Beaver Hockey Gameday: Bemidji State men face No. 13 Denver in playoff rematch, BSU women host Wisconsin in top 10 clash, WCHA news and notes, Millsy’s Beaver alumni update

Dan Bakala, Brad Hunt and the Bemidji State men's hockey team are back home for the first time since the Nov. 20 win against North Dakota. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala was on the receiving end of the third and final loss against Denver last season.

The defeat ended Bemidji State’s postseason run at the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul and Bakala is expecting a ‘tough series’ in the rematch is this weekend at the Sanford Center (Friday 7:37 p.m., Saturday 7:07 p.m.).

“In those tournament games they were the team to beat us out and we really want these guys,” Bakala said.

The Beavers (6-8-2, 4-6-2 WCHA) bring a three-game unbeaten streak into the weekend, which ends the first half of Bemidji State’s WCHA schedule.

No. 13-ranked Denver (6-5-3, 4-3-3 WCHA) comes to Bemidji for the first time in program history with a group of talented forwards. The Pioneers, a team with speed up front and size on the blue line, are led in scoring by four NHL draft picks.

Sophomore Jason Zucker (Minnesota) has a team-high eight goals and 20 points. Drew Shore (Florida) has 19 points, Beau Bennett (Pittsburgh) has 13 points and Nick Shore (Los Angeles) has 13 points.

BSU head coach Tom Serratore said this week he would not be surprised to see the Pioneers play at the Frozen Four in the spring.

“Before we started the season they were the preseason pick to win the WCHA in my eyes,” Serratore said. “Obviously Minnesota and UMD are running away with things right now but talent-wise, they might have the most talent in the league.”

The WCHA standings as the league nears the season’s mid-point add intrigue to this weekend’s matchup. Only two points separate the fourth-place tie between Colorado College and North Dakota at 12 points, and Bemidji State in ninth place at 10 points. Denver sits in the middle of the group in a sixth place tie with Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State at 11 points.

“We’re still fighting to scrap our way into the top half of the standings,” Bakala said. “It’s pretty clustered in the middle there but we’re just working our way through.”

The Beavers are unbeaten in the last three games following an inconsistent stretch of seven games that included five losses.

The Beavers stopped that stretch with a 1-0 win against North Dakota on Nov. 20 and returned from a week off to take three points from St. Cloud State on the road last weekend. BSU tied SCSU 6-6 Friday after rallying from a pair of two-goal deficits and won 3-1 Saturday by stopping all five power plays it faced.

“I don’t know if we necessarily have played great hockey, but we’ve had some success and we’ve found ways to win,” Serratore said. “The biggest thing over the last couple games is the guts and character our guys showed.”

BSU senior defenseman Brad Hunt has a team-high 14 points on three goals and 11 assists to lead the Beavers into the Denver series. Junior forward Jordan George is the first Beaver to 10 goals and ranks second on the team with 13 points.

Sophomore forward Radoslav Illo returned from a three-game absence to an upper body injury at St. Cloud State to score two goals, one in each game.

Bakala has started the last six games and carries a .906 save percentage into the series. He was pulled from last Friday’s shootout in the first period after allowing three straight goals and responded with 33 saves to win the following game.

“I feel a little better but it’s still been on and off,” Bakala said. “I haven’t been consistent enough to help this team start winning more games. Right now all you can do is fight your way through and hopefully it comes out better.”

This weekend’s series marks the start of a six-game December homestand to close out the calendar year. BSU hosts Alabama-Huntsville on Dec. 16-17, breaks for Christmas, hosts Bowling Green on Dec. 30-31 and have a week off before opening up the second half of the WCHA season Jan. 13-14 in Denver.

“Bemidji State has adjusted without former star and current Philadelphia Flyer Matt Read and is playing really well,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “Jordan George and Brad Hunt are two of the better players in the WCHA and the Beavers’ goaltending was outstanding last Saturday at St. Cloud State. It should be a great two-game series.”

Teddy Bear Toss

The Bemidji State Student Athlete-Advisory Committee is sponsoring a Teddy Bear Toss at the BSU men’s and women’s hockey games on Saturday.

Those attending the game are invited to place a new or slightly used teddy bear in a plastic bag and throw the bears onto the ice after Bemidji State’s first goal of the game.

Winter hats, mittens and gloves will be collected prior to both of the games this weekend.

All items donated will go directly to local charities and will be distributed to children and Bemidji area residents in need.

Player interview

In this week’s interview, Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala talks this week’s series with the Pioneers, the three-point weekend at St. Cloud State and evaluates his play during the first half of the season.

No. 7 BSU women face No. 1 Wisconsin in top 10 showdown

The way Bemidji State senior goalie Zuzana Tomcikova sees it, the Beavers are going to need to play a patient game against top-ranked Wisconsin this weekend at the Sanford Center.

