This Week in WCHA Hockey: Bemidji State getting games in as ‘it’s important to play right now,’ says Serratore

Bemidji State senior Ethan Somoza is the first player from California to wear the ‘C’ for the Beavers (photo: BSU Photo Services).

Despite how strange their schedule has been this season, you won’t catch anyone from Bemidji State complaining about their scheduling woes.

The Beavers (5-4-2) have played 11 total games this season, and just two have been for WCHA conference points — this despite playing only conference opponents.

In addition, they had two conference series (Jan. 15-16 against Alabama Huntsville and Jan. 29-30 against Lake Superior State) wiped out due to COVID-19 protocols this month. That turned what was supposed to be a season-long, six-game homestand into a three-game homestand. This weekend’s Lake State conference series was replaced with a single game against instate rivals Minnesota State — itself a rescheduling of a game that was postponed back in November.

“You just want to play. We haven’t played a lot of games,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said in a Zoom interview on Tuesday. “The kids want to play, the coaches want to play, fans want to follow the games, so it’s important to play right now.”

It’s not ideal, but nobody in the Beaver locker room has let it affect them. After all, nearly every team in the country has had at least one last-second schedule change.

“If you would have asked me that question at the beginning of the year, I would have told you it was difficult,” BSU sophomore defender Kyle Looft said Tuesday. “But now we just kind of expect it. We expect things to change. We never know what we’re getting into. That’s kind of the mindset now: be ready for everything and these times have prepared us for that.

“At the beginning of the year it might have thrown us off, but I think now we’re just so used to battling that and I think every team is. It’s just kind of second nature now.”

The Beavers might have struggled some at the start of the season — almost every program seemed a little rattled by the pandemic — but they’re now playing their best hockey of the season, coming off a sweep of then-No. 5 Bowling Green. They held one of the nation’s highest-ranking offenses to just two goals on the weekend, beating the Falcons 2-1 and 3-1.

“ We haven’t played games on some weekends, but we’ve fortunately been able to keep practicing and being together as a team,” Looft said of BSU’s greater consistency at this point in the season. “Our coaching staff has done a great job making us a better team, whether it’s individually as player or as a team buying into a system. We’re more comfortable in our systems and comfortable on the ice together. All that helps.”

Serratore said both teams were able to elevate their game in this series, and noted that all four times the Falcons and Beavers played, the games were incredibly tight. The teams played Jan. 7-8 in Ohio and split. The Falcons won the opener 2-1 before the Beavers took the second game 4-3 in overtime.

“We just had a little puck luck and we were fortunate. That’s college hockey,” Serratore said. “We played Bowling Green four times, we could be 0-4. We could be 4-0…. We happen to be 3-1. I mean, we scored with 40 seconds to go Friday night, Zach Drischoll makes two huge saves with five minutes to go. It very easily could have gone the other way. Once in a while, we’re on the right side of those things.”

Looft was behind another big play in the series, when he dove in front of an empty net late in the third period of Friday night’s game to keep out Evan Dougherty’s wraparound attempt and keep the score 2-1. The Beavers eventually scored an empty-netter to seal the game.

“Last weekend we felt like we played a heavy game,” said Looft, who notched two assists in the series. “When you’re trying to score goals it’s hard to score when teams play a heavy game. I think we managed the puck real well too. Instead of trying to make pretty plays, when we needed to we got the puck out of the zone we did, and got the puck into their zone and made them defend.”

The Beavers have seen a lot of the Falcons this year, and they’ve also seen a ton of their next opponents, Minnesota State. It’s not as if either team has any trouble getting up to play against one their instate rivals, but Serratore was asked if it was frustrating to have to replace a conference series with a nonconference game.

“Would we rather be playing Lake Superior State this weekend? Absolutely, because we want to get our conference games in. But if we can’t, this is the best option.”

The Mavericks had their own series against Alabama Huntsville postponed, so the timing worked out for the teams to meet for a game in Bemidji. MSU is 9-1-1, with their only blemishes a loss against Michigan Tech and a shootout win against the Beavers, both of which occurred before the holiday break.

It remains to be seen if and when the rest of BSU’s conference games will be rescheduled, but it’s something Serratore said college hockey needs to anticipate.

“We need to have a plan,” Serratore said. We have some ideas, but what we need to plan for is more pauses. This wasn’t the first, and it’s not going to be the last. And that’s every league. That’s the one thing we all have to make sure we’re diligent with.”

Tech streak continues at expense of NMU skid

Michigan Tech won its seventh game in a row over the weekend, and it came at the expense of rivals Northern Michigan.

Both the Huskies and the Wildcats were scheduled to play different teams (Lake Superior and Alabama Huntsville, respectively) but those series were cancelled. Instead the teams decided to do another home-and-home (they’ve already done one this season and are set to have at least another, if all goes to plan).

The Huskies (8-3-1) won 2-0 on Saturday night and 3-1 on Monday. It was Tech’s sixth-straight victory over the Wildcats, a streak that dates back to the 2019-20 season.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row. They scored just one goal on the weekend despite getting 65 shots on net in the series.

“When you get 65 shots on net and only score one goal… you’ve gotta find a way to get through it,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said after Monday’s game. “Nobody is gonna feel sorry for you, but it’s frustrating when you play well…. It sounds crazy, but we’re playing good hockey. And the worm’s gotta turn eventually. We have to start generating some offense. But it’s tough when you can’t get to two.”

NMU (2-10-0) is scheduled to host Ferris State this weekend, while Tech travels to Bowling Green.