Beaver hockey gameday: Bemidji State vs. Nebraska-Omaha, playoffs edition

BSU's Radoslav Illo and UNO's Pasko Skarica. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State men’s hockey team knew the first full regular season in the WCHA was going to be a far greater challenge than what was presented in nine years of College Hockey America competition.

The same can be said of the WCHA playoffs, which begins this weekend as the Beavers face fellow expansion member and rival Nebraska-Omaha in a best-of-three series at the Qwest Center for the right to advance to the Final Five in St. Paul next weekend.

Reaching the NCAA Tournament in the CHA required only two wins in the conference tournament to earn the automatic bid. In the WCHA, the automatic bid takes a minimum of four victories and as many as six in the span of eight days.

“We went in thinking there was a great chance we could win,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said of the CHA playoffs. “This is a lot tougher right here and your mindset is a little different. Sometimes we could play average and still win. That doesn’t happen anymore. We can play great and still lose. That’s this league: the toughest in college hockey and maybe the second best league in the world.”

BSU and UNO will play at 7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday and 7:07 p.m. Sunday (if necessary). The Beavers (12-17-5 overall, 8-15-5 WCHA) finished the regular season 10th out of 12 teams and Mavericks (21-13-2 overall, 17-9-2 WCHA) finished third.

What makes this first-round pairing intriguing is the record between the two clubs in this first expansion WCHA season: BSU did not lose against UNO and were 3-0-1 in the four games against the Mavericks this season.

“We’ve had success against Omaha but we’re sure not going to sneak up on them,” Serratore said. “They’re going to overly prepare for us this weekend, that’s for sure … They’ve done some different things over the last couple of weeks that we’ve seen on tape, so you just have to make sure you are prepared for everything.”

The two teams first met in Bemidji the weekend of Dec. 4-5 and the Beavers earned the sweep by 3-0 and 3-1 scores. In the rematch in Omaha in January, the teams tied 2-2 the first night and BSU won in overtime 3-2 the second night.

A big key for the Beavers in the season series was Dan Bakala, who faced over 30 shots in three of those games and stopped 130 of 135 total shots in the four games.

BSU captain Matt Read scored the winning goal in overtime back on Jan. 15. His status for this weekend is in doubt with an undisclosed injury that forced him out of the third period of last Friday’s 3-3 tie with Minnesota and all of last Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Gophers.

Serratore did not have any updates on Read’s injury at this week’s press conference and said he would be a game-time decision for Friday’s series opener.

“Obviously it’s noticeable when Reader’s out of the lineup because he plays almost 30 minutes a game at center and does a lot of things for us not just offensively but defensively,” BSU forward Ryan Cramer said. “When he’s out there he’s on the offensive end, we missed out on that but also guys picked it up. We were able to bring a pretty good pace to the games.”

UNO may have been the surprise team of the WCHA in the regular season. The Mavericks earned its third-place finish with a dominating start and finish to the season.

The Mavs began the season by winning nine of its first 12 games to reach the No. 4 ranking in the country by the time it came to Bemidji in December. UNO won eight of its final 11 games and now ranks No. 12 in the country.

The Mavericks feature a deep roster as Matt Ambroz (17 goals, 34 points) leads a team where nine players have 20 or more points on the season. BSU has just three players over 20 points this season.

“It’s one matchup we’re pretty comfortable with because we know how they play,” BSU defenseman Dan MacIntyre said. “They’re pretty aggressive and we’ve had some good games against them. They’re not very lopsided so it will be a good hard-fought series.”

The winner of the series will play Thursday in the first of three straight days of WCHA hockey at the Final Five in St. Paul.

Other first round series this week pit No. 12 Michigan Tech at No. 1 North Dakota, No. 11 Minnesota State and No. 2 Denver, No. 9 St. Cloud State at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 8 Alaska-Anchorage at No. 5 Minnesota and No. 7 Wisconsin at No. 6 Colorado College.

BSU and Omaha recognize each other as rivals so the series should be heated and competitive.

