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Meet the new WCHA: Lake Superior State another old BSU rival

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The Western Collegiate Hockey Association is changing dramatically next season, losing eight teams and adding six more.

With that in mind, The Pioneer will be giving readers an in-depth look at the WCHA this summer so fans can familiarize themselves with the new members (and become reacquainted with the old ones) before the season begins in October.

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Our series continues this week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with the Lake Superior State Lakers.

BEMIDJI -- Way back in 1966, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State University met for the very first time as conference opponents in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Lake Superior State College, as it was known back then, had just started its hockey program and joined the International Collegiate Hockey Association along with BSU, Wisconsin-Superior and Lakehead University of Ontario.

The Beavers regularly traveled to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. -- just across the border from the town by the same name in Ontario -- for conference games for seven years.

Now, for the first time in 40 years, the Lakers and the Beavers are conference opponents once again.

Lake Superior State will join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this year, reintroducing an old rivalry between two former small-college powers.

"We have a rich history with Lake State," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "It's going to be nice to establish this rivalry again."

BSU and LSSU met three times in the NAIA title game -- in 1968, 1969 and 1970 -- and remained in the ICHL until the 1972-74 season, when the Lakers made the jump to Division I and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Since going their separate ways, the Beavers and Lakers have both seen success, albeit at different levels. BSU went on to dominate Division II and III before going to Division I in 1999.

LSSU, on the other hand, moved to Division I and found their stride in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Lakers won their first national title in 1988, defeating St. Lawrence 4-3 in the thrilling overtime final. They would win two more, in 1992 and 1994.

Since then the Lakers have fallen on somewhat hard times. They haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1996 and have struggled to stay above .500 since then.

Last season the Lakers finished 17-21-1, which included an eighth-place finish in the CCHA. They were upset by Bowling Green in the first round of the CCHA tournament.

Although BSU and LSSU have played only sporadically since the Beavers joined the Division I ranks, this year the Beavers should have some idea what to expect: The Lakers came to Bemidji at the beginning of 2012.

The Lakers took the first game of the series 2-0 before the Beavers returned the favor with a 5-0 shutout of their own.

"They're a very defensive, strong team," Serratore said of the Lakers. "They don't give you a whole lot of space. We found that out last year."

The Lakers lose leading scorers Domenic Monardo and Nick McParland to graduation, but return senior Dan Radke, who had 16 points, and junior Chris Ciotti, who was second on the team in goals scored with 11, behind Monardo's 20.

The Lakers also return most of their big, physical defensive corps, including Zach Loesch (who weighs in at 6 feet, five inches and 210 pounds); Kevin Czuzman (6-3, 204); Andrew Perrault (6-2, 195) and Eric Drapluk (6-1, 198). They'll make it even harder to score in front of senior goaltenders Kevin Murdock (10-12-0, 2.51 goals-against, 93.0 save percentage) and Kevin Kapalka (7-9-1, 2.86, 91.6), who rotated in goal last season and are both expected back.

The Beavers make the trip to "The Soo" -- as it's known in Michigan and Ontario -- Nov. 22 and 23 while the Lakers return to Bemidji Jan 10 and 11.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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