Each team in college hockey seems to have a nemesis: an opponent where wins are elusive and losses become a frustrating routine.
The nemesis for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team in recent years is back in this weekend’s road series at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
This year’s senior class at Bemidji State has yet to beat the Mavericks and the Beavers are winless in past six meetings over the last three years.
“We’ve had a lot of tough games against them as of late and they’ve been very difficult for us to play against,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “We haven’t matched up very well with them.”
The Beavers (9-13-2 overall, 5-11-2 WCHA) and the Mavericks (11-11-6 overall, 5-11-4 WCHA) play at the Verizon Wireless Center Friday at 7:37 p.m. and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. BSU enters the weekend 11th in the WCHA standings and the Mavericks are two points ahead in 10th.
The Beavers last defeated the Mavericks in November 2006 at Mankato in a sweep by a pair of one-goal games. The game-winning goals in the series were scored by Garret Roth in overtime and John Vadnais.
The series has been dominated by the Mavericks since then. Mankato has swept each of the three series by a combined margin of 28-10.
When the two teams met last year at The John Glas Fieldhouse to close the first half of the season, the Beavers entered the game ranked No. 4 in the country with 13 wins in 16 games. The Mavericks scored four unanswered goals to take the opener 5-1 and earned the sweep the following night with a 3-2 win.
“They’re so fast,” Serratore said. “We’ve had a hard time with their speed. They’re the fastest team in the WCHA. They’re strong. Why we haven’t matched up? It’s really hard to figure that one out. But we have struggled against them and they’ve been the better team the last six games. It’s an opponent we’ve struggled with like North Dakota. You’re trying to find that reason why and hopefully this weekend we’ll have some success.”
Mankato’s record appears deceiving this season as the Mavericks have worked to dig out of a 2-6-4 start. Mankato is back to a .500 record after going 9-5-2 over the last 16 games. There are a pair of four-game winning streaks in that stretch with North Dakota, Denver and Wisconsin accounting for the losses.
Mankato is led by junior Michael Dorr and dynamic defenseman Kurt Davis, who rank 1-2 in MSU scoring. Dorr had 10 goals and 12 assists on the season, and has 12 points in the last 12 games. Davis has eight goals and 22 points.
The Mavericks tied St. Cloud State 3-3 and defeated the Huskies 6-2 last weekend to take three points out of the National Hockey Center. The series came the following weekend after the Huskies swept the Beavers at The Sanford Center.
Bemidji State was on the final off week of the season last weekend following the sweep to St. Cloud State. Serratore said practices have remained routine and major adjustments are not generally made at this point in the season.
“I don’t want to get cliché, but the hay is in the barn,” Serratore said. “We’re in month five. We’re shortening up our practices, we’re always concentrating on special teams, playing small games and trying to keep their interest up. It’s just a long and grinding season. It’s the same practice plan we’ve always had. We haven’t deviated much in the last 10 years.”
The flu, always present this time of year, picked a perfect time to strike the Beavers. BSU defenseman Brad Hunt said he came down with the virus last weekend as did teammate Jamie MacQueen. Hunt said they are feeling healthy again and are ready for this weekend’s challenge in Mankato.
“We got a little bit of pride on the line this weekend and now they’re a league opponent so it makes it (the series) an even bigger two games – we’re close in the standings so these games are absolutely huge,” Hunt said.
Despite the sweep to SCSU, the Beavers still have a winning record (4-3-1) since the start of the second half. Jordan George leads the team in point scoring with nine goals and 24 points. Matt Read leads the team in goal scoring with 15 and 23 points.
The BSU players are striving to gain home-ice advantage for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, but that prospect dimmed after the sweep to St. Cloud State. There are five weeks left in the season to close a current six-point gap for the final home-ice spot. While not mathematically eliminated from home ice contention, the Beavers must leap Mankato, Anchorage, St. Cloud State, Minnesota and Colorado College in the standings.
“We just want to go into the playoffs on a high note,” Hunt said. “We might be out of range of home ice but we need to go into the playoffs on a high. Once we get there anything can happen in a three-game series.”
“We’re a strong-minded team and we have a lot of heart in that dressing room. I think that week off was nice to recuperate after that 5-1 loss to St. Cloud. We’re ready to go. That’s in the past. It’s forgotten and we can’t let that happen again. We’re looking forward to the two games this weekend.”
Minnesota artist Karl Jaeger’s hockey artwork at The Sanford Center, Amsoil Arena
I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to talk to Karl Jaeger, who has produced some amazing artwork for The Sanford Center here in Bemidji and at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. His work is quite outstanding and helps these two arenas feel more like home. He was featured in my front-page story on the Bemidji Pioneer Friday and you can read that story in its entirety on my blog here. The full photo gallery is on the Pioneer’s website here. If you love art, Minnesota sports and need something for your den – check out his website here.
Bemidji Sate women’s hockey host No. 1-ranked, WCHA-leading Wisconsin
The Bemidji State women’s hockey team hosts this year’s WCHA juggernaut in league-leading Wisconsin this weekend at The Sanford Center.
