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MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State readies for MSU Mankato in another instate rivalry

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BEMIDJI — Another weekend, another rivalry game for the Bemidji State University men’s hockey team.

Or so it would seem.

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The Beavers, fresh off a sweep at an old rival in Alabama-Huntsville, return to the Sanford Center this weekend for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game with another one.

BSU hosts No. 16 Minnesota State (tonight 7:37 p.m.; Saturday 7:07 p.m.) in what is now a matchup between the only two Minnesota schools remaining in the WCHA.

It sounds strange, as Bemidji and Mankato are on opposite ends of the state — 286 miles apart. The drive from Mankato to Omaha, Neb., is just 10 miles longer.

So maybe it’s not the kind of close-knit instate rivalry that, say, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan currently share. Or the one between Alaska and Alaska Anchorage.

But the Beavers (2-3-1, 2-0-0 WCHA) and Mavericks (2-2-0, 0-0-0) have a history and BSU head coach Tom Serratore — who played at MSU for two years before coming to BSU to finish out his playing career — said the two schools could make for a nice pair.

“We are the two Minnesota teams in the WCHA, and we’re going to play them four times every year because they are our travel partner, rival, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I’m sure that puts a little more emphasis on the series. That’s great, I’m sure it should be that way.

“We have a long history with Mankato back to the small college days, so I think it’s fitting.”

BSU and MSU have played 98 times since 1974 but only 27 times in BSU’s Division I era.

“We’re the last two Minnesota teams in the WCHA,” BSU senior forward Jeff Jubinville said. “So obviously we want to have the reins. And we owe them a little payback from last year too, so hopefully we can get them.”

MSU swept the Beavers by 3-0 and 6-1 scores last season in Mankato. That, combined with MSU’s near-unanimous preseason No. 1 ranking by both the coaches and the media, give the Beavers a little added incentive to take it to the Mavericks.

“They’re a fast team,” BSU sophomore forward Markus Gerbrandt said. “We know that from last year. They spanked us pretty good in both games, so we kind of owe them for that.

“I guess they’re the preseason favorites. So it’s good to be the underdogs going in. We want to upset them and we owe them from last year.”

The Mavericks, who were idle last weekend, returned almost everyone from a team that went 24-14-3 and made the NCAA Tournament last season. Top goalscorer Eriah Hayes is gone but leading point-getter Matt Leitner returns, as do high-scoring forwards Jean-Paul Lafontaine and Zach Lehrke, defenseman Zach Palmquist and goaltender Stephon Williams.

“Minnesota State, no question, is most talented team in our league,” Serratore said. “Hayes is their biggest loss, but holy moly they have a lot back. They’ve got LaFontaine, they’ve got Leitner. Those kids are good players. Palmquist might be the most skilled defenseman in the league. Williams had a heck of a freshman year.

“So they’re very deep. They’re deep up front, they have a good back line and have the ability to score goals. They can put up four goals on any given night. We’re just going to have to be sharp.”

Freshmen, sophs look sharp

In other words, the Beavers will have to be as sharp as they were last weekend against UAH.

“Huntsville’s a good team, so it was nice to get those wins,” freshman forward Brendan Harms said. “First night I thought we played really well. The second night, they came back out hard too.

“They’re a good team that forechecks really well. They get on you hard and are tough to play against. We’re glad we got those two wins.”

The two wins over the Chargers (a 6-1 win Friday and a 1-0 win Saturday) were BSU’s first of the season and vaulted them to first place in the WCHA.

Gerbrandt netted a hat trick Friday while freshmen Harms and Charlie O’Connor scored their first collegiate goals. Harms’ turned out to be the game-winner Friday.

In all, four freshmen have at least a point for the Beavers — Harms had four, Nate Arentz has three, and Charlie O’Connor and Ruslan Pedan each have one.

Of BSU’s top five scorers, one is a freshman (Harms) three are sophomores (Gerbrandt, Cory Ward and Phil Brewer) and the other — scoring leader Danny Mattson — is a junior.

Jubinville said seeing the younger players playing at such a high level — especially the freshman — is encouraging.

“They’ve progressed a lot,” he said. “It’s early and they’re already playing our style. Shooting a lot of pucks, and they’re going in. It’s good for them and for us. We’re clicking and we’re getting scoring from all areas.”

“It’s big,” Harms added. “Anytime you can contribute in a win it’s a lot better. I guess we kinda have to with nine freshmen. We have some big holes to fill this year. But as we’re going here we can get better. We can continue to contribute that’s huge for us.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. 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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