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Bemidji State takes on No. 1 Miami in men's hockey

Ben Kinne and the Bemidji State men's hockey team face No. 1 ranked Miami Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in the rematch of last season's Frozen Four national championship semifinal. BSU faces Ohio State Saturday. (Eric Stromgren/Bemidji Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI -- Two weeks ago, Bemidji men's hockey head coach Tom Serratore said the eyes of the hockey community across the state were on the Beavers as they faced the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Mariucci Arena.

This weekend, the eyes of college hockey community across the nation will be on Bemidji State.

The Subway Holiday Classic hosted by the University of North Dakota will bring together the nation's first (Miami), fourth (North Dakota) and sixth (BSU) ranked teams, along with 2009 NCAA Tournament participant Ohio State Friday and Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The Beavers will face Miami at 4:07 p.m. Friday in a rematch of the 2009 Frozen Four national semifinal.

Saturday the Beavers will take on Ohio State at 4:07 p.m.

"Who would have thought when (UND head coach) Dave Hakstol was putting this deal together two years ago that you'd have three of the top six ranked teams in the country, plus Ohio State who has an abundance of talent?" said Serratore. "Beyond that, that you'd have BSU and Miami playing in a rematch game of the 2009 Frozen Four? This is going to be a great weekend for college hockey fans."

The Beavers (10-1-1, 6-0-0 CHA) are coming of a series sweep at The Glas over Alabama-Huntsville with 6-1 and 6-3 victories.

The big sweep propelled the Beavers to No. 6 in the national polls.

"The scores weren't indicative of the games," Serratore reported. "Both games were very difficult; Huntsville always plays us tough. The big difference was our big time players made some big time plays.

"The shots and the scoring chances were pretty even. We were just fortunate to finish on some of ours."

The Beavers have now scored six goals in each of their last three games, upping their average to 4.08 per game, good for fourth in the nation. The Beavers have scored 49 goals thus far in 12 games.

"Scoring like that certainly takes the pressure off of the defense," Serratore reported. "But I don't think we'll continue to score like that the rest of the season.

"Against UAH we were sloppy overall defensively and on the penalty kill. We need to get better in both areas. Goal scoring is very difficult in college hockey. When we play against teams the caliber of Miami and Ohio State we'll have to be very good on the penalty kill and in front of the net. We worked hard on both those area this week."

Seeing how the Beavers have gotten off to such a strong start, it's easy for the players to get a little complacent, Serratore continued.

"It's human nature to start taking some short cuts after this kind of start," he said. "We can't do that - if we do, we could very well get blindsided."

Still, Serrate is pleased the team is playing with a lot of confidence.

"We've been getting solid goaltending and, no question, the guys are feeling good about themselves.

"One of the best things is the maturity level of the team is high. We're 10-1-1, but I think we all realize we've dodged a few bullets and things very easily could have gone the other way a number of times. We've been on the other side, too, and not all that long ago."

In watching tape of Miami this season and talking with other coaches, Serratore reported the general consensus is Miami has a team that has no deficiencies.

"From last year we know that Miami is strong, fast and well-coached," Serratore said. "They had a very young team last year and are still young with a lot of talent. There's a reason they're ranked No. 1

"This is going to be a great challenge - we haven't seen a team like them this year. Where we're sitting now this game will be a good indication of where we're at as a team."

The Redhawks (9-1-4, 6-1-3 CCHA) have parlayed their appearance in the national championship game last season into a strong start this year. Miami is currently riding an eight-game unbeaten streak - the longest in the country.

Miami has shown it knows how to win the close ones as nine of their 13 games have ended in a tie or a one-goal differential. Six of the games have gone to overtime. Their lone loss came against Michigan State 3-2 in overtime.

Senior Jarod Palmer and junior Andy Miele are tied for the team lead in goals with five. Miele leads the team in points with 15.

The hallmark of the Redhawks has been team defense as Miami stands second in the country, behind only Bemidji State, in goals allowed - averaging 1.71 per game. BSU is at a nation's best 1.67.

Cody Reichard has taken over as Miami's top goaltender, featuring a record of 8-0-2 with a 1.45 goals against average and .936 save percentage.

The Beavers counter with Dan Bakala who sits 7-1-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average.

"Offensively, Miami has very good balance," Serratore said. "As opposed to many teams who are a couple players deep, they are a couple lines deep. They have high end defensemen, too. No doubt, they will get their chances. We have to be ready - no matter who's on the ice."

Saturday will mark the first ever meeting between Bemidji State and Ohio State.

Serratore reported the word is that OSU (5-8-1, 4-5-1 CCHA) may have the most talented team overall in the CCHA. "They have a ton of talent," he said. "I'm very familiar with several of their players."

The Buckeyes average 2.50 goals per game, while allowing 3.07. "They've has some rough spots and given up some goals the last few weeks," Serratore said. "But when they pout togther 60 minutes they are extremely difficult to play against."

Sophomore forward Zac Dalpe leads the team with eight goals and 16 points. Dalpe and junior forward Peter Boyd are tied for the team lead with eight assists each.

In goal, junior Dustin Carlson (1-6-0) and sophomore Cal Heeter have rotated starts. Carlson has a 2.77 goals agaoinst average and .913 save percentage. Heeter is 4-2-1 with a 3.05 goals against and .903 save percentage.

"Over a weekend, playing two teams like this is a huge test for us," Serratore reported. "Before the season I looked at the schedule and thought, 'holy-moly this is going to be a brutal weekend of playing high end teams.'

"Now, it's very exciting to go up against these types of teams. We're excited for the weekend."