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Bemidji State hosts Anchorage in midst of crucial home stretch

BEMIDJI, Minn.—It has been a frustrating run of results for the Bemidji State men's hockey team.

The Beavers have tied in three straight games, including in both of last weekend's contests with Northern Michigan. What hurts even more is that each ended with the Wildcats taking the extra league point.

In the prior series, BSU gave up late goals to Bowling Green that resulted in a late regulation loss and a tie.

"Obviously we would like to have more points over the last four games," BSU assistant coach Travis Winter said. "But when you really look into it, you really want to focus on how your team's playing, and I think the last four games we've been as good away from the puck as we have all season."

Though neither result last weekend was a loss, it may have felt that way due to the points BSU left on the table.

"Obviously we try to win every game in regulation and that's our goal every night," said sophomore forward Hampus Sjödahl. "And then even if it doesn't count as a win, it feels a lot better going home after the game if you win in overtime or in a shootout, even though it does count as a tie."

What's even more confounding is how the Beavers boast the No. 3 penalty kill in the nation (90.6 percent) and the No. 10 power play (23.73 percent) and still sit at 5-6-5 overall and 2-4-4-2 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

"Normally when you're at No. 1 or 2 on the kill and No. 10 or 11 in the country on the power play, you usually have more wins," Winter said. "But it's just not going that way right now for us. We are playing better, like I said, defensively, and hopefully we can keep building on that."

The Beavers allowed only 26 goals through their first 16 games last season, but have allowed 47 during the same span this year. Scoring is up slightly—from 43 to 44 goals in the same timeframe—but the defensive play has not been up to last season's standard.

"We are scoring more goals this year than last year, which is a positive," Winter said, "but we've just got to tighten up a little bit more and keep plugging away on the defensive side of the game and hopefully those numbers will turn around for us."

Bemidji State will have a chance to end the season's first half on a high note with their home WCHA series against Alaska Anchorage this weekend, with both games slated for 7:07 p.m. The Seawolves (1-11-4, 1-6-3-3 WCHA) enter the final series before Christmas break dead last in the PairWise Rankings at No. 60. BSU is ranked No. 39.

Including this weekend, the Beavers will play their next four games at the Sanford Center before ending the season with only five home dates in their last 16 games. BSU sits eighth in the league with 12 points but with four games in hand on first-place Bowling Green (28 points).

These next two series could do a lot for the Beavers.

"It's a tight race," Winter said. "We do have a few games in hand but those are only good if you win 'em.... We've got our next four games in our conference at home and those are big, big points. It can hopefully take a little bit of heat off us in the second half of the season."

Sjödahl, Struthers share scoring debuts

The waiting was over Saturday for two Bemidji State players when it came to achieving a certain career milestone.

Carter Struthers and Hampus Sjödahl each scored their first career goals in the 4-4 tie with Northern Michigan last Saturday.

"It's been too long," said Struthers, a fifth-year senior defenseman. "It's been about five years honestly so I kind of had to second-guess it and make sure it really went in before I started (celebrating) or anything."

"It was a great feeling," Sjödahl said of his own accolade. "It's been a long time coming. I played around 40 games now and I finally got one so obviously that's a really good feeling."

Saturday was just the third game of the season for Struthers, who missed two seasons due to his recovery from hip surgery but returned for his redshirt junior year in 2016-17 and appeared in 29 games.

Sjödahl has played in all 16 games for the Beavers this year after making 25 appearances as a freshman, recording one assist in his debut season.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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