Bemidji State hockey gameday: Beavers wrap up first half at Wisconsin, BSU-Mankato women’s preview, video interviews, news and notes

BSU players celebrate after last week's sweep against Nebraska-Omaha. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Here’s my BSU-Wisconsin series preview. I’m heading to Madison early Friday morning and will be reporting on this weekend’s games from the arena. I will have in-game updates on my twitter feed, which you can follow @estromgren

Jordan George is making an early trip home for the holidays with the Bemidji State men’s hockey team this weekend.

The Beavers will wrap up the first half of the season at Wisconsin with games Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.

George, a Madison native and BSU’s first player from Wisconsin in program history, is looking forward to playing in a rink he knows quite well.

“It’s a dream come true,” said the sophomore. “I grew up my whole life watching the Badgers. We had season tickets for awhile, so it’s going to be nice to go in there.”

George, who is Bemidji State’s leading scorer with six goals and 16 points, then turned serious in talking about another opportunity for the Beavers to climb the WCHA standings.

“But were not just looking forward to going there,” George said. “We’re looking forward to going there to get points. It’s all about points right now and we’re looking forward to getting two wins.”

Bemidji State (5-8-1 overall, 4-7-1 WCHA) travels to Wisconsin (8-7-3 overall, 4-6-2 WCHA) on a season high three-game winning streak and trail the Badgers by one point in the WCHA standings. Game times are 7:07 p.m. both nights

It will be the first meeting between the two teams since the NCAA Regional Tournament in 2006 when the Badgers beat the Beavers 4-0 in Green Bay.

“We’re not that familiar with Wisconsin ourselves as a coaching staff,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “We do know they might have the best defensive core in the country when you talk about offense that’s being generated. (Justin Schultz) is probably the best defenseman in the country – Gardiner and Ramage – those three kids are high end … We have to be very aware of what they can do on the back line and how they can join the rush and how dangerous they actually are.”

Wisconsin lost in the national championship with Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion last season. The Badgers lost 200 points from that team but are still in position to have a winning record after the first half.

Wisconsin’s deep roster features nine NHL draft picks and is led in scoring by undrafted freshman Mark Zengerle, who has three goals and 21 assists for 24 points. Schultz and Jordy Murray lead the team with 11 goals.

Wisconsin went through a five-game winless streak in November and have turned around to win two of the last three after a road split at Alaska-Anchorage last weekend.

Bemidji State defeated Northern Michigan 3-0 and swept Nebraska-Omaha by 3-0 and 3-1 scores in the current winning streak. Last week’s sweep of the then No. 4 Mavericks at The Sanford Center surprised the WCHA and kept BSU relevant in the standings.

Only four points separate fourth place Omaha from Bemidji State and Anchorage in the tenth place.

When talking about the winning streak, Serratore did not credit any single area for the recent success.

“I think we have more energy – I don’t want to say we’ve had more of a commitment to defense because if you take a look all year, we’ve played a lot of good games and still lost,” Serratore said. “Some things just probably went our way and we were tough to play against.”

BSU goalie Dan Bakala, a line shuffle and the penalty kill have all played significant roles in the streak.

Bakala has started in all three games and stopped 64 of 65 shots in last week’s sweep. He was named the WCHA’s Co-Defensive Player of the week, the Inside College Hockey national player of the week and USCHO’s national first star of the week. Bakala ranks sixth in WCHA goals against average (2.36), fourth in save percentage (.914) and is 4-4-0 on the season.

BSU’s winning streak also started when Serratore changed up the top two lines in an effort to create scoring depth. He moved Emil Billberg to the top line with Ian Lowe and Matt Read. George was moved to the second line with Ryan Cramer and Jamie MacQueen.

Billberg has two goals and an assist since the switch; George has two goals and two assists.

Bemidji State’s penalty kill, ranked last in the WCHA early in the season, now stands at 81.7 percent and ranks seventh in the league. BSU has not allowed a power play goal in four games.

The penalty kill will face its most stern test since the Minnesota-Duluth series as Wisconsin’s power play is running at a WCHA best 29.5 percent.

BSU senior captain Matt Read feels a quick start and attention to detail will be key for BSU this weekend.

“The keys to the game for sure is do the right things, the small things the whole game,” Read said. “We’ve got to go into Wisconsin. It’s a tough arena to play in, and we have to go out there in the first 10 minutes and establish our game and establish how tough we are on pucks and how smart we can play with the puck … Hopefully we win all those little battles and at the end of the game we come out victorious.”

