By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
After the 3-2 loss to Northern Michigan Saturday night, Matt White and Zahn Raubenheimer trudged into the press room disappointed. The Wildcats were a ranked opponent, but both players said the team expects to complete sweeps playing in their own building.
It hurt but it’s doubtful the pain lasted any longer than a few hours. Perhaps the opponent on the horizon provided enough motivation to refocus.
In 10 matchups over the last two seasons, UNO is just 1-6-3 against conference nemesis Bemidji State. The Beavers come to Omaha for a WCHA series Friday and Saturday at CenturyLink Center Omaha.
“Monday were gonna come ready for those guys,” White said. “That’s what we’re gonna play like. It’s gonna be a tough, tough week.”
Northern Michigan and UNO used to play all the time before the Mavs dropped their CCHA membership for the WCHA. After splitting the series last weekend in Omaha, the all-time series between the two teams remains tied 16-16-2.
At times the play on the ice was physical, but overall the series lacked the feeling that the two teams just don’t like each other. The players simply don’t have the experience to harbor much ill will
That won’t be the case this weekend, for the Mavs.
“I feel like we go week by week and it’s gonna start Monday,” Raubenheimer said. “We know their style of game, they know our style of game. We’re just gonna work Monday, Tuesday and go from there.”
The Bemidji State style of game is one that has been both suffocating and frustrating for UNO. In the series, the Mavs average 39 shots on the Beaver net but have scored just 2.2 goals per game.
The UNO power play is a dismal 6-for-48 (12.5 percent), and the Mavs have never beaten Bemidji State in Omaha.
Both schools joined the WCHA in 2010, but it was Bemidji State that provided the rude welcome. After starting the season 9-2-1 the Beavers appeared as just a blip on the radar.
Two months into the season UNO had swept at Minnesota, split at Michigan and earned their way into the top 10. The Mavs then traveled to Bemidji and scored only one goal in a 3-0, 3-1 sweep of the series.
Revenge was on the minds of UNO players five weeks later, but the best the Mavs could do was force a 2-2 tie on Friday then lose a 3-2 game in overtime on Saturday. As fate would have it, UNO won at Minnesota Duluth in the final game of the season to capture third place.
Third place meant a first round WCHA playoff series with none other than Bemidji State. The Beavers swept in Omaha 4-2, 3-2 and denied the Mavs a trip to St. Paul for the Final Five.
Things didn’t get much better last season. It looked like UNO had turned the tables when the Mavs went 1-0-1 in a November series at Bemidji.
But a tie was the best UNO could salvage in a February series at CenturyLink.
“We know what they did to us the last couple years and we let the younger guys know that,” White said. “We’re gonna be ready, it’s gonna be playoff hockey for us.”
Some of Bemidji State’s mastery of UNO could be attributed to goaltender Dan Bakala. Bakala was in net for all 10 matchups, allowing just a 2.20 goals against average and amassing a .943 save percentage.
His numbers against the Mavs are significantly better than his career averages. In 90 games, Bakala allowed 2.42 goals per game and stopped pucks at a .908 percentage.
“Bemidji’s a team that’s always tough,” Coach Dean Blais said. “It doesn’t matter how many shots we get at times, they’ve had our number. I think we kind of turned the tables a little bit last year. But certainly in the past it was Bakala playing so well and being the difference in the game.”
Thankfully for UNO, Bakala is no longer on the roster. The goaltender graduated last year and has moved onto a professional career with the unaffiliated Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.
In 2012, sophomore Andrew Walsh has been between the pipes for Bemidji State. In two games, Walsh is 1-1 with 0.51 goals against average and .984 save percentage.