Team of the Week: Bemidji State
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Let's face it, Bemidji State is well beyond a novelty.
Perhaps the Beavers would like to stay under the radar, but that's becoming more and more impossible. As they gear up for next year's move into the WCHA, with each passing week Bemidji State is proving to be ready for the challenge.
In case last year's Frozen Four run wasn't enough, Bemidji State is in line right now for a legitimate at-large bid to the NCAAs. In fact, if things ended right now, the Beavers would get a No. 1 seed somewhere in the East.
Because the CHA is disbanding, and because, like it or not, it's still considered a "mid-major," the nation focuses on BSU's non-league games, looking for signs of what to expect. And the Beavers have not disappointed.
Much moreso than even last year's regular season, BSU continues to demand attention. It has a win/tie against Northern Michigan, a split with Minnesota, a win over Miami, an OT loss to Ohio State, two losses to Minnesota State, and a win/tie against Western Michigan.
And just when you might have been thinking that the Beavers' early-season magic had faded a bit, they went out and swept the WCHA's then-first place team — Minnesota-Duluth — in two games last weekend, and have earned CHN Team of the Week honors as a result.
"I didn't ask our guys (if they were hyped up). They were the same way," Serratore said of his team's preparation for these non-league games. "We prepare the same way, we talk the same talk. They realize too there's a small margin for error. We've played enough non-conference games, we play 16 non-conference. Our guys are used to it."
Last year's team had that magical run to the Frozen Four, of course. But this year's team has been better start to finish.
"In my 17 years, this is probably the most consistent we've played as a group," Serratore said. "I'm proud of the guys for that. The biggest difference is going on the road. The guys have responded well on the road.
"Last year, we played well the last two months; we came together. This year, the guys have been very consistent. Some of that play (from last year) has carried over to this year.
One reason for that has been the play of sophomore goalie Dan Bakala, who has assumed the No. 1 spot this year after Matt Dalton decided to bolt for the pros after just two seasons.
"He's very solid. He's square to the puck. He doesn't overplay the shooter," Serratore said of Bakala, who has appeared in 19 of the team's games this year. "And we've been very good in front of him, blocking shots well. ... Everybody's got their job. The guys are on the same page. The older guys have had success and it's carried over to everyone else."
This is not just from the defensemen, who are actually a relatively young group with two freshmen playing regularly. It's the backchecking and aggressiveness of a speedy forward corps that emboldens the defense as much as anything.
The biggest example there is the stellar two-way the Beavers get every shift out of Matt Read. The 5-foot-10 junior was a pain in the neck to big teams last year. This year, he's become a legitimate Hobey Baker Award candidate.
Read, who Serratore calls the "most sought after free agent in the country right now," has 31 points, a plus-24 and three shorthanded goals. Serratore compares him to one-time Detroit Red Wing Kris Draper for his do-everything "junkyard dog" mentality.
"He has tremendous depth to his game," Serratore said. "He's a determined player, he plays with speed, he plays with a lot of tenacity. If he's not scoring, he provides a lot of intangibles. He's durable, he has stamina. ... He's very professional in how he does things. It's not surprsing to see a guy like this elevate his game."
Matt Francis and Tyler Scofield graduated, but Read has developed instant chemistry with new linemates Jordan George, a 5-foot-8 freshman, and sophomore Ian Lowe. And Read epitomizes the leadership factor by making those players better.
George "has tremendous stick skills and great hockey sense," according to Serratore. "He makes plays in tight areas.
"We have to get guys who want to pressure the puck. They fit our style. I'd like to get bigger guys, but you want to make sure if you do, they do the things you want them to do."
How long can Bemidji State hold a No. 1 seed position in the Pairwise? Because of its CHA schedule — including four straight games coming up with Robert Morris — the margin for error is slim. A couple slip-ups, and the Beavers could plummet. But it's hard to imagine not qualifying for an at-large bid at this point.
"Nothing's easy for us. We know, we live it. There's a small margin of error," Serratore said. "Those who walk that line, it's easy to lose. We've probably won 6-7 games we won that we should've lost. We've been very fortunate."
There have certainly been a lot of late-game heroics. Last Saturday's win over Minnesota-Duluth came after a wild third period, with BSU ultimately tying the game with two seconds left in regulation, before George scored in the first minute of overtime to win it.
But teams make their own luck. No one questioned Boston University for pulling games out left and right last year. And after a while, it's not karma — Bemidji State is just good.
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