Team of the Week: Bemidji State
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
For the most part, midseason tournaments don't mean much more than a couple non-conference games. The motivation behind the North Star College Cup, though, was to maintain and build on rivalries between the five Division I men's hockey programs in Minnesota following the realignment that split up the old WCHA.
These games don't help teams win their leagues. They don't make or break seasons. But the four teams participating in that year's tournament know the significance of those games.
For Bemidji State, last weekend's games against Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State were good opportunities to make it clear they belong with their in-state rivals. The Beavers defeated Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State to win the second North Star College Cup. Their effort earned them College Hockey News' Team of the Week.
Following Saturday's win over MSU to claim the tournament's championship, BSU coach Tom Serratore was rightfully proud of his players. A 5-minute stretch in the second period of that game demanded the best BSU could offer.
Leading, 3-0, Charlie O'Connor received a 5-minute major penalty. Sending Minnesota State on a lengthy power play meant the three-goal advantage was in danger.
The Beavers allowed one goal during those 5 minutes. Minnesota State created little in the way of sustained pressure, though, and BSU escaped with a two-goal lead just as the third period began.
"The guys were in a good rhythm, and it carried into the PK," Serratore said. "You never know what's going to happen. There's a 5-minute power play. I think (Minnesota State) was a bit out of synch heading into it, and we were playing well. We were able to get to some pucks and get some pucks out quickly. One group of penalty-killers fed off the one before it, and we were able to get out of it with just one goal."
Two big non-conference wins are important for a team like Bemidji State heading into a gauntlet of WCHA games to end the season. The Beavers have 12 conference tests remaining. Currently, they are in seventh place. With sixth-place Alaska ineligible for the postseason, BSU is three points behind Northern Michigan for the final home-ice spot in the WCHA playoffs. Just the same, they're only one point clear of the final spot in the tournament.
The Beavers' performance down the stretch will decide their postseason status. All but two of their remaining games come against clubs ahead of them in the league standings.
"Our schedule is tough the rest of the way," Serratore said. "We end the year with Minnesota State. We have Michigan Tech. We have to go to Northern Michigan and to Ferris State. Right now, though, our focus has to be on Bowling Green."
This week's test is third-place Bowling Green. It doesn't get much easier from there. Weekend series with Michigan Tech, Ferris State and Minnesota State, among others, are all left to play.
"There's a fine line in college hockey between winning and losing," Serratore said. "It has to come down to who's ready to play and who isn't. We came into our meeting on Monday and that's what we talked about. Last weekend has to be a distant memory for us."
Prior to winning the North Star College Cup, the Beavers struggled in a weekend pair with Lake Superior State, losing two games to the Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie.
Serratore understands the significance of last weekend's triumph. Just the same, he knows how much is left to do.
"Those were good wins against good teams," Serratore said. "They don't mean much next week, though. We have a good Bowling Green team coming to town."