The WCHA has released the new league schedule for the 2010-11 through 2014-15 seasons with Bemidji State featuring what proves to be an exciting opening season at the Bemidji Regional Event Center.
The 2010-11 schedule finds the Beavers opening the season Oct. 15-16 against the University of North Dakota. The regular season will conclude March 4 and 5 with a visit from the University of Minnesota.
In between, the Beavers will host league games against Minnesota-Duluth (Oct. 29-30), Alaska-Anchorage (Nov. 12-13), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 3-4), St. Cloud State (Jan. 21-22) and Colorado College (Feb.18-19).
The Beavers will visit SCSU (Nov. 5-6), Denver (Nov. 19-20), Wisconsin (Dec. 10-11), UNO (Jan. 14-15), Mankato (Feb. 4-5), Michigan Tech (Feb. 11-12) and UND (Feb. 25-26).
In nonconference games, the Beavers will host Northern Michigan (Nov. 26-27), while traveling to play the Mariucci Classic (Dec. 31-Jan. 1) and against longtime rival Alabama-Huntsville (Jan. 7-8).
"I'm happy the league could accommodate us and have North Dakota be our first opponent in our new building," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "UND has been very good to us over the years and we share the same hockey market. There are many Grand Forks people who have a close relationship with our community and many Bemidji folks who have deep connections with Grand Forks and UND."
"Plus, when you add how successful a hockey program UND has been, hosting them here to open the new building will be quite an event. A lot of people will want to travel here from Grand Forks for that series."
The only slight surprise in the schedule has the Beavers playing Huntsville on the road. "After this season UAH will be playing as an independent and they need home games - especially during the second half of the season," Serratore reported. "They have been a great rival and a great friend over the years. Whatever we can do to help we felt we needed to do.
"We were very fortunate to end up with a membership in the WCHA. They are going to be left without a home after this season and can't play 26-28 games on the road as an independent. We're doing what we can to help."
In developing the WCHA's five year schedule, Serratore said the cleanest option was chosen. "Basically the traditional travel partners will remain the same, with the addition of BSU being paired with UNO," he said.
In 2010-11, BSU and UNO will be joined by UND and SCSU to form a four-team cluster. The Beavers will play each team in the cluster four times (home and home series) for a total of 12 games. BSU will then play the remaining eight teams in the league two game each, for a total of 16 games, with eight on the road and eight at home.
The cluster mates will rotate in each of the five seasons. In 2011-12 BSU/UNO will be joined by Colorado College and Denver, in 2012-13 Michigan Tech and UMD, 2013-14 Alaska-Anchorage and Mankato, and 2014-15 Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Under this schedule every team in the league will play every other team at home three out of five years - except for the travel partners who will play each other every year, Serratore explained. "Over the course of the five year schedule, everybody plays each other the same amount of times - home and away," he said.
For North Dakota in 2010-11, the Sioux will play SCSU, BSU and UNO home and away. In addition, North Dakota will host Alaska-Anchorage, Denver, Minnesota and UMD. On the road for league games UND will travel to Colorado College, Michigan Tech, Mankato and Wisconsin.
In 2011-12, Minnesota and Wisconsin will join UND/SCSU as cluster mates. In league games UND will host SCSU, CC, Tech, Mankato, Minnesota, UNO and Wisconsin. Road games include SCSU, UAA, BSU, Denver, Minnesota, UMD and Wisconsin.
"Reality really set in when we saw the 2010-11 schedule for the first time," Serratore reported, "seeing how difficult it's going to be week in and week out. We better be ready to play hockey every weekend. It's one thing playing these teams in a non-conference series now and then. It's completely different playing them each week with league points in the line."
"It's like starting over for the program. We need to re-establish ourselves all over again from a competition stand point. Moving to WCHA is like going to the SEC in football or the Big East in basketball. We're excited about the future - the dark cloud that had been hanging over the program is gone."
"It's an exciting time for us, along with the University, the alumni, the community and the region. At the same time, it's a major challenge and a bit nerve-wracking, but we're extremely excited about the future."