Beaver Hockey Gameday: Bemidji State men return home to host Mankato, BSU women travel to face No. 1 Wisconsin, news from around the WCHA, Millsy’s Former and Future Beavers Update

Ben Kinne and the Bemidji State men's hockey team host Minnesota State University, Mankato this weekend following a bye week. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Purple has been a frustrating color for the Bemidji State men’s hockey team in recent years.

Bemidji State is 1-7 against Minnesota State University, Mankato dating back to 2007 and the two teams meet again this weekend at the Sanford Center (Friday 7:37 p.m., Saturday 7:07 p.m.).

“We’ve had our hands full with Mankato over the course of the last four years,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “Our senior class is 1-5 against them and they’ve beat us a lot. We realize how good of a hockey team they are and it’s going to be challenging for us this weekend.”

BSU rebounded from a 2-1 overtime loss to Mankato and ended a seven-game losing streak to the Mavs with a 4-1 win to split last February’s series at Mankato.

Mankato (8-17-1, 4-13-1 WCHA) is 11th in the league standings and trail Bemidji State (11-11-2, 5-9-2 WCHA) in 10th place by three points.

The Mavericks have struggled with numerous injuries to key players this season and had three wins through the first week of December.

But Mankato turned its season around and are 5-5 over the last 10 games, which includes a home split against Nebraska-Omaha in a pair of overtime games last weekend.

“Early in the year and throughout the season, we’ve been having injuries and we still have some,” said MSU sophomore Zach Lehrke, a Park Rapids native. “Guys are getting back into the lineup. We started out slow but I think we’re coming together as a team. We’re getting good goaltending and we’re starting to score.”

Forward Eriah Hayes is the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring a hat trick in the 5-4 win against Omaha. His 18 points tied for second in team scoring with Matt Leitner behind freshman Jean-Paul LaFontaine’s team-leading 12 goals and 21 points.

The Beavers have not played since the road sweep at the hands of current No. 15 Denver two weeks ago. BSU had leads in both games but lost 6-3 and 3-2.

Last week’s bye ended a slow stretch where the Beavers played six games in six weeks. There are no off weeks left the rest of the way with 12 games remaining over six weeks before the WCHA playoffs start.

Serratore said the team focused on small games and rushing drills at last week’s practice, and returned to a normal practice routine to prepare for Mankato.

“I think it’s early enough to have these by weeks that there isn’t overkill in practice,” he said. “Even though it’s not easy, our guys have shown great maturity in our practices and they’ve been good.”

Junior forward Jordan George is BSU’s leading scorer with a team-best 12 goals and 19 points. Behind him his senior defenseman Brad Hunt at 17 points, who is battling a four-game scoring drought. He has not gone four games without scoring since his sophomore season.

Sophomore forward Radoslav Illo brings a five-game point streak (two goals, three assists) into the series.

“This is my second year, so I would say I understand the game a little bit better and I read the play a little bit better,” Illo said. “Sometimes you don’t have to skate as much when you read the play. I like the guys I play with and our power play is working pretty well, so that’s one of the biggest things out there.”

Freshman forward Danny Mattson brings in a four-game point streak into the series with a goal and four assists in his last four games played.

Playing at the Sanford Center might be a good place for the Beavers looking to shake the struggling trend against the Mavericks. After a 5-8-3 home record last season, the Beavers have played tough in Bemidji and are 8-3-1 on home ice this season.

“The bottom line is we’re finding ways to win,” Serratore said. “Whether that home ice advantage is the key, who knows? It sure doesn’t hurt. Last year we found ways to tie a lot and lose at home … We’re very comfortable, confident at home. I think we realize that when we have a lead, we’re good at home and when we’re down, we can come back.”

Radoslav Illo interview

In this week’s video interview, Bemidji State’s Radoslav Illo talks about the upcoming series against Minnesota State University, Mankato, the team’s practices during the off week and his five-game point streak.

BSU women travel to No. 1 Wisconsin

Sadie Lundquist and the BSU women could potentially play in front of a record crowd in Madison this weekend. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State women’s hockey team earned one point in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings last week on the road against nationally No. 2 ranked Minnesota.

