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Goaltending, defense powers strong start for Bemidji State

Bemidji State University sophomore Adam Brady (27) passes the puck in last Friday's game against Minnesota State at the Sanford Center. Jillian Gandsey/ Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn.-- There are few teams in NCAA Division I men’s hockey that have been as stingy as Bemidji State through the first month of the 2018-19 season.

The Beavers return to the Sanford Center this weekend after a five-game road swing that saw them go 3-1-1, including wins in three of their first four Western Collegiate Hockey Association contests. Wins over Northern Michigan, and most recently Alaska Anchorage, have given BSU nine points to put them in first place early in the WCHA season.

The team’s goaltending and defense have a lot to do with its 4-1-1 start.

Goalies Hank Johnson and Zach Driscoll rank first (.973) and second (.963), respectively, in the nation in save percentage, as well as first (0.67) and third (0.97) in goals against average.

“They’ve given it their all for us and given us a chance to win,” said forward Adam Brady. “... It’s exciting to see that battle going on (between the goalies) because it’s super competitive, even off the ice, in the gym, in practice. It’s everywhere. I think it kind of amps up everyone’s intensity around the rink.”

As a team, the Beavers are giving up just 1.17 goals per game, the second-best mark in the country.

“It helps having a very experienced defensive corps,” said head coach Tom Serratore. “... They’re pretty savvy. So far, we’ve really relied on those guys to kind of get us through that first six games.”

As good as the Beavers have been defensively, they’re hoping to get more production out of the offense, which is averaging 1.67 goals per game.

“We need to pick it up offensively. We know that,” Serratore said. “Offense is very difficult. It comes in spurts. But right now I think early in the year with a young forward group, our defensive corps has really played the way they’re supposed to play.”

The power play began to see more success, coming through for a goal in each of the wins over UAA after entering the weekend with just one goal in four games.

“Special teams is always a work in progress,” Serratore said. “The biggest thing is it was a step in the right direction as far as just getting some confidence on the power play.”

Hockey East opponent comes to town

Merrimack, the Beavers’ opponent this week, will become the first Hockey East team to play at the Sanford Center in the building’s nine seasons. The Warriors (3-6-0, 2-3-0 Hockey East) are also the most recent Hockey East school to visit Bemidji, sweeping BSU at the John S. Glas Fieldhouse in the 2007-08 season.

“They’ve got a great new coach in Scott Borek,” said Serratore, while noting they’ve beaten Boston University and Boston College. “... They’re going to be very difficult to play against. Other than that, we don’t know a lot about them.”

The programs have met on six prior occasions with the first coming in the 1983-84 NCAA Division II Finals. BSU swept Merrimack in two games in Bemidji to claim the national title. The Warriors hosted a series split in 2003-04 in North Andover, Mass., their first meeting as Division I members.

Merrimack is the first Hockey East school BSU has faced since playing Massachusetts and New Hampshire in a holiday tournament at Dartmouth during the 2012-13 season.

Freshman trio provide spark

Another member of Bemidji State rookie class scored his first collegiate goal last Saturday.

Freshman Alex Ierullo was on the receiving end of a pass from two other first-year Beavers, scoring the team’s final goal in a 3-1 win at Alaska Anchorage.

“If you watched the video I looked straight up to the sky,” Ierullo said of his reaction after the goal. “It felt pretty good. I think I could’ve had a couple more. I think (Nick) Cardelli and (Ross) Armour did a great job throughout the night in trying to find me, and finally I got one.”

The play resulted in first career points being recorded by the three freshman forwards. The group had played well together on the fourth line all night.

“We provide a lot of energy,” said Ierullo, a Woodbridge, Ontario, native. “Maybe we’re not going in a couple of shifts, and the guys look to us to provide a little bit of a jump. We’re young guys, we want to play, we want to stay in the lineup. So I think we provide that.”

While Armour and Cardelli have five played in five and six games, respectively, Ierullo has only appeared in two of BSU’s six games. But perhaps the trio’s production Saturday will change that.

“It’s been quite a process. I’m still working on it,” Ierullo said of his adjustment to the college game. “That’s a little bit tough, but I think the more opportunities I get (and) the more chances I get, I think I’ll feel more comfortable as it goes on.”

IF YOU GO

Who: BSU vs. Merrimack

Where: Sanford Center

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Radio: Beaver Radio Network/103.7 FM

Web: FloHockey.tv

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