Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Preview of Seasons to Come

Bemidji State will come to Mariucci Arena for a non-conference series against the Gopher hockey team this weekend as a ranked team. In fact, they are the higher-ranked team by a long shot.

The Beavers have flown out to a 7-0-1 start this season and are ranked #7 in this week's and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. BSU is fresh off an unlikely appearance in the 2008-09 NCAA Frozen Four, has a brand new arena in the works up in Bemidji to replace the aging Glas Fieldhouse, and will join the WCHA as a full member next season. Like is good for the Beavers.

BSU plays in the lame-duck College Hockey America (CHA) conference, which is shutting down after this season. Only four teams call the CHA home, with Bemidji State joining Alabama-Huntsville, Niagara, and Robert Morris. The Beavers are 4-0-0 in CHA play this season, which is now unexpected. However, the Beavers are an impressive 3-0-1 outside the conference with wins over Air Force (two) and Northern Michigan. BSU will also play non-conference games against major conference teams such as Miami, UMD, Ohio State, Minnesota State, and Nebraska-Omaha.

Despite losing a fair amount of talent from last year's Frozen Four team, most notably star goaltender Matt Dalton, the Beavers have received solid production from a number of sources. Junior forward Matt Read (7-7-14) has been spectacular in the team's first eight games of the season. Sophomore defenseman Brad Hunt (1-9-10) has provided solid production from the blue line, and freshman forward Jordan George (4-5-9) has his collegiate career off to a solid start. In fact, each of those three players would lead the Gopher team in scoring.

In goal, sophomore Dan Bakala has been spectacular in his seven starts, allowing just 10 goals in total. He has posted a 6-0-1 record, including one shutout, with a 1.40 goals against average and .946 save percentage. His backup, freshman Mathieu Dugas, has seen action in just one game, but it was a shutout.

Coach Tom Serratore has his team off to a great start this season, but whether or not it will translate into a smooth transition to the WCHA remains to be seen. This weekend will be a good indicator.

The Beavers seem to be catching the Gophers at a good time. The Gophers have struggled to a 3-4-1 start this season, having been shut out in three of the four losses. However, they defeated Wisconsin last Saturday night in a game in which goaltender Alex Kangas stole the game for the Gophers with 45 saves.

The team is also fighting the injury bug. Forward Jay Barriball is out for the season with a knee injury and freshman defenseman Nick Leddy will miss the next five weeks with a broken jaw. Junior forward Mike Hoeffel missed last Saturday's tilt with a virus, but is expected to be back for the BSU series. Sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist quit the team this past week, which leaves the Gophers with only seven defensemen on the roster, including the injured Leddy. 

The Gophers' offense has struggled to get its bearings thus far, but senior co-captain Tony Lucia is red-hot, compiling 4-5-9 in his past four games after starting the season scoreless in his first four games. Sophomore forward Jordan Schroeder has yet to light the lamp this season, but has compiled 0-5-5 in his past four games. Freshman forward Zach Budish has had a fine last two weekends, compiling 3-1-4, including his first collegiate two-goal game last Saturday at Wisconsin. Still, the Gophers expect the offensive production to be more robust, and the loss of Barriball hurts that notion.

The defense has been spotty all season long, as evidenced by last weekend's 79-shots-against performance in Madison. As noted earlier, the corps will be stretched over the next few weeks until Leddy returns. The goaltending of Kangas (3-3-0; .933 Sv%; 2.35 GAA) and Kent Patterson (0-1-1; .900 Sv%; 2.89 GAA) has kept the games more respectable than they probably should have been.

This is a big weekend for the Gophers. They have tough weekends ahead (vs. UMD; at Michigan; at Michigan State) and cannot overlook what will be a talented and pumped-up Bemidji State team. Gopher fans will know a lot more about this team after the BSU series the weekend.

BSU Schedule, Team Stats, Roster
UM Schedule, Team Stats, Roster
Prediction: Gopher Win, Tie

No comments:

Post a Comment