Considering BSU was the second team to get a point out of Ridder Arena this season, the point was cause for good feelings this week at the Sanford Center.

“They’re a top team in our division, so for us to stay with them two games and to battle back when we were down – I thought our girls played great,” BSU captain Marlee Wheelhouse said. “To play great against a team like that in their rink is good for us confidence-wise going into another series against a top-ranked team.”

Up next is a road trip to Madison to face No. 1 ranked Wisconsin, which swept the Beavers 3-1 and 6-1 at the Sanford Center in December. Game times are Friday and Saturday at 7:07 p.m.

Wisconsin is the only other team to get standings points against Minnesota in Minneapolis this season.

“If everyone comes to play, Z(uzana Tomcikova) has another great weekend and we’re able to produce some goals, I think it will be a good weekend for us,” Wheelhouse said. “Obviously they are one of the better teams in the nation. I think we’re going to have to fight hard and have as few mistakes as possible.”

Unranked BSU received seven votes in the latest national poll and enters the series 14-10 (8-10-2-0). WCHA-leading Wisconsin is 22-2-2 (16-2-2-1 WCHA).

The second half of the season has been a bag of mixed results for BSU, which lost home games to Minnesota State University, Mankato and Ohio State in January. But the 3-2 loss and 3-3 tie/shootout loss last weekend to Minnesota has head coach Steve Sertich feeling upbeat.

“I’m really pleased with how hard and how well we played at Minnesota, and I know we’re going to be up against the same situation in Madison,” he said. “I’m really confident this team can do it (win) because they had a tremendous weekend to be able to do that two nights in a row.”

Saturday night is Wisconsin’s ‘Fill the Bowl’ event at Kohl Center and the school is selling $1 tickets in hopes of breaking the women’s college hockey attendance record of 10,668 set at last year’s event.

“I think we’ve usually played good when there is a big crowd,” Wheelhouse said. “It’s going to be to their advantage being their home rink and a big ice sheet with a lot of their fans, but for us it’s nice to be in front of a big crowd. Hopefully we’ll take advantage of it, play well, give them a run for their money and come out on top.”

What I’m reading this week

Bemidji State vs. MSU, Mankato (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. Kelly Schultz will also broadcast this weekend’s BSU women’s games at Wisconsin on the Beaver Radio Network.

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 about a half hour before the game starts.

I was invited to be a guest on Bemidji’s KBUN-AM 1450 College Hockey Tonight radio show this week with Scott Williams and Moose Richards. It will be taped Friday morning and be available online sometime Friday afternoon here.

Here are a few stories you might of missed this week if you’re checking in for the first time:

I wrote a feature on the three Lehrke hockey brothers from Park Rapids. All have played college hockey, Zach is the last and he’s a sophomore at Mankato. Tyler played at Bemidji State and Derek played at Northland College in Wisconsin. Read the story here.

The Beavers have received a verbal committment from Saskatchewan’s Carter Struthers for the 2013-14 season. He’s a 6-foot-5, 204-pound defenseman. With a lot of mobile defenseman on the current roster and among the known BSU recruits, I expect Struthers to get a good look at playing time right away when he comes in. He looks to be in the mold of a stay-at-home defenseman and will be coming in the first year after Jake Areshenko graduates. Read the story here.

A bunch of questions from Mavericks fans are answered by Mankato Free Press Mavericks beat writer Shane Frederick at PucKato.

The Mavericks are a melting pot according to head coach Troy Jutting. Forward Johnny McInnis is the lone player in the WCHA from Boston, Mass. Read Shane Fredericks’ feature at the Mankato Free Press.

Minnesota Beanpot?
Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said a deal is ‘very close’ to being done for a four-team Minnesota Division I college hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul beginning in 2013-14 according to Star Tribune report.

The tournament is tentatively being called the ‘Minnesota Cup’ but a formal name has not been agreed upon. This is very similar to the Beanpot Tournament in Boston, a tournament between Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard played at TD Garden.

The state’s five schools: Bemidji State, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and MSU, Mankato have agreed to the general format but nothing has been signed.

