BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State men’s hockey team has won five of its first eight games, but it has yet to face an opponent like St. Cloud State.
The Huskies (9-1-0, 4-0-0-0 NCHC), ranked No. 2 in this week’s USCHO.com poll, are fresh off a sweep of then-No. 5 Denver. SCSU won by identical scores of 4-3 in the top-five matchup in St. Cloud last weekend.
After earning the top overall seed to last spring’s NCAA Tournament, St. Cloud State’s hot start should come as no surprise.
“I think they’re the most talented team in the country,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “I told our team that yesterday.
“Travis Winter, my assistant coach, probably said it best this morning when we were watching video. They’re strong in every area.”
Five Huskies share the team lead in points with 12, including forwards Patrick Newell, Nolan Walker, Ryan Poehling and Robby Jackson, and defenseman Jack Ahcan. Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt trails them with 10 points, and along with Jackson, was selected preseason All-NCHC.
“It makes it tough on the opponents because you can’t key-in on anybody,” said Serratore of their balanced attack.
The Beavers (5-2-1, 3-1-0-0 WCHA) experienced an up-and-down non-conference series against Merrimack last weekend. After scoring a season-high eight goals in Friday’s 8-3 win, the offense failed to find the back of the net in a 1-0 loss Saturday.
That wasn’t due to a lack of effort.
BSU posted 13 shots on nine power-play attempts. Luck just wasn’t on the Beavers’ side.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with our power play going 0-for-9,” Serratore said. “... Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t click. Should we be concerned about it? Maybe a little bit, but I don’t want to overthink it either. We had some really good looks.”
This series in St. Cloud -- the Beavers’ third in four weeks on Olympic-sized ice -- could be a good measuring stick for Bemidji State.
“We’re playing them on the big ice, so it’s going to be challenging,” Serratore said. “But it’s going to be fun, too. I’m curious to see where we’re at right now eight games into it.”
No. 2 defense vs. No. 2 offense
This weekend’s series features a clash between two of the nation’s top defensive and offensive units. Between them, the Beavers and Huskies boast the second-ranked units in team defense and team offense, respectively.
BSU has held opponents to 1.38 goals per game, allowing 18 goals in eight games, behind only Bowling Green (1.36). Meanwhile, SCSU has pocketed 42 goals in 10 games, which ties them for the second-best mark -- along with Harvard and Princeton -- at 4.20 goals per game. Penn State (5.78 goals per game) is the only offense in the country that’s been more productive.
SCSU also ranks in the top five defensively by allowing just 1.80 goals per game (fourth nationally), while BSU is averaging 2.25 goals per game on offense (45th).
Intrastate rivalry renewed
St. Cloud State is one of Bemidji State’s oldest rivals. In a rivalry that dates back to 1948, the Beavers hold a slim advantage in the all-time series at 46-45-5.
This weekend is the first meeting between the programs in two years. The Huskies defeated BSU, 2-1, in the semifinals of the final North Star College Cup on Jan. 27, 2017 at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Beavers hosted the most recent series between the former WCHA foes, splitting games played Nov. 28-29, 2014 at the Sanford Center. In Bemidji State’s most recent visit to St. Cloud, the Beavers fell 3-2 and tied 2-2 in a season-opening series, Oct. 11-12, 2013.
At a glance
Who: BSU vs. St. Cloud State
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, St. Cloud
When: 7:07 p.m. tonight; 6:07 p.m. Saturday
Radio: Beaver Radio Network/103.7 FM