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HOCKEY: Bemidji State set to welcome both No. 1 teams in the nation this weekend

This week, both teams are in the same boat – the women will host No. 1 Wisconsin and the men No. 1 Minnesota State, back-to-back on Friday and Saturday at the Sanford Center.

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Bemidji State's Alex Ierullo (14) gains possession of the puck during a February 2021 game against Minnesota State at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State women’s hockey team frequently plays the No. 1 team in the country. Lately, it’s often been Wisconsin, whose fearsome program has won the last two women’s hockey national championships.

The BSU men play No. 1 less often, but sometimes see a perennial contender like Minnesota State or North Dakota in the top spot.

This week, both teams are in the same boat – the women will host No. 1 Wisconsin and the men No. 1 Minnesota State, back-to-back on Friday and Saturday at the Sanford Center.

“To me, it's just a fun weekend of hockey,” men’s head coach Tom Serratore said. “And that's the biggest thing, is what a great weekend of hockey for all the fans in Bemidji. That's how I look at it. Whether Wisconsin and Mankato are No. 1 or not No. 1, they're great hockey teams, and it's just a great weekend of hockey all together.”
This is the first time both men and women will host No. 1 in the same weekend at the Sanford Center. It’s also the first weekend in which both teams will play No. 1 simultaneously for a home series in Bemidji State history.

The only other occasion when both Beaver teams faced the top team in the country? Dec. 15, 2001, when the men faced No.1 St. Cloud State in St. Cloud while the women faced No. 1 Minnesota Duluth in Bemidji. Both BSU squads lost that day.

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They’re hoping for a different result this time around. The BSU women (6-8-2, 3-8-1 WCHA) met Wisconsin earlier this season, tying the Badgers 0-0 and losing 8-1 in Madison, Wis. At the time, the tie was the only non-win UW had conceded.

The Badgers (15-1-2, 11-1-2 WCHA) are coming off a loss and tie to Minnesota, however, and should be intent on taking two wins from the Beavers.

“Thanks to Minnesota, they're gonna be extra motivated coming in here this weekend,” said BSU women’s head coach Jim Scanlan.

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Bemidji State's Reece Hunt (29) battles for the puck against Wisconsin at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

The meeting with the Mavericks will be the men’s team’s first and will play an important role in shaking up the CCHA standings. Minnesota State (14-4-0, 10-2-0 CCHA) leads the league with 29 points, while Bemidji State (10-6, 8-2 CCHA) ranks second with 24. Two wins this weekend will give the Beavers the top spot.

“That's definitely something that's in our minds,” senior forward Alex Adams said. “We're coming to this weekend as if it's a championship weekend. We're looking for first place in our division. It's a really big weekend, and these are really important points when it gets down later to the end of the year.”

The women are riding a four-game winning streak that has vaulted them up to sixth in the WCHA standings. It’ll be a tall task to get a win against Wisconsin, but that won’t stop BSU from trying.

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“We definitely have a bit more confidence (than the last time we played them),” junior forward Reece Hunt said. “And our last (opener) we played against them, we tied it. So I think not being too intimidated, but also knowing they're a good team – it's going to be a balance of both. But I think they might look at us a little differently, too, seeing our record in the last four games.”

Bemidji State had two opportunities in the past to nearly play both No. 1 teams simultaneously. The first, during the 2010-11 season, doubled as the debut of what was then known as the Bemidji Regional Events Center, later christened the Sanford Center. On Oct. 15 and 16, the women’s team opened up Bemidji’s new hockey home by facing No. 1 Mercyhurst, followed by the men hosting No. 2 North Dakota.

The women split with Mercyhurst, losing 4-0 on Friday before winning 5-3 on Saturday. The men lost both games 5-2 to UND.

On Oct. 24 and 25, 2014, the men traveled to face No. 1 Minnesota while the women hosted No. 2 Wisconsin. Both teams were swept by their opponents.

The history is great, but the goals for both BSU teams are the same – win two games. The results will dictate whether this is truly a historic weekend for Beaver hockey.

“It's definitely going to be a big weekend in Beaver territory,” Adams said. “I think both teams are definitely going to have a little extra focus throughout this week. So it should just be a good week of practice, and should be an exciting weekend.”

The women’s team faces Wisconsin at 3:01 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, with the men following them at 7:07 p.m. against Minnesota State. The rematches will be at 2:01 p.m. and 6:07 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11. All games will be held at the Sanford Center.

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Bemidji State's Reece Hunt (29) battles for the puck against Wisconsin at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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