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Bemidji State, Alabama Huntsville renew long-standing rivalry

Bemidji State's Justin Baudry (29) attempts to score on a breakaway during a game against Alabama-Huntsville last season. (Jillian Gandsey | Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A longtime rival will pay the Bemidji State men’s hockey team a visit for the first time this season.

The Beavers will renew their rivalry with Alabama Huntsville for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at the Sanford Center this weekend, Dec. 7-8.

Back in the 1990s, the programs battled it out for supremacy in NCAA Division II.

Together they claimed every national championship during a six-season stretch from 1993-98, with BSU winning four of those titles. The Beavers and Chargers met four times in the national finals during that period with the schools winning two crowns apiece.

The programs made simultaneous jumps to NCAA Division I at the turn of the century, and continued to battle at the top of the College Hockey America (CHA) standings each winter for the next decade.

That history still makes for a heated rivalry off the ice with the schools’ fans. But 20 years after their final Division II finals clash, there may not be much bad blood remaining between Bemidji State and Alabama Huntsville, at least on the ice.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a big rivalry with Huntsville,” said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. “We don’t talk about the old days, even though we were in the same league in the CHA, because their kids don’t know about it. Our guys don’t know about it. We really don’t talk about it.

“... We don’t talk about those types of things. We just talk about the team that we’re playing, what we need to do, their strengths, how we counter that.”

Justin Baudry mostly echoed Serratore’s comments, though the Beaver senior defenseman said there might be some lingering chippiness anytime BSU and UAH clash.

“You try to approach every weekend with that same mentality, that competitive edge, but especially when you’re playing these guys,” Baudry said. “The game might be a bit more chippy in that sort of sense. We’re excited for the challenge and I’m sure they are as well.”

A look at Alabama Huntsville

Alabama Huntsville is not the same team it was 20 years ago, or even a decade ago.

The Chargers, coming off a pair of 6-2, 2-1 losses to Bowling Green, travel north with a 1-13 overall record and a 1-7 mark against WCHA opponents.

Goal scoring in particular has been difficult for UAH. The Chargers have scored just 16 goals in 14 games, which amounts to 1.14 goals per game and ranked them last in the country.

The Beavers have also had their struggles with finding the back of the net consistently.

“Huntsville plays with really good pace. They’re not a bad team, they’re just struggling trying to find the net,” Serratore said. “... And we’ve been inconsistent, too, trying to find the net. There’s nights we’re scoring, getting our three (goals) or three-plus, and then there’s nights we’re not.”

Freshman Jack Jeffers leads the Chargers with four goals, and is one of three players with a team-high five points.

Sophomore goalie Mark Sinclair has also been solid in net, posting a .919 save percentage, the fifth-best mark in the league.

Beavers begin four-game homestand

This weekend marks the start of a four-game homestand for Bemidji State.

Along with next weekend’s series against Alaska Anchorage, the four contests will be the final opportunity for the Beavers to collect WCHA points before New Year’s.

BSU is currently tied for sixth place with Lake Superior State at 13 points apiece, seven points ahead of eighth-place Ferris State and one point behind fifth-place Alaska.

“You’ve got to make some hay at home,” Serratore said. “You’ve got to get it done at home. But again, you can’t look ahead, too. It’s not going to be easy…. I’ve been in this game long enough to realize there’s no easy Ws.”