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MEN'S HOCKEY: For BSU, Gophers series still huge

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BEMIDJI — For Sam Windle, being a Minnesota Golden Gopher sports fan wasn’t even a question. When the Bemidji State defenseman was a child in Maple Grove, it was just assumed.

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“Growing up there it’s just kind of the team everyone follows,” Windle said. “I’m used to it by now, but the first time you play against them it’s a little different just seeing those jerseys out there playing against you.”

For many college hockey players, those allegiances fade soon after they make their college choices — especially if they play for an instate rival.

But not in the Windle household.

Sam’s twin brother Tom played baseball for the Golden Gophers from 2011-2013 before being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft this season.

It often made for some interesting dinner-table discussion — although Windle said his family knew which colors to wear, and when.

“Yeah, my dad will wear his maroon and gold, but that’s only at the baseball games,” he said with a laugh. “At the hockey games it’s all green… well, maybe he’ll have one on under the other sometimes. But it’s fun.”

For Windle and the rest of the Minnesota natives who play for the Beavers, taking on the Gophers isn’t just about picking up some wins. It’s also about some instate pride — proving that they can hang with the No. 3-ranked team in the country.

The Beavers (0-1-1) host the Gophers (2-0-0) this weekend (Friday at 7:37 p.m.; Saturday at 7:07 p.m.) in their home opener at the Sanford Center.

“We’re glad to be home. You always want to be at home,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s opening weekend at the Sanford Center against Minnesota, on small ice. It’s exciting for the guys, and it’s exciting for the fans. I think they’re ready to amp it up. It’s always a lot of fun when they come to town.”

There aren’t any conference points on the line anymore — the Gophers left the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this season for the Big Ten Hockey Conference — but that doesn’t matter.

“Every weekend is a big weekend… but obviously they have the Gopher label on them, so that makes it even more exciting,” BSU junior defenseman Sam Rendle said. “There’s no points or anything when it comes to the conference but it would still be something nice to hang our hats on and walk out of here with a ‘W.’”

Rendle, from Grand Rapids and Windle’s defensive partner, couldn’t remember the last time the Beavers beat the Gophers.

“I don’t know if we’ve done it. We haven’t beat them in this building yet, I know that,” he said. “And I don’t think this core right now has never beaten them before.”

The Beavers haven’t defeated the Gophers since Nov. 15, 2009. And BSU has never won in Bemidji — although they did settle for a tie March 4, 2011, the first year in the Sanford Center.

The Beavers are 1-14-1 all-time against Minnesota. The teams were only in the WCHA together for three years and played just eight times as conference foes.

Junior forward Danny Mattson thinks the fact they won’t see the Gophers as much anymore will add a different dimension than when the two teams were (briefly) in the same conference.

“Just knowing that you only get to see them once makes the games more intense,” the Minneapolis native said. “It’s always fun to play the Gophers, especially growing up in Minnesota. I grew up having season tickets, being a city boy, so it’s fun. Especially if you can get the win.”

Even those members of the team not from Minnesota recognize the significance of the instate rivalry. Junior goaltender Andrew Walsh, from Dawson Creek, B.C., made 110 saves in three games against the Gophers last year and the Beavers still lost all three games.

“I have some revenge on my mind, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think a lot of the guys in the room do too.

“Last year there was a little more on the line with the playoffs. But I think we have a lot to prove as a young team, and a lot of the veterans that we do have kinda have a taste in their mouth from last year and want to get them back for it.”

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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.
(218) 333-9772
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