BEMIDJI—The Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Minnesota rivals will clash in an early-season heavyweight matchup at the Sanford Center this weekend when No. 10 Minnesota State comes to town to take on Bemidji State.
"I think this is a huge test for us," junior defenseman Justin Baudry said. "We're aware of how well they're doing to start the season here and we're pumped for the challenge that's gonna come this weekend."
The Mavericks (6-3-0, 4-2-0-0 WCHA) turned heads in October with a road sweep of Boston University. MSU, the preseason favorite to win the league, comes to Bemidji after splitting a road series with Northern Michigan last weekend.
Senior forwards CJ Suess (4g-7a) and Zeb Knutson (5g-6a) provide veteran leadership at the top and are among the league's scoring leaders with 11 points each in a tie for second.
However, you have to go a little younger to find arguably the Mavs' two best players—preseason WCHA Co-Players of the Year Daniel Brickley and Marc Michaelis.
Brickley, a junior defenseman, is widely considered to be the top undrafted free agent in the NCAA and has plenty of NHL suitors lined up for his services.
Michaelis, meanwhile, was WCHA Rookie of the Year last season after finishing as the league's top scorer. The sophomore has not come out of the gates quite as strong as his freshman campaign would lead you to believe, but Michaelis has still managed a respectable six points (2g-4a).
The Beavers (4-2-2, 2-1-1-1 WCHA) will have a battle on two fronts with the Mavericks.
"It's just gonna be one of those typical Bemidji State/Minnesota State games," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "They're a team that you have to playing your best hockey against them because (it's) very difficult to generate offense. And they play such a strong offensive game, you better not be playing on your heels. You better be playing on your toes."
As the only Minnesota teams in the conference, there's also a regional rivalry in play between the schools.
"It's a natural rivalry," Serratore said. "When you're in a league that has two Minnesota schools, that's your big rival.... It's one of those series that I think the fans and the players really look forward to it."
Recent history has treated the teams favorably as the two have won at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup in each of the last three seasons.
The Beavers have a 52-49-14 edge in 115 meetings with MSU, the second-most games against any opponent in program history. BSU is unbeaten in four of its last five meetings (3-1-1) with the Mavs.
"I think we have a good rivalry," Baudry said. "Just for myself the last two years being here every time we've played them it's really heated. I think it gets super competitive out there."
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. for both games today and Saturday, Nov. 11.
Power play coming through for BSU
The Sanford Center may want to consider expanding to an Olympic-sized surface after the performance the power-play units put on last weekend in Alaska. The Beavers scored two goals on the man advantage in each game as they split the series with 4-3 overtime loss and a 3-2 win.
"We took advantage of that bigger ice sheet," Baudry said. "Having four goals on special teams is always huge on the weekend, not only our first unit, but also our second unit as well."
"It was a big ice surface and we're a fast team so we definitely used the ice to our advantage," said senior forward Gerry Fitzgerald, who had four points (1g-3a) on the weekend, collecting three on the power play.
Baudry has had success in generating offense from the back line. The blueliner recorded a goal in each game last weekend to bring him up to three goals, and five points, on the season.
"I don't think it's anything special," Baudry said. "Just jumping up into plays when you have the opportunity and then just trying to get as many pucks on net."