes playing for standings.

100621.S.BP.BSUMHKY Lukas Sillinger and Zach Driscoll.jpg
Bemidji State sophomore Lukas Sillinger (20) tries to poke the puck past former teammate and current North Dakota starting goaltender Zach Driscoll in the first period of an exhibition game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. (Nick Nelson / Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI -- If the regular season represents playing for keeps, as Bemidji State men’s hockey head coach Tom Serratore suggested prior to the season opener, the start of CCHA play symbolizes playing for standings.

The big board in the BSU locker room will be updated after this weekend’s results against Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich., giving the Beavers something tangible to measure their progress against the other teams in their conference.

“When you walk into our locker room, there's a standings board for CCHA standings of eight teams. We look at that every day,” Serratore said. “So we know what's at stake, we know where we stand.

“And you get ranked according to how you're doing in your league, basically. Whoever you play in the playoffs is all predicated on where you end in your league.”

League play starts with the Wildcats, a team receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll and touting a 2-1 record, with two wins over St. Thomas and a loss to No. 13 Notre Dame. The sport may not be any different, but the games have a different feel.

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Bemidji State (1-3) will embark on its first full road trip of the season, a two-gamer after playing two home-and-homes with Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota to start the year. This gives players and coaches an opportunity to bond as they gather together away from home.

“This is a totally different world when you're going for a series because you're leaving early. You're staying at a hotel,” Serratore said. “You have wake-up calls. You've got breakfast together, you've got lunch together, you've got the postgame together, our Thursday night meal together, whatever it might be. So it's just a lot more regimentation as far as your schedule on the road versus what we've done the last two weeks.”

Despite the more structured environment, players can jell in different ways on the road, and it can be a joyous experience for them to spend time together away from home.

“Going on the road is lots of fun,” sophomore winger Lukas Sillinger said. “You bond with your teammates. Overall, it's a really, really fun trip and I think all the boys are looking forward to it.”

Despite the change of scenery, the Beavers plan to play the same way they have all season Friday and Saturday night in Marquette. But the significance of conference games carries more weight nationally than nonconference contests.

“You just go play the hockey game, because you prepare the same way,” Serratore said. “… (But conference games), that's probably how you're being evaluated by the hockey world or the fans in the hockey world or whatever it might be. When you go onto College Hockey News or USCHO, where they have each league and they have the conference standings, that's what you're looking at.”

Earning their first win of the season against North Dakota last weekend was essential to build the Beavers' belief ahead of the start of what will be a challenging conference slate.

“It was huge,” Sillinger said. “Obviously, we just needed a win there, so getting an overtime win in North Dakota, especially in that building, that was big for the guys, it's big for our confidence. We're going to two conference games here against Northern Michigan, so to end off on a high note is really good for the guys.”

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Much is made about the conference standings, and Sillinger wants to see the Beavers on top at the season’s conclusion.

“Every time you play a team in your conference, it seems to be like the games mean a little more something,” Sillinger said. “Our main goal of the year is to put up a conference banner, as well as making it to the NCAA Tournament. And the Beavers haven't (finished first in the conference) since 2017, and that's something we're looking to hang up here. And that starts Friday.”

Puck drop is set for 5:37 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 22-23, in Marquette.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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