For the past seven years, Minnesota State has been the model program in the WCHA, capturing four division titles and earning five NCAA bids; now an apparent adaptation of that model has helped Bemidji State surprise in the conference.
The No. 3-ranked Minnesota State Mavericks have grown into a national powerhouse and have been the conference leader, until the Beavers’ surge this season. While the Beavers’ 10-7-3 overall record doesn’t quite match up to the 18-3-1 Mavericks, coach Tom Serratore’s team has buckled down in conference play with a 10-3-1 record and a current second-place standing.
Serratore is currently in his 19th season with the Beavers and holds a 307-294-87 overall record with the program, evidence of the ups and downs he has seen behind the bench.
In 2001, Serratore took over the Beavers who were entering their third year of Division I play; four seasons later they were in the national tournament. He followed it up with three more bids over the next five seasons before the losses began to outweigh the wins.
But Serratore and the program held strong and rode out fluctuating seasons. Now, that headstrong strategy is paying off as the Beavers sit within striking distance of the Mavericks through the New Year.
The Beavers’ remaining schedule is certain to make for excitement as they continue to fight for the top spot. While four games are set against the two last-place teams in the WCHA, the Beavers are also set to play six games against others within their own striking distance.
As if the road ahead isn’t tough enough, the Beavers will face the Mavericks four more times this season, which puts a whopping 12 points on the table for the WCHA’s current top two teams.
But the new year and tough remaining schedule give the Beavers an excellent chance to show just how far they have come over the past several seasons. Additionally, they will get a chance to continue to fine-tune their apparent modeling of Minnesota State against the very teams the Mavericks have regularly bested during their reign in the WCHA.
The Mavericks are built on a deep offense, impeccable goaltending, and a stingy defense. The Beavers hold a similarly deep forward group, comparable goaltending, as well as steady defensive play. MSU leads the WCHA in goals for (77) and goals against (31). BSU is fourth in goals for (65) and second in goals against (42), albeit in two fewer games played.
On a national scale, the Mavericks have been a force and currently have the second-best power play (29.1 percent conversion rate) and second-best penalty kill (93.8 percent kill rate).
The Beavers haven’t had the same success with the man advantage; despite a fair 20.3 percent conversion rate, they sit at 20th in the NCAA. But as the old adage goes, “defense wins championships,” and nothing says stellar defense like killing penalties. In fact, the Beavers’ 94.8 percent kill rate is No. 1 in the NCAA.
Moreover, the Serratore’s team is among the most disciplined in the NCAA, averaging the third-fewest penalty minutes per-game (7.9 PIM). Discipline often couples itself with other qualities, including intelligence and patience.
The Beavers will need to continue to display those qualities and play smart, patient hockey one game at a time to remain within striking distance of the Mavericks and fight for an at-large bid should the Mavericks once again steal the conference.
The Beavers’ next matchup has them visiting 1-16-3 Alabama Huntsville, where six significant points are on the line. Catch the Thursday-Friday series live, right here on FloHockey.
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