George said he will have about 15 of his family members with additional friends in attendance cheering the Beavers on this weekend.

The BSU fans in attendance will be outnumbered by thousands of Badger fans and it will be the first of many road tests between now and the end of the season for the Beavers. BSU plays six of the last 18 games at home.

What better place to get acclimated to the road than the red-clad and rabid Kohl Center?

“I think people around college hockey hear about it: it’s a tough building to play in and one of the toughest in the country,’ George said. “They get 11-12 (thousand) fans a game, their fans are loud so it’s going to be a good atmosphere and fun for everyone.”

Matt Read and Dan Bakala interview

What I’m reading this week

BSU has had a lot of ink – or the web equivalent – over the last week following the sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.

USCHO’s Theresa Spisak talks with Tom Serratore in a story profiling BSU’s transition to the WCHA. Serratore doesn’t say anything here has not said to me already this season, but it’s still a good read from a national viewpoint. Spisak notes BSU’s grind of a schedule. People are asking me all the time what I make of the Beavers and I say this: BSU has played very well against one of the toughest first-half schedules in college hockey. Playing well just has not equated to a pile of wins so far in this inaugural WCHA season.

BSU goalie Dan Bakala was a recipient of three weekly awards: USCH’s first star, Inside College Hockey’s National Player of the Week and the WCHA Co-Defensive Player of the Week.

BSU was named College Hockey News’ team of the week and was featured in a story here.

Closer to home, Jim Johnson of the International Falls Daily Tribune was at the rink for last Saturday’s win. The Falls mayor dropped puck for the opening face-off and there were a lot of ties to the city in the rink that night. Current BSU players Ryan Cramer and Drew Fisher are from the Falls. Check out his column here.

St. Cloud Times sports writer Mick Hatten has an in-depth story exploring the possibilities of the helmet half shield in the college game. I have to agree with much of what was discussed in the story. Mainly, most players would prefer to have the half shield as it’s the norm in the junior game. I don’t remember seeing a serious facial injury during the two years I covered the North American Hockey League in Owatonna. I do feel half shields cut down on some of the more out of control hits and make players more aware of of high sticks. Full cages seem to give some players a feeling of invincibility. I’d like to see the half shield in college hockey, but I have a hard time believing the NCAA would endorse it because of injury/legal liabilities.

It’s quite early to talk about PairWise rankings, but here’s a non-official look at what the PairWise rankings look like heading into the weekend. BSU is 25th.

Legendary Denver University coach Murray Armstrong died at 94 late Wednesday night. Read more about his life as a hockey coach on the WCHA’s website here.

Bemidji State women end first half at Mankato

Heading into the final series of the first half of the season, Bemidji State women’s hockey head coach Steve Sertich is pleased with his team’s performance so far.

“I think we’ve got more points than I expected we would have and the scary thing is we could get more this weekend,” Sertich said. “We have some players who are fatigued with finals and planning the holidays, so I hope we’re mentally ready to go.”

Bemidji State (7-7-2 overall, 5-5-2-1 WCHA) will play at Minnesota State University, Mankato (6-10-2 overall, 5-7-0-0 WCHA) Friday at 7:07 p.m. and Saturday at 3:07 p.m.

The Mavericks are a team going through a rebuilding process, but has played tough and earned quality wins in the first half. The Mavericks swept current No. 10 Ohio State on the road last month and has a win over North Dakota.

Mankato has fallen on hard times lately and is 0-5-1 in its last six games.

Bemidji State is coming off a split with No. 7 Minnesota and is 2-2-2 with one shootout win in the last six games. All six of those games have been played against nationally ranked teams.

Mankato is the first non-nationally ranked team BSU has played since St. Cloud State at the end of October.

The Beavers enter the series led by the top line of Erin Cody, Emily Erickson and Sadie Lundquist. Cody, who received an invite to Team USA’s Winter Training Camp later this month, has 11 goals and 11 assists to top the BSU scoring chart. Erickson has eight goals and Lundquist has five goals.

BSU goalie Zuzana Tomcikova has a goals against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .933 this year.

The Beavers are tied with Minnesota at fourth place in the WCHA standings and could finish as high as third by the end of the weekend.

Mankato is close behind in seventh place and trails BSU by three points – one win in the standings.

“It’s a big series for us to try and get points before the break,” Sertich said. “I think we’re ready to go. We’ve had a great first half and we’d like to come back with some points.”

BSU starts the second half of the season Jan. 7-8 at St. Cloud State.