The Bemidji State men’s hockey team has played Alabama-Huntsville more times than any other team during Division I era – 60 to be exact.
The once familiar College Hockey America conference foes are feeling a bit like strangers now that Beavers are in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the Chargers are playing as an independent.
“We don’t know a lot about Huntsville. The bottom line is they are a very hard team to play against,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They have a lot to prove. These kids play very hard and it’s not an easy situation when you’re not in a conference. They have to get up for 34 games a year. I think they’d like nothing better to go on the road and win some games.”
The Chargers (1-17-1) wrap up a Minnesota road trip against the Beavers (7-9-2 overall, 5-7-2 WCHA) at the Sanford Center this weekend. Game times are 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Huntsville stayed in Bemidji this week after losing 4-2 and 9-1 at Minnesota State University, Mankato last week. The lone UAH win so far this season came Dec. 2 when the Chargers defeated Nebraska-Omaha 3-1 behind a 45 save performance from goalie Clarke Saunders in a game played at Bridgestone Arena, the home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
“They’ve struggled scoring this year but they’ve played well defensively all year,” Serratore said. “Throw that game aside last week against Mankato and they’ve played very well defensively.”
The Chargers hockey program was scheduled to be eliminated at the end of this hockey season, but the UAH administration changed its position last week due to a grass-roots fundraising effort by alumni and Huntsville community. The program is expected continue next season.
The Beavers are 3-1-1 in the last five games and ended the first half of the WCHA schedule last weekend against Denver at the Sanford Center. Denver rallied to win the series opener 3-2 on Friday and the Beavers won 2-1 on Saturday.
“We would have liked to get four points last weekend but we got the second game,” BSU senior forward Darcy Findlay said. “It’s very tight in the middle of the WCHA standings and we would have liked to have the extra points to jump up a spot, but we have a bright future in the second half of the season.”
The Beavers will finish the first half in eighth place or ninth place in the WCHA standings with 12 points pending the results of the Denver-St. Cloud State series this weekend. Only four points separate 10th place from fourth place heading into the weekend.
“I think we’ve done great,” BSU senior forward Drew Fisher said. “Obviously we didn’t start clicking until later in the semester. But I think we’re on the right track and we’ll be good for next semester too.”
Bemidji State’s special teams – the power play and penalty kill – have been important parts in the first half of the year. The Beavers currently hold the No. 1 penalty kill (86.7 percent) and No. 4 power play (22.7 percent) in WCHA play.
The Beavers shut down all eight Denver power plays last weekend and Jordan George’s power-play goal helped make the difference in Saturday’s win.
“Right now special teams is the strongest part of our team right now and a big reason why we are 3-1-1 in our last five games,” Serratore said. “If you can keep teams to zero power play goals on the weekend it is unbelievable. Last weekend we were very fortunate to do that. On power plays our guys are seeing it pretty good. The guys are seeing lanes and are very opportunistic.”
Bemidji State’s winning record in the last five games started with a 1-0 win against North Dakota back on Nov. 20 and was a key point in the first half for BSU.
“I think that Sunday victory against North Dakota really turned our season around so far,” Findlay said. “We’ve done well the last couple of weekends since then and a lot of people are playing their roles and chipping in the way it’s supposed to be done. That’s what is making us successful.”
Momentum can swing any weekend in college hockey, so the Beavers are taking a careful approach against Huntsville. Last year the Bemidji State won the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis only to go and split the road series the following weekend at Huntsville.
“They’re always real spirited games, it’s easy to get up for them, there’s a rivalry there and it’s competitive,” Fisher said.
The 4-3 Huntsville victory was one of four Charger wins last season.
“I always enjoyed playing Huntsville because there’s a little rivalry there and I always enjoyed going down to Huntsville too because I used to have family down there,” Findlay said. “The games are always tight and they are always interesting weekends.”
Drew Fisher interview
Bemidji State’s Drew Fisher talks about playing former rival Alabama-Huntsville, last week’s series against Denver and BSU’s success to end of the first half of the WCHA season. Bemidji Pioneer Video/Eric Stromgren
What I’m reading this week
Bemidji State vs. Alabama-Huntsville (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)
TV: Lakeland Public Television and regionally in Minnesota on the PBS Minnesota Channel. Also available on the Minnesota Channel in areas of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin where Minnesota Public Television stations are received. More information here.
Radio: Locally on The Mix 103.7 FM and online at the Beaver Radio Network.
