Beavers’ intense play challenges men’s hockey team

by Lou Raguse

When Bemidji State scored a breakaway goal in the last second of the first period Friday, many of the 9,907 in attendance at Mariucci Arena probably shrugged it off as a fluke. After all, the Gophers had outscored the Beavers 28-7 in their four previous meetings, and Minnesota had controlled the majority of that period.

But after the Beavers came out of the intermission down by only one, they clamped down on the Gophers for the next two periods and made everyone realize this was not the same Bemidji State team that used to get beat up in Division I hockey.

“It was exactly the type of game I expected it to be,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “There’s a reason they’ve been beating (top Division I teams) – they’re a good hockey team.”

Lucia cited Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore’s recruiting as one of the best in the nation, and this season Serratore has elevated his squad to the premier team in the College Hockey America conference.

Although Serratore’s team hung with No. 5 Minnesota for the entire game Friday, he wanted nothing to do with the phrase “moral victory.”

“I get angry at that, because you know what, we’re a good hockey team,” Serratore said. “We’re here to win hockey games, and we’ve got high expectations.”

Opening and closing

Bemidji State’s last-second firstperiod goal Friday wasn’t the first time the Gophers have given up a score with time running out. In the Jan. 30 game against Wisconsin, the Badgers scored in the last minute of the game to make the score 4-2.

It’s a trend Minnesota would like to end. In fact, Minnesota has allowed seven goals in the first minute of a period and nine in the last minute of a period this season.

“That has kind of been a thing for us all year,” forward Danny Irmen said. “Tonight it got us again.”

Fresh faces

With his team slightly banged up, the nonconference series against Bemidji State was a good opportunity for Lucia to rest the injured and give ice time to players who haven’t been in the lineup for a while.

Brett MacKinnon, Mike Vannelli and Joey Martin each played both games of the series. MacKinnon scored his first goal of the season Saturday, and had two assists over the weekend.

After the Gophers completed the sweep, Lucia said he was pleased with their performances.

“MacKinnon, Martin and Vannelli hadn’t played in a while, and they showed a little rust (Friday),” Lucia said. “I thought they would be better, and they were.”

Lucia also jumbled the lines on Saturday by swapping Tyler Hirsch’s and Andy Sertich’s spots and moving Barry Tallackson down to the fourth line.

As a result, Tallackson registered two assists, and linemates Jerrid Reinholz and MacKinnon each notched a goal and assist.

“Barry’s my roommate, and we talked about the switch,” MacKinnon said. “We said that he can’t think of it as moving down in the lineup – we just need to make things happen out there. It just shows how balanced and deep our team is.”

Lucia also decided to stick with Kellen Briggs as goaltender Saturday, rather than giving Justin Johnson the nod. The coach said that Briggs was the Gophers’ best player on the ice Friday, and – like with any other position – it wouldn’t make sense to sit out the best player.

“Right now, I’d rather give him Tuesday off than Saturday,” Lucia said. “It also showed the respect I had for Bemidji going into the game tonight.”

Injury news

After Saturday’s game, Lucia said Thomas Vanek and Peter Kennedy will be healthy enough to play this weekend against Minnesota-Duluth. Kennedy was nursing a bruised ankle, and Vanek sat out because of an undisclosed injury.

Lucia also said Grant Potulny will begin skating this week and his timetable for returning to the lineup will be pushed up slightly.

Potulny has been out since Jan. 24 with a shoulder injury.

“He’s still a ways away,” Lucia said. “But it’s a good sign that he’ll be skating and maybe take part in some of our practice (this) week.”