“There’s always a lot of excitement for the playoffs, especially this year,” UNO defenseman Michael Young said to the Omaha World-Herald earlier this week. “The way we’ve been losing to Bemidji, the way we’ve played against them before — we want redemption. We want payback, and we’re going to get it.”

In a season of firsts and a career of historic moments for this season’s BSU senior class, Cramer knows the opportunity for another first – a Final Five – is attainable with a series victory over the Mavericks.

As Cramer talked about the matchup Tuesday afternoon at the Sanford Center, he glanced at the large picture of the Xcel Energy Center above the entrance to the weight room.

“It’s been a goal since the beginning of the year to get to St. Paul,” Cramer said. “That’s what everyone is thinking and there is no doubt – we’re going there to win two games. Hopefully we can do it Friday and Saturday.”

Links and such

Here’s my story on the Bemidji State seniors that ran in Thursday’s Pioneer. The six players reflect on what has been a historic era for the program. They’ve been through a Frozen Four, the final season in the CHA and the first season in the WCHA.

In BSU recruiting news this week, the Beavers have received a verbal commitment from Cody Strang. The Madison, Wis. native was Wisconsin’s Mr. Hockey in 2009.

The All-WCHA Teams were announced Thursday. The list is here.

Broadcast notes

The games this weekend will not be televised, but can be seen for a fee at Lakeland Public Television news director Dennis Weimann said the 10 p.m. newscast is expected to have highlights from Friday’s game and also again on Monday’s newscast.

The series can be listened to free of charge on local radio station The Mix 103.7 and online at

Hockey news from Omaha

Some Omaha reading from Chad Purcell at the Omaha World-Herald:

Mavericks hope to break through Bemidji roadblock

Game 1 aside, Mavericks were close against BSU

Feature on Omaha defenseman Michael Young

What are the Maverick fans saying about the series? Visit

Apologies go to the normal readers of my blog. I usually dig out as much league news as I can to share with you on Fridays. But I’m leaving Bemidji early Friday morning and so I can get to Omaha in time to cover the games. It expect it to be a long trek so I need some suitable rest.

I will bring you news out of the series here and on Follow me on twitter during the game @estromgren and Come back here after the games for a recap and to see extra photos from the game in a gallery.

The 2010-11 All-WCHA Teams and major award winners

MADISON, Wis. – The 2010-11 All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams and individual awards were announced by the league Thursday afternoon.

North Dakota senior forward Matt Frattin was named the WCHA Player of the Year and headlined the All-WCHA First Team. Named to the First Team was Minnesot-Duluth forwards Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly, Wisconsin defenseman Justin Shchultz, North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway and North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell.

Frattin, who received 58 of the 96 votes in player of the year balloting, also captured the league’s scoring title (conference games only) with 40 points (22g, 18a). In 28 league games he averaged 1.43 points per game as the Sioux claimed the regular season championship for a record 15th time overall and second time in the past three seasons. Frattin is a Toronto draft pick and is tied for the Division I lead with 29 goals.

Denver’s Jason Zucker, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year. He led the league in freshmen scoring and was third overall in scoring with 20 goals and 36 points.

Schultz was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the year and Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais was named the WCHA Coach of the Year with 49 of the 96 votes.

No Bemidji State players were named to the teams. Matt Read, Jordan George, Brad Hunt, Dan Bakala and Sam Rendle appeared on the official ballot for BSU.

BSU did have 21 players named to the All-WCHA academic team, most in the league. Named to the academic squad were Ryan Adams, Jake Areshenko, Dan Bakala, Emil Billberg, Travis Bosch, Matt Carlson, Ryan Cramer, Mathieu Dugas, Darcy Findlay, Drew Fisher, Mat Hartmann, Brad Hunt, Ben Kinne, Ian Lowe, Dan MacIntyre, Jamie MacQueen, Aaron McLeod, Brance Orban, Matt Read, Brady Wacker and Shea Walters.

To earn recognition as a member of the All-WCHA Academic Team, student-athletes must: 1) have completed one year of residency at present institution, prior to the current academic year; and 2) have a grade point average of at least 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) for the previous two semesters or three quarters.