Twitter: I’ll be taking photos during the first period and I will provide game updates on my Twitter account at the start of the second period @estromgren. You can expect line charts up on this blog before the game starts.
College Hockey Inc. will ask the NCAA next month to add a temporary travel exemption for Huntsville to help the program schedule more home games. That would allow visiting teams traveling to Huntsville to not have those games count toward the 34-game season limit. Both Alaska schools – Anchorage and Fairbanks – currently have a travel exemption. CHI executive director Paul Kelly also says Atlantic Hockey maybe be the ‘only legit candidate’ for a conference home for the Chargers. From Joe Paisley, USCHO.com.
If you missed my story earlier this week on Terry Burns and Jerry O’Neil, two key players in the early years of Bemidji State hockey, you should find some time to read it. Their contributions in the late 1950s and late 1960s helped to lay the foundation for what Bemidji State hockey is today. It’s a story of how small ideas can turn into big things.
No. 7 Colorado College at MSU, Mankato (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)
There’s still a goaltending battle between Josh Thorimbert and Joe Howe in Colorado Springs. For now, Thorimbert has the edge as coach Scott Owens waits for some consistency to emerge. From Brian Gomez, Colorado Springs Gazette.
As for Mankato, they will try to carry over last weekend’s sweep of Huntsvile into this home weekend against the Tigers. The Mavs are currently last in the WCHA standings and have been hampered by injuries in the first half of the year. Mankato beat writer Shane Frederick answered fan questions this week on his Puckato blog.
Frederick also shares his thoughts on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in an opinion column. He argues the ‘WCHA needs to delicately sell itself and its teams for the future, while at the same time close out the conference’s currrent era from the high road..’ I think there’s truth in that statement. Mankato Free Press.
No. 14 Denver at St. Cloud State (Friday 7:37, Saturday 7:07)
The Huskies did not play last weekend and reflected on the first part of the season, which included injuries to key players and growing pains on a young team. From Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times.
Speaking of the injuries, captain Drew LeBlanc will have an X-ray on his broken leg Monday to see how well the bones in the broken leg are healing. Senior forward Travis Novak appears to be back to normal after left the 3-1 loss to Bemidji State two weeks ago with a leg injury. When he dropped to his knees to block a slap shot from BSU defenseman Matt Prapavessis, the puck found the soft spot above the knee and under the breezers. It reportedly punctured a hole in his skin and he needed stitches. From Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times.
SCSU’s Nick Oliver is happy to get his first two goals and is profiled in a feature with video. From Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times.
I can’t find much on Denver this week. The Pioneers dropped from No. 13 to No. 14 in the polls after last week’s split with the Beavers. DU head coach George Gwozdecky reacted to Saturday’s 2-1 loss in a postgame story from the Denver Post.
“Like last Saturday night at CC, we had plenty of chances to score tonight,” DU coach George Gwozdecky said. “We have to find a way to convert our scoring chances, especially when (goalie) Juho (Olkinuora) continues to give us a chance to win.”
Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan (Friday 6:35, Saturday 6:05)
Tech head coach Mel Pearson, the former Michigan assistant coach, and NMU head coach Walt Kyle have a relationship that dates back to the early 1980s. The two have a friendship and are now on opposite ends of one of the most heated rivalries in college hockey. From Matt Wellens, Marquette Mining Journal.
Russian Red Stars at No. 18 North Dakota, exhibition (Saturday 7:07)
Who are the Red Stars? The roster is made up of 25 of the top players from the MHL, a Russian Junior League that also competes in neighboring countries and is a primary feeder for the KHL pro leage in Russia. UND is the first stop on an eight-game American road trip against college and North American Hockey League junior teams.
More game notes at fightingsioux.com
Other news from around the WCHA
Nebraska-Omaha senior Alex Hudson was dismissed from the team this week for a second violation of team rules this season. The violation was not specified. He was originally a co-captain this season but was stripped of his captaincy and suspended the first four games in the first violation of team rules. From Rob White, Omaha World-Herald.
In WCHA women’s hockey, Minnesota-Duluth head coach Shannon Miller was suspended by the WCHA for one game. While the reason for the suspension is not known, a UMD official says it involved an official but rumors of physical contact was denied. From Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune.
Wisconsin Badgers blogger Chuck Schwartz breaks down the first half of the season for the Badgers at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter.
Millsy’s Former and Future Beavers Update
Millsy over at The Beaver Pond tracks the statistics of former Bemidji State players and prospects in the junior leagues. Here is the latest update with stats current as of Dec. 13.
