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RIVALRY RETURNS: BSU ready to rekindle memories in first WCHA series at UAH

Bemidji State’s Brendan Harms, right, and Minnesota’s Brady Skjei get rangled up along the BSU bench during last Friday’s game at the Sanford Center. The Beavers travel to Alabama-Huntsville for their first Western Collegiate Hockey Association series of the season. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — As soon as he was asked about Huntsville, Ala., Tom Serratore perked up.

“The memories come back, no question,” the Bemidji State head hockey coach said Tuesday. “We’ve had so many games against Huntsville. I know myself, since I’ve been the coach, boy… I don’t even know how many games I’ve coached against them.

“There’s been a lot of battles, a lot of crazy games and some of the games and experiences in those games, no question it brings back some memories.”

Serratore likely could have spent hours recounting every single game his Beavers have played against Alabama-Huntsville at the Von Braun Center.

But heading into this weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against UAH, Serratore said he and the rest of the Beaver coaching staff were trying to keep the team on the right track.

“I think the rivalry’s probably more from my standpoint,” Serratore said of the BSU/UAH rivalry that dates back nearly 20 years, 70 games and spans two conferences and two divisions. “I know the rivalry well. Their coaching staff, their players probably don’t, and our players really don’t.

“It’s more our fans and coaching staff and their fans. But it was a great rivalry and it’s going to be a good rivalry again.”

It’s true: Most current Beaver players don’t have any experience with Alabama-Huntsville. They might not know the nuances behind the “We Hate Huntsville!” chant.

Only senior alternate captain Matt Hartmann was on the team the last time the teams were conference rivals (in College Hockey America in 2009-10).

BSU hasn’t traveled to Huntsville since January 2011; only four current players were on the team then.

Junior defenseman Sam Rendle has played against UAH a few times.

“It’s probably just as interesting now as it was back then,” he said. “We’re back in the same league. It’s not an exhibition anymore. We kinda know what we’re getting from them, they’re kind of a gritty team like we are. … It should be some exciting games like they used to be.”

For sophomore Cory Ward, however, it’s a totally new experience.

“I’m excited,” the center from Las Vegas said. “I’ve heard a lot about it but none of us have really been a part of it.

“It’s cool in the back of your mind to know there was a rivalry there, to know it was a big deal to some of the older guys, but it’s not something we’re thinking about now.”

Right about now, the team is thinking about finding a way to grab some wins in the all-important first conference series of the season.

“I think if you can get off on the right foot you put yourself ahead,” Serratore said. “If you can win games early it takes pressure off midseason or later in the season. You always want to get off to a strong start. If you don’t, you’re trying to find yourself after that.”

The Beavers are winless at 0-3-1 after two series against top-ranked opponents in St. Cloud State and Minnesota. Last weekend the Gophers came to the Sanford Center and swept the Beavers, scoring 11 goals in two games.

The Chargers, though, are just as hungry for a victory after getting swept by Northeastern in Boston on opening weekend. The Huskies won 9-1 and 3-2. UAH (0-2-0) had a bye last weekend.

“The biggest thing right now isn’t the rivalry but the games right now,” Serratore said. “We need to win some games and they need to win some games. They’re the first two conference games. That’s what I’m looking at. I don’t really know their personnel and they probably don’t know our personnel. Everything is so new again.”

The Chargers have three players tied with two points apiece. Sophomore Chad Brears scored two goals while a pair of freshmen — Brandon Clowes and Regan Soquila — have two assists. Sophomore Steve Koshey scored UAH’s other goal against Northeastern.

Most notably about UAH, they have just five upperclassmen on the squad. Eleven players are freshmen. BSU has 10 freshmen on the roster.

Rendle said because both teams know so little about each other the preparation won’t be much different than it is for other series — even despite the rivalry talk that will surely permeate the Von Braun Center when the Beavers arrive.

“We have the same mindset going into every weekend, same preparation,” he said. “Obviously, certain teams have certain tendencies that you have to adjust to.

“We’re going to do that with Alabama. We want to go down there and try and walk away with some points, start trying to climb the standings.”

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 and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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