College hockey notebook: Bemidji State coach Serratore sees Michigan Tech as wild card, BSU-Omaha online chat, Bakala practices, BSU women play in front of NCAA record crowd at Wisconsin, Mankato reaction to Sanford Center, NCHC television deal

Bemidji State's Brance Orban battles Michigan Tech's Carl Nielsen for space in front of Kevin Genoe during an October series at the Sanford Center. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

February is here which means the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs are a little over a month away and closing in fast.

The Beavers travel to Nebraska-Omaha this weekend (Friday 7:37 p.m., Saturday 7:07 p.m.). BSU is currently in 10th place with 14 points and UNO holds the last first-round home playoff spot in sixth place at 21 points. Those seven points are not impossible to overcome, but time is running out for BSU to string some wins together and make a final challenge for one of those coveted home ice spots.

I will be talking about the series with Nebraska-Omaha hockey writer Matthew Semisch on his Radio Free Omaha blog on Wednesday from noon-1 p.m. and you are welcome to ask questions. Here is the link to the online chat.

Minnesota leads the MacNaughton Cup chase with 30 points in first place and Minnesota-Duluth five points behind in second place. The Bulldogs were stunned last weekend at home by Michigan Tech. The Huskies rallied from a four-goal deficit to tie 4-4 Friday and won 5-0 on Saturday.

I asked BSU head coach Tom Serratore what he thinks about the WCHA race at this point of the season and his focus turned to the Huskies (BSU swept Tech 6-5 and 3-1 in October at the Sanford Center).

“Michigan Tech is a wild card and I think they’re a good team. I think they should have got points in Bemidji. We were very fortunate that weekend. There’s losses we’ve had where we should have got points … I talked with (head coach) Walt Kyle at Northern Michigan and he said ‘watch out for those guys, not only this year but in the future.’ They’ve got some very good freshmen right now – (Blake) Pietila, (Tanner) Kerow, (David) Johnstone – those three in particular. They’ve got a good sophomore group. I thought it was gutty how they came back from a four-goal deficit against Duluth and that shows a lot about their character and their resiliency right now. When I saw Tech here in October, I said ‘look out.’ I could tell.”

“What to make out of it? I don’t know. Nothing surprises you in this league. It’s like us last year against Omaha. Once and awhile weird things happen and that’s sports in general.”

Bakala back this weekend?

BSU senior goalie Dan Bakala played in last Friday’s 2-1 win over MSU, Mankato but did not dress for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed lower body injury. I believe the Beavers have dressed three goalies in the majority, if not all game s this season.

Bakala was back on the ice with the team at Tuesday’s practice. Afterwards I asked him if he was going to be able to play this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha.

“I hope so,” he said.

BSU-Wisconsin women set NCAA attendance record

Bemidji State’s 1-0 loss against No. 1 Wisconsin last Saturday was played in front of 12,402 rowdy Badger fans at the Kohl Center, which set the NCAA attendance record for a women’s hockey game and was featured in the New York Times Slap Shot hockey blog.

BSU senior defenseman Montana Vichorek said this about the game:

“It was unfortunate we didn’t get any points out of it … It sucked we lost, but the experience was good. Playing in front of 12,000 people was crazy and we’ll probably never get the chance to do that again. It was fun, it a neat atmosphere. It was unfortunate they were all red and cheering against us. It was fun and I think it helped us play better.”

A Mankato reaction to the Sanford Center

MSU, Mankato beat writer Shane Frederick wrote about his first impressions of the Sanford Center for a column in the Mankato Free Press and posted some photos here.

Some excerpts from the column:

“They did it right at the Sanford Center, both for hockey fans and the teams.”

“When the WCHA breaks up after the 2012-13 season, Minnesota State expects to be one of the top programs in the revamped conference. The planned upgrades will help. Right now, though, it’s clear who will have the best rink.”

CBS Sports Network, NCHC agree to television deal

The CBS Sports Network has agreed to a multi-year agreement with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference beginning with the 2013-14 season, which will make it the exclusive national television partner for the conference.

The announcement was made Tuesday by CBSSN Programming Senior Vice President Dan Weinberg and NCHC Commissioner Jim Scherr.

The agreement calls for a minimum of 18 conference games, including the NCHC semifinal and championship tournament games.

The agreement means North Dakota will no longer broadcast its home games nationally on FCS after the school’s agreement expires and is not renewed next year.

Minnesota-Duluth hockey beat writer Kevin Pates said on Twitter Tuesday: “I have heard NCHC will pay game production costs to CBS Sports. So this doesn’t sound like a revenue stream.”

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