Voting for the major awards and all-league teams in the WCHA is done by conference member team coaches, players, sports information directors and local media. Each member team receives eight ballots and there were 96 total voters.

Points for the all-league teams are awarded on a five (1st team vote), three (2nd team), and one (3rd team vote) basis.

The WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year award is selected by league-member Faculty Athletic Representatives while the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year is selected by the league’s 12 head coaches.

You can see my official ballot here. To look at other official ballots released by the voters, see the compiled list from UND beat writer Brad Schlossman.

Here is the link to the official release from the WCHA.

2010-11 WCHA Major Award Winners

WCHA Player of the Year
Matt Frattin • Senior, Forward
University of North Dakota (Edmonton, AB)

WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year
Chay Genoway • Senior, Defenseman
University of North Dakota (Morden, MB)

WCHA Defensive Player of the Year
Justin Schultz • Sophomore, Defenseman
University of Wisconsin (West Kelowna, BC)

WCHA Rookie of the Year
Jason Zucker • Freshman, Forward
University of Denver (Las Vegas, NV)

WCHA Scoring Champion
Matt Frattin • Senior, Forward
University of North Dakota (Edmonton, AB)

WCHA Goaltending Champion
Aaron Dell • Sophomore, Goaltender
University of North Dakota (Airdrie, AB)

WCHA Coach of the Year
Dean Blais • University of Nebraska Omaha (49 votes)

2010-11 All-WCHA First Team
Pos    Name    Team    Ht    Wt    Yr    Hometown    Pts
F    Matt Frattin    North Dakota    6-0    206    Sr    Edmonton, AB    435
F    Jack Connolly    Minnesota Duluth    5-8    160    Jr    Duluth, MN    354
F    Mike Connolly    Minnesota Duluth    5-9    190    Jr    Calgary, AB    354
D    Justin Schultz    Wisconsin    6-1    185    So    West Kelowna, BC    438
D    Chay Genoway    North Dakota    5-9    177    Sr    Morden, MB    273
G    Aaron Dell    North Dakota    6-0    191    So    Airdrie, AB    283

2010-11 All-WCHA Second Team
Pos    Name    Team    Ht    Wt    Yr    Hometown    Pts
F    Jason Zucker    Denver    5-10    175    Fr    Las Vegas, NV    320
F    Drew Shore    Denver    6-3    190    So    Denver, CO    196
F    Justin Fontaine    Minnesota Duluth    5-11    175    Sr    Bonnyville, AB    183
D    Jake Gardiner    Wisconsin    6-2    193    Jr    Minnetonka, MN    253
D    Matt Donovan    Denver    6-0    190    So    Edmond, OK    151
G    Kent Patterson    Minnesota    6-1    180    Jr    Plymouth, MN    141

2010-11 All-WCHA Third Team
Pos    Name    Team    Ht    Wt    Yr    Hometown    Pts
F    Jason Gregoire    North Dakota    5-11    196    Jr    Winnipeg, MB    113
F    Jaden Schwartz    Colorado College    5-10    182    Fr    Wilcox, SK    87
F    Drew LeBlanc    St. Cloud State    6-0    185    Jr    Hermantown, MN    74
D    Kurt Davis    Minnesota State    5-9    175    Sr    Plymouth, MN    150
D    Justin Faulk    Minnesota Duluth    5-11    200    Fr    South St. Paul, MN    99
G    John Faulkner    Nebraska Omaha    6-1    207    So    Sarnia, ON    123

2010-11 All-WCHA Rookie Team
Pos    Name    Team    Ht    Wt    Yr    Hometown    Votes
F    Jason Zucker    Denver    5-10    175    Fr    Las Vegas, NV    91
F    Jaden Schwartz    Colorado College    5-10    182    Fr    Wilcox, SK    80
F    J.T. Brown    Minnesota Duluth    5-10    170    Fr    Burnsville, MN    44
D    Justin Faulk    Minnesota Duluth    5-11    200    Fr    South St. Paul, MN    82
D    David Makowski    Denver    6-0    205    Fr    Wildwood, MO    44
G    Sam Brittain    Denver    6-3    210    Fr    Calgary, AB    79