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Bemidji State men's hockey: Beavers face former CHA rival Huntsville, Chargers to play in Bemidji next season

Goalie Dan Bakala and the?Bemidji State men's hockey team are on the road to play former College?Hockey America rival Alabama-Huntsville this weekend. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State men's hockey team will take the longest road trip of the season this weekend to face a familiar team in transition at Alabama-Huntsville.

It is a series the Beaver hockey program scheduled to help the former College Hockey America team, which plays only 12 games at home this season as a Division I independent.

"Going to Huntsville is a situation where they were in a dire need of games and we were very fortunate to get accepted into the WCHA," Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. "It's very difficult for them to get home games and we have a great relationship with the coaching staff. We have a great rivalry over the course of the last 20 years so it just made sense for us to go to Huntsville."

Bemidji State (7-10-1 overall, 4-9-1 WCHA) and Huntsville (2-18-2 overall) will play at 7:05 p.m. Friday and 3:05 p.m. Saturday at the Von Braun Center. The games are part of a scheduling agreement between the two schools and Serratore said the Chargers will play at The Sanford Center in Bemidji next season.

The Chargers, which won last year's CHA Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, are the last CHA team looking for a conference home. Niagara and Robert Morris moved to Atlantic Hockey this season.

Huntsville applied to become a member of the CCHA over the summer in hopes of replacing Nebraska-Omaha's spot in the league, but the CCHA Council of athletic administrators and faculty athletic representatives denied UAH's application in August.

That made Huntsville play as the lone independent in college hockey this season and the long-term future of the program remains in some doubt. The Chargers have a new coach in former UAH assistant coach Chris Luongo, who was promoted when Danton Cole became the USA National Team Development Program U-17 head coach in June.

There is much history between the two programs in a rivalry that started in the 1990s. Bemidji State won its 11th national championship by defeating the No. 1 ranked Chargers in Huntsville to win the 1994 Division II title in the first meetings between the schools. The teams met for three straight Division II title series from 1996-1998: Huntsville won in 1996, Bemidji State won in 1997 and Huntsville won in 1998.

Serratore said his fondest memory coaching against Huntsville came in 2005 when BSU defeated the Chargers 3-0 in a defensive game to win the CHA Tournament title in Grand Rapids. Jean-Guy Gervais scored a minute into the third period to break open a scoreless game and the Beavers earned its first NCAA Division I Tournament appearance.

"We've had a lot of good games and played in a lot of big games - a lot of those games were before my time in the Bob Peters era," Serratore said. "In the CHA days, we've had a lot of great games and in those early years Huntsville really took it to us. For a while the win-loss percentage was really one-sided in favor of Huntsville and over the course of last three or four years we've closed that gap some."

The Beavers are 35-27-4 all-time in games against Huntsville. BSU was 20-8-1 at John Glas Fieldhouse and 12-18-3 at Huntsville.

Bemidji State enters the weekend winners in five of the last seven games after winning the Mariuccci Classic title last weekend with a 3-2 win over No. 18 Ferris State and a 3-1 win over No. 12 Union.

"It will be nice to get back to play these guys and play in Huntsville, where it's a little bit warmer than it is here," BSU defenseman Dan MacIntyre said. "The second half of the year is where the chips are down and it's where you make it or break it. The fact that we're kind of getting our wins now is a good sign as opposed to the start of the year."

The Chargers have not won since a 6-2 victory over Connecticut on Nov. 27, are winless in the last eight and are on a six-game losing streak. UAH also has losing streaks of five games and four games this season. Huntsville's other win this season came against Ferris State on opening weekend in October. Senior defenseman Matt Baxter is UAH's scoring leader with six goals and 16 points and sophomore Keenan Desmet leads the Chargers in goals with seven.

The Beavers have been leaning on junior goalie Dan Bakala in the last seven games. The WCHA defensive player of the week has a 1.30 goals against average and a .956 save percentage in that stretch. Bakala, who is 6-6-0 on the year, stopped 65 of 68 shots in the Mariucci Classic.

"Baks is pretty reliable back there," MacIntyre said. "He's making a lot of saves that he should and a few that he shouldn't ... As a defensive corps we've been playing pretty well and we haven't had any fatal mistakes or anything real big. So if teams are going to win, they're going to have to score on us because we're not going to give them anything."

Sophomore Jordan George continues to lead BSU in scoring with nine goals and 20 points. Senior captain Matt Read shares the goal-scoring lead with George at nine goals and 16 points. Senior Ian Lowe has eight goals and 16 points.

This week's games mark the end of BSU's non-conference opponents this season. The Beavers remain on the road next weekend to open the second half of the WCHA season at Nebraska-Omaha. The next home games are Jan. 21-22 against St. Cloud State.

Pro Update

Former Bemidji State goaltender Matt Climie was called up to the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday and joined the team for Thursday's game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Climie has appeared in one game this season for Phoenix and stopped 15 of 16 shots in a partial game against the Penguins on Dec. 20.

Climie, who was a two-time all-College Hockey America selection and holds BSU's school record for shutouts (12), is 14-7-0 this season playing for San Antonio of the American Hockey League. He has a 2.53 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Andrew Murray, another former Beaver in the National Hockey League, has appeared in 14 games this season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has two goals and three assists on the season.