The tournament would likely be popular with fans and generate a sizeable payout for the schools involved.

One major question is this:

There are five teams in the state and only four are invited. Teams will likely participate on a rotating basis, but who is left out the first year?

Michigan Tech at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (Friday and Saturday, 7:07)

Duluth East forward Dom Toninato has committed to UMD. His father Jim played there in the mid-1980s. East is currently the No. 1 ranked team in Class AA. From the Duluth News Tribune.

The Huskies are in the thick of the playoff home-ice chase, but have struggled playing on the road. MTU is 3-6 this year away from MacInnes arena and play eight of the final 12 games of the year on the road. From Stephen Anderson, Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.

St. Cloud State vs. No. 3 Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, 7:07)

This is a home-and-home series. Friday’s game is at Mariucci Arena and Saturday’s game is at the National Hockey Center.

How’s this for an interesting stat: the Gophers are 7-5 in the last six WCHA series and 1-5 on Friday night games. Forward Nick Bjugstad says the Gophers will solve Friday woes eventually. From Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune.

Gophers coach Don Lucia is pleased with the play and balance of his defensemen this season. From Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune.

St. Cloud is likely to be at 18 skaters for the series, which means no scratches. Some defensemen (Jarrod Rabey, Brandon Burrell) are trying out at forward spots. The Huskies are also looking to finalize its non-conference schedule next season, which looks to include Northern Michigan, New Hampshire and Alabama-Huntsville. From Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times.

Wisconsin at No. 18 North Dakota (Friday 7:37 and Saturday 7:07)

UND’s Brendan O’Donnell (upper body) and sophomore defenseman Derek Forbort are questionable for the sereis. Derek Rodwell had shoulder surgery on Wednesday, and head coach Dave Hakstol didn’t commit to playing Joe Gleason at forward or defense (he played both last weekend). From Brad E. Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald.

North Dakota is well aware of Wisconsin playmakers Justin Schultz and Mark Zengerle. Schultz, a junior defenseman, is averaging 1.54 points per game and Zengerle leads the country in assists (28). From Chuck Schwartz, Bucky’s 5th Quarter.

No. 15 Denver at Alaska-Anchorage (Friday and Saturday, 7:07)

Denver goalie Sam Brittain and senior defenseman John Ryder have been cleared to practice. Brittain was DU’s top goalie last season and has not played yet this season as he recovered from major ACL knee surgery in June. Ryder is a physical presence for the Pioneers but has missed the last 13 games with a fractured knee cap. From Mike Chambers, Denver Post.

Anchorage enters the series on a five-game losing streak, with four consecutive road losses after the holiday break. The Seawolves play eight of its next 10 games at home. An interesting stat: UAA has killed all 16 power plays it has faced after the holiday break. Seawolves hockey notes at GoSeawolves.com

Elsewhere

Omaha has received a verbal commitment from Duluth East’s Jake Randolph. He is the son of Greyhounds head coach Mike Randolph and has 26 goals this season.

Millsy’s Former and Future Beavers Update

Former Beaver captain and current Philadelphia Flyers rookie Matt Read will be part of NHL All-Star weekend in Ottawa. He caught up with BSU head coach Tom Serratore this week and is profiled in a feature story this week in Philadelphia. From Frank Seravalli, Philadelphia Daily News.

Here’s another Matt Read All-Star feature from Wayne Fish at PhillyBurbs.com

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 Jan. 24.

