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MEN’S HOCKEY: Beavers closing in on WCHA title

BEMIDJI -- They know what’s at stake.

When the Bemidji State men’s hockey team hits the ice in Huntsville, Ala., this weekend, they’ll be just a victory away from clinching the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s championship and MacNaughton Cup trophy for the first time in the program’s history.

The Beavers  (18-11-3, 18-4-2 WCHA) take on Alabama Huntsville (8-19-3 , 8-13-3 WCHA) this weekend (7:07 p.m. today, 3:07 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11) controlling their own fate with a title on the line.

“We’re definitely feeling good about ourselves after last weekend, but we don’t want to take Huntsville lightly,” BSU junior forward Kyle Bauman said. “We want to win both games this weekend and that’s what we’re focusing on. We know we need one win to win the Macnaughton Cup, but we’re definitely going in there hoping for a sweep.”

The first-place Beavers are 10 points ahead of second-place Michigan Tech, whom the Beavers swept last weekend in Bemidji. Both teams have just four games (or 12 points) left in the regular season.

The Beavers know how significant winning the trophy would be. BSU, which finished sixth in a year ago, has never finished higher than fourth place since joining the WCHA in the 2010-11 season. BSU’s last regular-season title was in 2009-10, when they won the College Hockey America crown for the third year in a row.

The Beavers this season were projected by the media and coaches in the preseason to again finish sixth overall this year.

“It would be huge,” BSU sophomore defender Justin Baudry said. “After last year, falling out in the playoffs with that close series against Bowling Green, and then this year we were projected to finish halfway in the WCHA, middle of the pack. I think we’ve proved ourselves all year. We want to keep it going.”

Aside from the potential chance to hoist the MacNaughton Cup, taking the league title will give the Beavers home ice advantage throughout the playoffs -- including a potential winner-take-all championship game, should they advance that far. BSU has already clinched at least second place in the conference.

The Chargers, too, are looking to solidify their playoff positioning, They’re currently eighth place in the WCHA -- the final playoff spot -- and are just two points ahead of ninth-place Alaska Anchorage (as well as two-points behind Ferris State and Lake Superior State, who are tied for sixth).

“Everybody’s got an identity, and their identity is physicality. And they skate extremely well. They’ve got an experienced team and an experienced d-corps,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “Plus, they're fighting for their playoff lives right now. There’s a lot of things they have going for them. It’s always been a hornets’ nest going down there. We’ve played in that building (the Von Braun Center in Huntsville) more than any other team in our league, so we know what to expect.”

The Chargers split their series at Alaska last weekend, and their win on Saturday was their first victory since sweeping Northern Michigan Dec. 9-10.

“They’re always a tough team to play against and right now I know they’re fighting for the playoffs, so hopefully Friday night we can get the win and wrap it up,” Bauman said. “It would be a special feeling.”

 BSU has 25 WCHA Scholar-Athlete honorees

The WCHA announced Tuesday that 25 BSU players -- 12 from the men’s team and 13 women -- were named WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award recipients for 2016-17.

BSU senior goaltender Reid Mimmack was singled out this season, as the Brainerd native was a four-time honoree. In the 12-year history of the award, there have been only 13 such players, including former Beaver women’s players Whitney Wivoda and Emily Erickson.

To earn recognition as a WCHA Scholar-Athlete, conference-member student-athletes must have completed at least one year of residency at their present institution prior to the current academic year and must also have a grade-point average of at least 3.50 on a 4.0 scale for the previous two semesters or three quarters, or may qualify if his or her overall GPA is at least 3.50 for all terms at his or her present institution.

BSU players recognized 2016-17 WCHA Scholar-Athletes are: Justin Baudry (So., D, LaBroquerie, Manitoba); Kyle Bauman (Jr., F, Apopka, Fla.); Emily Bergland (So., F, Thief River Falls); Dan Billett (So., D, Highlands Ranch, Colo.); Michael Bitzer (Jr., G, Moorhead); Mackenzie Bruch (Sr., G, Barrie, Ontario); Dillon Eichstadt (So., D, Bemidji); Carley Esse (Sr., D, Cloquet); Reilly Fawcett (Jr., F, Proctor); Brendan Harms (Sr., F, Steinbach, Manitoba); Madison Hutchinson (Sr., D, Manitou, Manitoba); Ian Janco (So., D, Bloomington); Alexis Joyce (Jr., D, Lakeville); Lisa Laiti (So., D, Fairbanks, Alaska); Adam Lovick (So., F, Lino Lakes); Lauren Miller (Sr., F, Brockville, Ontario); Reid Mimmack (Sr., G, Brainerd); Brittni Mowat (Sr., G, Glenboro, Manitoba); Charlie O’Connor (Sr., F, Elk Grove Village, Ill.); TJ Roo (So., F, Champlin); Michael Soucier (So., F, Caledon, Ontario); Natalie Stanwood (So., D, West Vancouver, British Columbia); Emma Terres (Jr., F/D, New Hope); Summer Thibodeau (Jr., F, Maple Grove); Bailey Wright (Jr., F, Anchorage, Alaska)

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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