Bemidji State's Molly Arola. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

“I think they are going to be very offensive and very dangerous, so we have to start playing good in our defensive zone and wait for the chances we get to put some pucks in the net,” Tomcikova said.

No. 7 Bemidji State and No. 1 Wisconsin play Friday and Saturday at 2:07 p.m. and the series will end the first half of the season for BSU.

The Beavers (10-5-2 overall, 6-5-1 WCHA) have yet to suffer back-to-back losses against strong competition that has included a total of 10 games against top-10 teams.

There has not been a test yet quite like the Badgers (17-1-0 overall, 11-1-0 WCHA). Wisconsin was the unanimous No. 1 selection in this week’s poll and brings a 12-game winning streak to Bemidji.

“As good as we’ve played, we’ll find out a little bit more about our team with Wisconsin coming in,” BSU head coach Steve Sertich said. “They’re well-coached, skilled and disciplined. That creates problems because I feel like we’re disciplined and that makes it hard to take advantage of teams like Wisconsin.”

The Beavers stand alone in fifth place in the WCHA standings and have not played since a 3-2 win over then No. 6 North Dakota on Nov. 26 at the Sanford Center. The win vaulted BSU into No. 8 in the national poll – the highest ranking in program history until this week’s No. 7 selection.

“I think we’ve been pretty good this year and beaten the teams we weren’t supposed to,” Tomcikova said. “We’re finally getting some recognition, which is great. I hope the No. 7 doesn’t intimidate us or make us think too highly of ourselves because it doesn’t change anything. We just need to keep playing hard like we usually do.”

Tomcikova, who played for Team Slovakia in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has once again established herself as one of the top goalies in the WCHA. She ranks third in save percentage (.927), second in goals against average (2.51) and has faced the second most shots in league play this season (354).

The Beavers currently have the top power play in WCHA play with a success rate of 34 percent and the second most goals power-play goals (16) in the league.

Senior forward Sadie Lundquist leads BSU in team scoring with 25 points on eight goals. Senior Emily Erickson has 21 points and a team-high nine goals.

BSU will be without top-scoring freshman Rachel Kelly (5 goals) as she continues to recover from an ankle injury. She has not played in the last four games and Sertich said she needs a few more weeks to recover.

BSU opens the second half of the season Dec. 30 at the Robert Morris Hockey Showcase. The game against RMU will be played at the Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Erickson and defenseman Montana Vichorek were invited to participate in the USA Hockey Women’s Winter Training Camp from Dec. 26-31 in Blaine.

There were 41 players invited to the camp, which will serve as an evaluation and training session for the national team.

What I’m reading this week

Bemidji State vs. No. 13 Denver (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)

TV: Lakeland Public Television and regionally in Minnesota on the PBS Minnesota Channel. Also available on the Minnesota Channel in areas of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin where Minnesota Public Television stations are received. More information here.

Radio: Locally on The Mix 103.7 FM and online at the Beaver Radio Network. The BSU women’s games can also be heard on the Beaver Radio network. The Denver radio broadcast can be heard online at Denver’s Sports Station 102.3 The TICKET/

Twitter: I’ll be taking photos during the first period and I will provide game updates on my Twitter account at the start of the second period @estromgren. You can expect line charts up on this blog before the game starts.

Some BSU-related reading first:

In case you missed it, here’s my feature story on Brad Hunt from Thursday’s Pioneer. The story takes a look at his place in the BSU history books and Hunt also talks about reaching the 100-point mark.

News broke Thursday about the commitment from Cory Ward to BSU hockey. He’s a Las Vegas native who is playing in his second year with the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings of the North American Hockey League. The 6-foot-0, 200 pound forward has 43 goals and 46 assists in 82 career games with the Wings. He’s got a bit of buzz around him as he’s listed as a Player to Watch on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s preliminary ranking of the 2012 Draft. According to Wings coach Pete Sauer, he’s received looks from Toronto, Phoenix and New Jersey.

Bemidji State faced Denver freshman goalie Sam Brittain in all three losses last season, but he suffered an ACL injury in the Final Five title game against North Dakota, needed surgery to repair it and has not played yet this season. He is on track to return at the end of January. The Beavers will likely face third string goalie Juho Olkinuora (1-3-2, .923 save percentage, 2.20 goals against average) this weekend with Adam Murray dealing with an injury. More on the Pioneers from Tyler Buckentine and Brian Halverson at USCHO.com.

Fans watching this weekend’s series should keep an eye on Denver’s Jason Zucker, but not so much because he’s a Minnesota Wild draft pick. He has a good chance at being the captain at the World Junior Tournament for Team USA coached by Dean Blais according to a tweet from Denver Post writer Mike Chambers. He also says Colorado College’s Jaden Schwartz is likely going to be Team Canada’s captain, which is interesting from the DU-CC rivalry viewpoint,

No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth at Wisconsin (Friday 7:05, Saturday, 8:07)

The Bullogs are on a 12-game unbeaten streak is two games shy of the school record of 14 set during the 2003-04 Frozen Four season. Here’s a deeper look inside the streak. From Bruce Ciskie, UMD/94X radio.