-Andrew Murray-San Jose Sharks (NHL) 39 GP, 1G-3A-4 Pts., 4 PIM, +3
-Matt Read-Philadelphia (NHL) 44 GP, 15G-16A-31 Pts., 2 PIM, +12
-Matt Francis-Nottingham Panthers (English ELITE League) 44 GP, 13G-24A-37 Pts., 23 PIM
-Brendan Cook-Sonderjyske (Denmark) 25 GP, 15G-12A-27 Pts, 20 PIM
-Tyler Scofield-Klagenfurter AC (Austria) 32 GP, 14G-9A-23 Pts, 10 PIM
-Anssi Tieranta-LeKi (Finland2) 11 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts, 8 PIM (Injured)
-Mikka Lindholm-HKC (Finland3) 21 GP, 11G-11A-22 Pts., 28 PIM
-Matt Dalton-Vityaz Chekhov (KHL) 32 GP, 7W-20L-4SOL, 90.8 Save %, 3.49 GAA, 11 PIM
-Emil Billberg-Sodertalje (Allsvenskan) 36 GP, 5G-4A-9 Pts., 18 PIM
-Ryan Huddy-Valpelice (Italy) 18 GP, 7G-14A-21 Pts., 6 PIM (Injured)
-Rob Sirianni-Valpelice (Italy) 33 GP, 19G-19A-38 Pts., 32 PIM
-Chris McKelvie-Connecticut Whale (AHL) 30 GP, 2G-2A-4 Pts., 40 PIM, -1
-Jamie Mattie-HC Innsbruck (Austria2) 18 GP, 0G-8A-8 Pts., 6 PIM
-Matt Climie-Chicago (AHL) 19 GP, 12W-6L-OSOL, 92.5 Save %, 2.48 GAA, 2 PIM, 2 Assists
*******-Vancouver Canucks (NHL) 0 GP, sent back to Chicago
-Ian Lowe-Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) 35 GP, 7G-14A-21 Pts., 33 PIM, -4
*******-Texas Stars (AHL) 6 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts., 2 PIM, -2 (Returned to Idaho)
-Matt Pope-South Carolina (ECHL) 15 GP, 7G-12A-19 Pts., 4 PIM, +5
*******-Hershey Bears (AHL) 19 GP, 3G-2A-5 Pts., 14 PIM, -1
-Niko Suoraniemi-Eindhoven Kemphanen (Netherlands) 28 GP, 6G-16A-22 Pts., 16 PIM
-Daryl Bat-Tyringe SoSS (Sweden Division 2) 24 GP, 13G-13A-26 Pts., 26 PIM
-Riley Weselowski-Rapid City (CHL) 35 GP, 7G-17A-24 Pts., 45 PIM, +15
-Luke Erickson-Arizona (CHL) 35 GP, 11G-8A-19 Pts., 22 PIM, -18
-Brandon Marino-Quad City (CHL) 38 GP, 25G-26A-51 Pts., 16 PIM, +0
-Andrew Martens-Wichita Thunder (CHL) 27 GP, 8G-14A-22 Pts., 22 PIM, +20
*******Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) 12 GP, 0G-1A-1 Pts., 2 PIM, -3
-Ryan Cramer-Tulsa Oilers (CHL) 30 GP, 12G-15A-27 Pts., 29 PIM, -3

BEAVER RECRUITS

-Brady Riesgraf-Fargo Force (USHL) 3 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts., 2 PIM, +1
**********-Coulee Region Chill (NAHL) 19 GP, 1G-2A-3 Pts., 10 PIM, -14
-Brendan Harms-Portage Terriers (MJHL) 28 GP, 11G-23A-34 Pts., 35 PIM
-Bob Kinne-Lincoln Stars (USHL) 24 GP, 4G-2A-6 Pts., 6 PIM, +3
-Corey Petrash-Winnipeg Saints (MJHL) 38 GP, 11G-15A-26Pts., 44 PIM
-Brad Robbins-Sioux City (USHL) 31 GP, 17G-14A-31 Pts., 12 PIM, -13
-Graeme McCormack-Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL) 41 GP, 10G-35A-45 Pts., 32 PIM
-Cory Ward-Aberdeen Wings (NAHL) 37 GP, 23G-22A-45 Pts., 23 PIM, +15
-Carter Struthers-Weyburn Red Wings (SJHL) 31 GP, 3G-18A-21 Pts., 17 PIM

Parting shot

Minnesota State, Mankato's Josh Nelson (2) and goalie Phil Cook look to block a shot by Nebraska-Omaha's Jayson Megna during the second period of a NCAA college hockey game Friday, Jan. 20, 2012, in Mankato. (AP Photo/Mankato Free Press, Pat Christman)

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

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