-Andrew Murray-San Jose Sharks (NHL) 25 GP, 1G-1A-2 Pts., 4 PIM, +3
-Matt Read-Philadelphia (NHL) 25 GP, 11G-8A-19 Pts., 2 PIM, +8
-Matt Francis-Nottingham Panthers (ELITE League) 30 GP, 10G-16A-26 Pts., 21 PIM, +1
-Brendan Cook-Sonderjyske (Denmark) 19 GP, 11G-5A-16 Pts, 18 PIM (Injured)
-Tyler Scofield-Klagenfurter AC (Austria) 19 GP, 9G-7A-16 Pts, 6 PIM, +6
-Anssi Tieranta-LeKi (Finland2) 12 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts, 8 PIM (Injured)
-Mikka Lindholm-HKC (Finland3) 14 GP, 10G-10A-20 Pts., 24 PIM
-Matt Dalton-Vityaz Chekhov (KHL) 23 GP, 5W-13L-4SOL, 91.5 Save %, 3.26 GAA, 9 PIM
-Emil Billberg-Sodertalje (Allsvenskan) 28 GP, 4G-3A-7 Pts., 6 PIM
-Ryan Huddy-Valpelice (Italy) 18 GP, 7G-14A-21 Pts., 6 PIM, +1
-Rob Sirianni-Valpelice (Italy) 23 GP, 16G-13A-29 Pts., 22 PIM, +2
-Chris McKelvie-Connecticut Whale (AHL) 18 GP, 2G-1A-3 Pts., 31 PIM, +2
-Jamie Mattie-HC Innsbruck (Austria2) 10 GP, 0G-5A-5 Pts., 4 PIM
-Matt Climie-Chicago (AHL) 13 GP, 8W-4L-OSOL, 92.6 Save %, 2.63 GAA, 0 PIM, 2 Assists
********-Vancouver Canucks (NHL) 0 GP, sent back to Chicago
-Ian Lowe-Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) 24 GP, 7G-8A-15 Pts., 25 PIM, -4
-Matt Pope-South Carolina (ECHL) 15 GP, 7G-12A-19 Pts., 4 PIM, +5
*******-Hershey Bears (AHL) 8 GP, 3G-2A-5 Pts., 4 PIM, +4
-Niko Suoraniemi-Eindhoven Kemphanen (Netherlands) 15 GP, 5G-8A-13 Pts., 6 PIM
-Daryl Bat-Tyringe SoSS (Sweden Division 2) 19 GP, 10G-12A-22 Pts., 26 PIM
-Riley Weselowski-Rapid City (CHL) 20 GP, 3G-7A-10 Pts., 33 PIM, +3
-Luke Erickson-Arizona (CHL) 22 GP, 8G-6A-14 Pts., 16 PIM, -10
-Brandon Marino-Quad City (CHL) 19 GP, 12G-15A-27 Pts., 6 PIM, -2
-Andrew Martens-Wichita Thunder (CHL) 20 GP, 6G-11A-17 Pts., 16 PIM, +13
-Ryan Cramer-Tulsa Oilers (CHL) 20 GP, 7G-10A-17 Pts., 21 PIM, -5
-Brady Riesgraf-Fargo Force (USHL) 3 GP, 0G-0A-0 Pts., 2 PIM, +1
**********-Coulee Region Chill (NAHL) 8 GP. 0G-2A-2 Pts., 6 PIM, -10
-Brendan Harms-Portage Terriers (MJHL) 14 GP, 5G-10A-15 Pts., 25 PIM
-Bob Kinne-Lincoln Stars (USHL) 14 GP, 2G-1A-3 Pts., 2 PIM, +2
-Corey Petrash-Winnipeg Saints (MJHL) 33 GP, 9G-14A-23Pts., 25 PIM
-Brad Robbins-Sioux City (USHL) 19 GP, 12G-10A-22 Pts., 6 PIM, +4
-Graeme McCormack-Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL) 30 GP, 8G-29A-37 Pts., 28 PIM
-Cody Ward-Aberdeen Wings (NAHL) 26 GP, 13G-21A-34 Pts., 21 PIM, +9
Just for fun: Shea Weber’s trick shot
In case you missed the viral video of Shea Weber’s trick shot this week, here it is.
The Nashville Predators player makes a shot from the opposite end of the rink at Bridgestone Arena (the same venue where Huntsville beat Omaha a few weeks ago).
From the third deck.
No word on how many HDTVs need to be won by BSU fans before Paul Bunyan Communications and Naylor’s make this the intermission contest at BSU home games.
See you at the rink.