UMD is in the midst of its longest road trip in program history – eight games in four series spanning seven weeks. From Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune.

There’s an interesting matchup in this series from likely Hobey Baker contenders in Minnesota-Duluth forward Jack Connolly and Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz. From Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal.

Michigan Tech at No. 2 Minnesota (Friday, Saturday 7:07)

Last week the Huskies were swept by Minnesota-Duluth. This week the opponent is No. 2 Minnesota. Tech head coach Mel Pearson said the competitive gap for the Huskies has narrowed this year and this week is another measuring stick. From Stephen Anderson, Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.

Pearson moved from Vancouver to Edina and played Minnesota head coach Don Lucia frequently (Grand Rapids) growing up. From Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune.

More notes on the Gophers, including goalie Kent Patterson’s confidence in backup Mike Shibrowski at the Star Tribune.

Nebraska-Omaha at No. 19 North Dakota (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)

The North Dakota line of Brock Nelson-Corban Knight-Danny Kristo have 62 points and are the second most productive line in the WCHA behind Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad-Kyle Rau-Zach Budish line. Omaha’s defense expects a major test from that group in this week’s series. From Rob White, Omaha World Herald.

Speaking of Knight, he has 21 points in 16 games and here’s a feature story on the versatile forward. From Brad E. Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald.

Alaska-Anchorage at No. 6 Colorado college (Friday 8:37, Saturday 8:07)

The Tigers defeated Denver last weekend 4-3 in overtime. On a penalty shot from Alexander Krushelnyski in overtime. From Brian Gomez, Colorado Springs Gazette.

The Tigers are 5-0 at home for the first time since 2008 and the Seawolves are coming off a home sweep to North Dakota where it was outscored 9-3. Series notes from the Gazette.

Media note: The Tigers have a new beat writer in Gomez. He takes over for Joe Paisley, who was laid off by the Colorado Springs Gazette last week. Gomez has covered Colorado College before. On a personal note, I wish all the best to Mr. Paisley. He was a good veteran on the beat, very personable and a guy I looked up to as a rookie on the hockey beat last season.

Alabama-Huntsville at MSU, Mankato (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)

There’s a couple interesting Bemidji angles in this series.

Mankato’s Zach Lehrke brings a four-game scoring streak into the weekend. That name should sound familiar to Beaver fans. Lehrke one of three brothers from Park Rapids. Tyler Lehrke played for BSU from 2006-10.

“I gotta give them a lot of credit — both brothers,” the Mavericks’ sophomore center said. “They’ve helped me out a lot.”

Because of their age differences (three years separate Derek and Tyler, four more separate Tyler and Zach) Lehrke didn’t play organized hockey with his brothers in Park Rapids the north-central Minnesota town they grew up in.

“Just open hockey on the weekends or going to the outdoor rink over Christmas break,” Lehrke said. “On Christmas day, we usually go out to the rink.”

Read the full story on Lehrke from Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press.

Bemidji State’s long-time rival Alabama-Huntsville may not be dead after all as the school changed its position on the program. UAH planned to disband the Division I program to club level at the end of this season, but that decision has been reversed and USCHO.com is reporting the school has been given the go-ahead to schedule games for next season. Huntsville comes to Bemidji next weekend.

Other stories worth reading

The St. Cloud Times reported on last summer’s formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference by revealing e-mails from SCSU officials from June 3-Aug. 3. The Times requested the e-mails from the school and the university allowed access to the requested e-mails after review to comply with data privacy laws.

The story in summary: St. Cloud State publicly said it was going to take a leadership role in securing the long-term future of the WCHA but SCSU was using back channels to sell itself to the NCHC in hoopes of gaining an invitation. Read the full report from David Unze, St. Cloud Times.

The New York Times produced a three-part series on the life and death of former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogard. The newspaper spent six months on the project.

It is something all hockey fans, players and parents should find the time to read. The series is as scientifically informative as it is emotionally draining at times. But it’s a very real and honest look at hockey fights. This series is the kind of powerful sports journalism that has the potential to change the role of fighting in the junior and professional game.

There’s been a lot of reaction in hockey communities on the series. Here are the links with descriptions:

Part I revisits Boogaard’s childhood in the rugged youth and junior leagues of western Canada and his progression from physically awkward boy to renowned brawler on the ice.

Part II explores the devastating toll — physical and emotional — of fighting on players who are celebrated for their toughness.

Part III chronicles Derek Boogaard’s descent, on and off the ice, and the posthumous determination by researchers that he had a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

As writer Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness told me: “Strap in, it’s a tough read a times.”