The Badgers are the top-rated team in the country, a favorite to win the national championship and come into the weekend scoring an average of six goals per game.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the country and there is a reason for it: they have great talent, great depth and they get up and down the ice in a hurry,” Bemidji State head coach Steve Sertich said.
Game times are 6:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday.
Wisconsin enters the weekend 24-3-2 overall (18-2-2-2 WCHA) with a nearly insurmountable lead at the top of the WCHA standings. The Badgers have not lost since Thanksgiving weekend and are coming off a three-point weekend at home against Minnesota where 10,000 fans filled the Kohl Center to watch Saturday’s 3-1 victory. It set an attendance record for a regular-season college game.
Bemidji State (12-11-3 overall, 10-9-3-2 WCHA) is coming off a road sweep at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs took fourth place away from BSU and gained a four-point edge on the final home-ice playoff spot with the sweep.
The Beavers lost the games 4-3 and 5-3 to the defending national champions, but the result did not discourage Sertich’s outlook on the team.
“Both games were good games,” Sertich said. “I was disappointed for the players because they didn’t get any points. They played good enough but it just didn’t happen. The positive side for us is that we can skate with these teams. In past years we’d have to pack it in and hope for the best.”
The Beavers relied on backup goalie Alana McElhinney last week while starter Zuzana Tomcikova is playing for Team Slovakia in the Winter World University Games in Turkey. Sertich was pleased with McElhinney’s effort against UMD and she will be back in net again this weekend against the Badgers.
Bemidji State is 2-4 against Wisconsin since last season and McElhinney has one of those wins for BSU. Wisconsin swept the previous meeting between the two teams, 7-1 and 2-0 defeats in Madison.
“I think we’ve definitely come a long ways,” said Bemidji State captain Erin Cody, who scored her 100th career point last week at UMD. “I think the tough part is they have come a long ways too. Through the season you make some chemistry with lines so it will probably be even higher-paced games and really competitive … We’ve played some good games but those are in the past now. We’re playing a team that’s really skilled and good in their own end so it should be a tough series.”
Matt Read a finalist for Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award
Bemidji State’s Matt Read has been named one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) Award in NCAA Division I men’s hockey.
The other finalists are Union College’s Stephane Boileau, Miami’s Carter Camper, Canisius’ Cory Conacher, North Dakota’s Chay Genoway, Air Force Academy’s Jacques Lamoureux, Alaska-Fairbanks’ Bryant Molle, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Chase Polacek, Maine’s Tanner House and Notre Dame’s Calle Ridderwall.
The award is based on four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition. It encourages students to use their stature in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in the community.
The finalists were selected by a media committee from the list of 20 candidates announced in October.
Nationwide voting will begin immediately to determine the winner.
Fans may vote through March 20 via the Lowe’s Senior Class Award website here.
What I’m reading this week
For anyone out there who is a student of the game and loves reading about the intricacies of fundamental hockey, read the BSU coaching staff’s take on backchecking and back pressure. The entry is part of a contribution to John Russo’s section at Let’s Play Hockey.
North Dakota is not playing this week but there are two Sioux players in the news. Danny Kristo suffered a case of frostbite last weekend and Chay Genoway, who was hurt in last weekend’s series at Colorado College, expects to return this season.
Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth meet in a rivalry weekend, this time for the first series in Amsoil Arena. Here’s a feature on UMD’s Jack Connolly.
In media news out of the Twin Cities, iconic Gopher radio broadcaster Glen Sonmor is retiring at the end of the season after 15 years on that job. In one of the top NHL stories this week, the San Jose Sharks rallied from a three-goal deficit to defeat Phoenix 5-3 Wednesday night. That rally started when UMD alumnus Alex Stalock had nine saves in relief to win the game in his NHL debut. That made UMD superfans like Runnin’ With The Dogs obviously very happy.
Denver and Colorado College meet in another rivalry series this weekend and sellouts are expected.
Goon’s World takes a look at this weekend’s WCHA series here.
St. Cloud State goes to Nebraska-Omaha this week to face the Mavericks, which have the top rookie scoring class in the WCHA.
If you have not had a chance to check out Ryan S. Clark’s blog ‘Slightly Chilled regularly,’ find the time. He covers the USHL’s Fargo Force for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and he does a great job with his hockey coverage and opinion articles. Here’s his recent take on college football’s national signing day and how it relates to hockey. One of my favorite columns written by a hockey writer this season was his observance of Martin Luther King Day last month.
Alaska-Anchorage travels to Michigan Tech this weekend. Anchorage is a team us lower 48ers seem to forget about, so here’s a feature on the Seawolves by USCHO’s Theresa Spisak.
Here’s a feature story on WCHA referee Max Battimo, who apparently was close to joining Zach, Screech, A.C. Slater, Kelly Kapowski and Mr. Belding on Saved By The Bell.
And I leave you with this: a NHL goalie fight courtesy of the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro and Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson- enjoy.