From: Bemidji Pioneer
by Eric Stromgren
Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala was on the receiving end of all three losses against Denver last season.
The last loss ended Bemidji State’s postseason run at the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul and Bakala is expecting a ‘tough series’ in the rematch is this weekend at the Sanford Center (Friday 6:30 PM MT, Saturday 6 PM MT).
“In those tournament games they were the team to beat us out and we really want these guys,” Bakala said.
The Beavers bring a three-game unbeaten streak into the weekend, which ends the first half of Bemidji State’s WCHA schedule.
No. 13-ranked Denver comes to Bemidji for the first time in program history. The Pioneers, a team with speed up front and size on the blue line, are led in scoring by four NHL draft picks. Sophomore Jason Zucker has a team-high eight goals and 20 points. Drew Shore has 19 points, Beau Bennett has 13 points and Nick Shore has 13 points.
BSU head coach Tom Serratore said this week he would not be surprised to see the Pioneers play at the Frozen Four in the spring.
“Before we started the season they were the preseason pick to win the WCHA in my eyes,” Serratore said. “Obviously Minnesota and UMD are running away with things right now but talent-wise, they might have the most talent in the league.”
The WCHA standings as the league nears the season’s mid-point add intrigue to this weekend’s matchup. Only two points separate the fourth-place tie between Colorado College and North Dakota at 12 points, and Bemidji State in ninth place at 10 points. Denver sits in the middle of the group in a sixth place tie with Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State at 11 points.
“We’re still fighting to scrap our way into the top half of the standings,” Bakala said. “It’s pretty clustered in the middle there but we’re just working our way through.”
The Beavers are unbeaten in the last three games following an inconsistent stretch of seven games that included five losses.
The Beavers stopped that stretch with a 1-0 win against North Dakota on Nov. 20 and returned from a week off to take three points from St. Cloud State on the road last weekend. BSU tied SCSU 6-6 Friday after rallying from a pair of two-goal deficits and won 3-1 Saturday by stopping all five power plays it faced.
“I don’t know if we necessarily have played great hockey, but we’ve had some success and we’ve found ways to win,” Serratore said. “The biggest thing over the last couple games is the guts and character our guys showed.”
Bakala has started the last six games and carries a .906 save percentage into the series. He was pulled from last Friday’s shootout in the first period after allowing three straight goals and responded with 33 saves to win the following game.
“Bemidji State has adjusted without former star and current Philadelphia Flyer Matt Read and is playing really well,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “Jordan George and Brad Hunt are two of the better players in the WCHA and the Beavers’ goaltending was outstanding last Saturday at St. Cloud State. It should be a great two-game series.”