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Wisconsin makes first trip to Bemidji to face BSU

The Bemidji State men's hockey team will face Wisconsin for the first time in Bemidji in program history this weekend at the Sanford Center. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves made the trip once before in 1987. He coached Wisconsin-Eau Claire back t...

The Bemidji State men's hockey team will face Wisconsin for the first time in Bemidji in program history this weekend at the Sanford Center.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves made the trip once before in 1987.

He coached Wisconsin-Eau Claire back then and lost to R.H. 'Bob' Peters' Beavers by 8-4 and 7-0 scores at the John Glas Fieldhouse.

"Coming in as a new coach I heard about coach Peters, and what a legend he was at the Division III level and really highly respected," Eaves said. "I was expecting to go to Bemidji and see this unbelievable rink. It was a little bit of a letdown. It was beat up. It was a home-court advantage."

Eaves remembered the challenge of communicating with his teams in the split locker rooms at the Glas.

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"I've heard that's not the case with the new arena," Eaves said. "The new arena is supposed to be very nice and I look forward to seeing it."

The series against Wisconsin (Friday 7:37 p.m., Saturday 7:07 p.m.) is the regular season-finale for BSU at the Sanford Center. The Beavers are six standings points out of the final home position for the first round of the WCHA playoffs and can make up the ground in the final two weeks.

According to the website playoffstatus.com, BSU will finish no lower than eighth place if it can sweeps Wisconsin and Alaska-Anchorage next week. BSU needs all four wins and help from other teams to finish between fourth and seventh place.

Bemidji State (15-14-3, 9-12-3 WCHA) is currently in ninth place will look to continue its home success against the 10th place Badgers (13-15-2, 8-14-2 WCHA).

The Beavers are 11-4-1 at home this season and are tied for second behind Wisconsin for most home wins (12) in the league. The record is a contrast from last year's 5-8-3 home mark in the arena's first year.

"It feels like home to us now," BSU senior Jamie MacQueen said. "We pride ourselves on our home play and we like to put on a good show in front of our fans."

Wisconsin is led by sophomore Mark Zengerle (11 goals, 41 points) and junior defenseman Justin Schultz (13 goals, 40 points), an Anaheim Draft pick who BSU head coach Tom Serratore thinks might be the best defensemen in the country. The Badgers are down in the WCHA standings in large part to its 1-8-1 road record.

The Beavers are still looking for the first win against Wisconsin in program history after the 2006 NCAA Tournament loss and the December 2010 Badgers series sweep in Madison.

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"We want to get up as far as we can in the standings and so do they," Serratore said. "It's a situation where we need points, they need points and we're excited to have Wisconsin come to our building."

Bemidji State's three-game winning streak ended on the road against Minnesota last weekend with 3-0 and 4-1 losses.

"We felt pretty bad after Friday, but we came back with a good effort on Saturday so hopefully we can carry that mental state into this weekend," MacQueen said.

Bemidji State may return sophomore forward Radoslav Illo this weekend, who has missed the last five games with an undisclosed lower body injury. Serratore was encouraged by his progress this week at practice and said there is a 50 percent chance he will play against the Badgers.

"We've had good practices and the only thing I can gauge our intensity on is our practices," Serratore said. "I thought we had a good practice last week and we went to Minnesota on Friday and weren't very good. You just don't know what to expect sometimes. The guys know what to expect right now. They want to move up as far in the standings as they can and want to be playing good going into the playoffs."

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