Millsy’s Former and Future Beavers Update

Matt Francis has nine goals and 24 points in 29 games with the Nottingham Panthers in the English ELITE League this year.Photo by Unique Images.

Millsy over at The Beaver Pond tracks the statistics of former Bemidji State players and prospects in the junior leagues. Here is the latest update with stats current as of Dec. 6.

Here’s a feature on Matt Francis from This is Nottingham back in September.

FORMER BEAVERS

-Andrew Murray-San Jose Sharks (NHL) 23 GP, 1G-1A-2 Pts., 4 PIM, +2
-Matt Read-Philadelphia (NHL) 22 GP, 10G-7A-17 Pts., 2 PIM, +9
-Matt Francis-Nottingham Panthers (ELITE League) 29 GP, 9G-15A-24 Pts., 21 PIM, +1
-Brendan Cook-Sonderjyske (Denmark) 19 GP, 11G-5A-16 Pts, 18 PIM
-Tyler Scofield-Klagenfurter AC (Austria) 16 GP, 9G-6A-15 Pts, 6 PIM, +6
-Anssi Tieranta-LeKi (Finland2) 12 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts, 8 PIM (Injured)
-Mikka Lindholm-HKC (Finland3) 14 GP, 10G-10A-20 Pts., 24 PIM
-Matt Dalton-Vityaz Chekhov (KHL) 23 GP, 5W-13L-4SOL, 91.5 Save %, 3.26 GAA, 9 PIM
-Emil Billberg-Sodertalje (Allsvenskan) 25 GP, 4G-3A-7 Pts., 6 PIM
-Ryan Huddy-Valpelice (Italy) 18 GP, 7G-14A-21 Pts., 6 PIM, +1
-Rob Sirianni-Valpelice (Italy) 20 GP, 15G-10A-25 Pts., 18 PIM, +2
-Chris McKelvie-Connecticut Whale (AHL) 16 GP, 1G-1A-2 Pts., 13 PIM, +2
-Jamie Mattie-HC Innsbruck (Austria2) 8 GP, 0G-4A-4 Pts., 2 PIM
-Matt Climie-Chicago (AHL) 10 GP, 6W-4L-OSOL, 92.8 Save %, 2.60 GAA, 0 PIM, 1 Assist
********-Vancouver Canucks (NHL) 0 GP, sent back to Chicago
-Ian Lowe-Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) 21 GP, 6G-7A-13 Pts., 25 PIM, -4
-Matt Pope-South Carolina (ECHL) 15 GP, 7G-12A-19 Pts., 4 PIM, +5
*******-Hershey Bears (AHL) 5 GP, 2G-2A- Pts., 4 PIM, +4
-Niko Suoraniemi-Eindhoven Kemphanen (Netherlands) 15 GP, 5G-8A-13 Pts., 6 PIM
-Daryl Bat-Tyringe SoSS (Sweden Division 2) 17 GP, 10G-9A-19 Pts., 26 PIM
-Riley Weselowski-Rapid City (CHL) 27 GP, 3G-6A-9 Pts., 27 PIM, -2
-Luke Erickson-Arizona (CHL) 20 GP, 8G-6A-14 Pts., 14 PIM, -7
-Brandon Marino-Quad City (CHL) 16 GP, 10G-11A-21 Pts., 4 PIM, -3
-Andrew Martens-Wichita Thunder (CHL) 17 GP, 6G-10A-16 Pts., 16 PIM, +13
-Ryan Cramer-Tulsa Oilers (CHL) 18 GP, 7G-10A-17 Pts., 19 PIM, -3

BEAVER RECRUITS

-Brady Riesgraf-Fargo Force (USHL) 3 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts., 2 PIM, +1
**********-Coulee Region Chill (NAHL) 8 GP. 0G-2A-2 Pts., 6 PIM, -10
-Brendan Harms-Portage Terriers (MJHL) 13 GP, 5G-10A-15 Pts., 25 PIM
-Bob Kinne-Lincoln Stars (USHL) 13 GP, 2G-1A-3 Pts., 2 PIM, +2
-Corey Petrash-Winnipeg Saints (MJHL) 31 GP, 9G-13A-22Pts., 25 PIM
-Brad Robbins-Sioux City (USHL) 17 GP, 12G-8A-20 Pts., 4 PIM, +1
-Graeme McCormack-Namaimo Clippers (BCHL) 28 GP, 8G-27A-35 Pts., 24 PIM

And I’ll leave you this week with this:

Jeremy Roenick said this about Matt Read in his blog this week on NHL.com:

“Then there is Matt Read, my Bemidji State Beavers guy. He has introduced me to Bemidji State with his play with the Flyers.”

Enjoy the games this weekend.

Follow Eric Stromgren on Twitter at @estromgren and on Facebook.

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