Bemidji State rides strong finish into playoffs, faces Michigan Tech
BEMIDJI, Minn.—The playoffs are upon us.
The Bemidji State men's hockey team will open the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs Friday night, March 2, at the Sanford Center with the first game of a best-of-three quarterfinal series against fifth-seeded Michigan Tech.
While the Beavers were unable to defend their MacNaughton Cup title as regular season champions, they will enter the playoffs as the No. 4 seed and with home ice for the first round.
"The atmosphere last year when we won the MacNaughton and had that home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs was huge, and you could kind of feel it in the city," said sophomore Zach Whitecloud. "You could definitely feel it in the locker room.... It's (going to) be fun. Especially this week getting to stay home. That's a big advantage."
BSU wrapped up its regular season last week with a hard-fought series at newly christened MacNaughton Cup winners and now-No. 3 Minnesota State. The Beavers (16-12-8, 13-9-6-4 WCHA) scored first in a tight 2-1 loss last Friday and took a 2-0 lead early in the third period of Saturday's game that eventually ended in a 2-2 tie with Leo Fitzgerald winning the shootout for BSU.
"I like that we finished strong," said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. "... Those were gutty performances and you want to see those types of gutty performances going into the playoffs."
"They were two electric games," Whitecloud said. "I think that really prepared us for the atmosphere that we're (going to) have here in the building and just the type of hockey that we need to play in order to have success. Especially in the playoffs. It's a whole different animal."
Those high-intensity games in Mankato will serve the Beavers well entering this weekend's matchup of the WCHA's fourth and fifth seeds.
"It's always the tightest (matchup), on paper that is," Serratore said, "and that's what we're expecting this weekend."
The lone regular-season meeting between the Beavers and Huskies (17-15-5, 12-11-5-2 WCHA) resulted in a series split three weeks ago on Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton, Mich. Jordan Heller scored twice as Bemidji State claimed a 4-2 victory in the first game before goalie Devin Kero posted 36 saves in a 5-1 MTU win the following day.
"I think it's (going to) be a real tight weekend," senior Kyle Bauman said. "... Last time when we were in Tech for Winter Carnival I think we had a good weekend against them. Friday we obviously played better and got the win, but yeah, it should be really fun."
"It's good that you played each other just a couple weeks ago because it's in fresh in your mind," Whitecloud added. "We had success Friday night and then not so much success on Saturday night so I think both teams kind of got the taste of what it takes to beat the other. For the fanbase, I think that's (going to) make for an exciting series."
Myles Fitzgerald will miss this weekend's playoff series due to an injury the senior forward sustained in Saturday's game at Minnesota State, Serratore said.
His brother, Gerry Fitzgerald, could return to the lineup this weekend, according to Serratore. The senior forward has not played since Jan. 19 at Ferris State.
BSU vs. MTU
• When: 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday; 5:07 p.m. Sunday (if needed)
• Where: Sanford Center
• Radio: Beaver Radio Network/103.7 FM.
• Records: BSU 16-12-8; MTU 17-15-5.