Meet the New WCHA: Huntsville rivalry is back on
The men's college hockey landscape will probably look a little strange this season.
Two new conferences - the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference - are starting from scratch. Another - the Central Collegiate Hockey Association - no longer exists.
Bemidji State is right in the middle of this change. As a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference, the Beavers will see a league they joined just three years ago lose seven members and gain six more.
BSU fans might be more familiar with some members of the new-look league than they are with others.
With that in mind, the Pioneer will be giving readers a in-depth look at the WCHA this summer so fans can familiarize themselves with the new members (and become re-acquainted with the old ones) before the season begins in October.
First up, a Bemidji State fan favorite: The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.
BEMIDJI -- When Bemidji State officially opens conference play in the new-look WCHA Oct. 25, the faces on the other end of the bench probably won't be familiar -- Alabama-Huntsville has a brand-new coach and a totally different roster since the last time the teams met in 2011.
"Things change a bit over the years so we won't really know what to expect," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said of the Chargers. "They have a new coach and some new players so we don't know a ton about them.
"It will be fun to get that rivalry back, though."
The Beavers know when they make the trek back to Huntsville Oct. 25-26 -- the first weekend of league play -- they won't count on getting any "Southern hospitality" from their arch-rivals from Alabama.
"That rivalry's really big," former Beaver Andrew Murray said earlier this month when asked about the renewal of the rivalry series this season. "Huntsville was always a fun team to play. They always gave us good games and they were great competition."
That's what makes Alabama-Huntsville's induction into the league special for Bemidji State.
The Beavers and the Chargers have played 70 times since their first meeting in 1994. That includes eight Division II national tournament games and 58 Division I contests as members of College Hockey America from 1999-2010.
"We had a lot of great games against them," said former Beaver captain Travis Winter when asked about the Chargers. "It's good for that program to finally find a home."
Since the CHA disbanded in 2010 the Chargers have been competing as an independent. Life hasn't been easy: They've struggled to find home games against Division I opponents and as a result their record has suffered.
UAH went 9-75-4 in that three-year span and had two different coaches before finally getting inducted into the WCHA for the 2013-14 season.
This summer, the school hired former Air Force assistant Mike Corbett as a head coach -- their third in four years -- to bring some stability that comes along with finally getting into a conference.
"I don't know what's going to happen this year," Murray said of the Chargers. "I think BSU's a little ahead of them just as far as recruiting goes but they're a good solid program and it seems like they got a great coach."
The Chargers are expected to return 19 players from last season, including leading scorers Jeff Vanderlugt and Kyle Lysaght.
"We really don't know a lot about them," Serratore said of the Chargers. "We haven't seen them a whole lot on video so we won't know what to expect from them as much as some of the other teams in this league.
"But we know we're glad they're in our league again and no matter what they're going to compete hard and be a tough team to beat."
The Beavers travel to the Von Braun Center Oct. 25 and 26 before the Chargers come to the Sanford Center Feb. 28 and March 1.