UNO’s aim: turn tables on Bemidji

Ryan Walters, left, says UNO has to make short passes and skate through Bemidji State’s zone trap. “They’re a hard-working team,” he said of the Beavers. “Anybody can beat anybody, especially in the WCHA. It just takes a couple of bounces here and a couple of bounces there.”

All things physical and philosophical, strategic and sublime, can’t entirely describe Bemidji State’s spell on the UNO hockey program.

“It’s obviously been frustrating in the past, but we’ve got to just take it like another game,” Mavericks captain Brent Gwidt said. “It’s going to be another road game, second half of the season, it’s as important as any. We can’t go in there hoping, we’ve got to go in there wanting wins — bad.”

Nos. 13 and 14 UNO, once again, will try to reverse a troubling trend against the Beavers.

Despite residing near the bottom of the WCHA standings for most of the past three seasons, Bemidji State has nonetheless gone 7-1-4 against the Mavs.

Now UNO (13-9-2 overall, 9-5-2 WCHA) goes into the Sanford Center for games Friday at 7:37 p.m. and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. in a tie for third place in the league and staring down solid NCAA tournament possibilities.

The Beavers (5-12-5 overall, 4-8-4 and tied for 10th in the WCHA) obviously have the Mavs right where they want them.

“They’ve had our number,” said forward Ryan Walters, UNO’s Hobey Baker Award contender. “We’re a run-and-gun team and sometimes we get caught in the zone and they get a lot of odd-man rushes.”

Bemidji State’s game plan is simple, effective and frustrating.

Neutral zone trap. Get pucks off the glass and out of the defensive zone quickly. Take advantage of turnovers. Rely on solid goaltending.

When the teams met in late October in Omaha, UNO squandered a two-goal lead and settled for a 3-3 tie in the opener, then came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie before losing 3-2 the following night.

“We’ve got to make sure we make them play more our game than we play theirs,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “We still want to generate our offense. We can’t change a whole lot just because we’re playing Bemidji.”

To beat the trap, “It’s hard to get around,” Walters said. “We’ve got to make short passes and skate through it.”

And a more aggressive forecheck aims to neutralize the Beavers’ ability to wrap the puck off the glass.

“We’ve been bearing down on some systems we’re putting in place for this weekend, trying to take away the walls because they like to do that on the breakout,” Walters said. “Hopefully that will allow us to establish the forecheck for a longer period of time and get more chances.”

Numbers, of course, indicate UNO should be considered a heavy favorite to emerge from the series with at least two points, if not a sweep of all four.

The Mavs are third in the country in scoring (3.7 goals per game), sixth in scoring margin (plus-0.9), 11th in shots on goal per game (32.6) and are tied for ninth in shots on goal margin (plus-6.6). Of 59 teams, Bemidji State ranks 52nd, 51st, 56th and 53rd in those categories.

At 0-4-2, the Beavers’ six-game winless streak is their longest since the 2008-09 season. They’ve been shut out four times, the most in school history. They are 1-10-1 when an opponent scores three goals (with the tie against UNO, of course). They are 0-7-3 on Fridays. And they’ve scored only eight third-period goals in 16 league games.

But UNO is expecting a challenge.

Because as bad as the numbers always look for the Beavers, eyeing them on the ice reveals something entirely different.

“Stats are stats,” Walters said. “They’re a hard-working team. Anybody can beat anybody, especially in the WCHA. It just takes a couple of bounces here and a couple of bounces there.”

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