At one point last May, it appeared as though the Alabama Huntsville men’s hockey program had played its last game. The Chargers spent a week in limbo before a last-ditch fundraising effort saved the team from the chopping block to live another day.

A rivalry that dates back to the programs’ Division II days will continue when UAH rolls into town this weekend for the team’s first meeting with Bemidji State since its brush with elimination. Friday’s game is set for 7:07 p.m., with Saturday’s to follow at 6:07 p.m.

“They’ve got a proud tradition of hockey,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They had alumni step to the plate and brought the program back, so that didn’t surprise me at all just because they’ve had hockey for a long time, they’ve had a lot of success in hockey and hockey is a big part of the fabric of that university in that city.”

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The Chargers look like a completely new team. They parted ways with head coach Mike Corbett and promoted assistant Lance West to take charge of the program. He had his work cut out for him.

The program’s brief elimination spurred nine players to transfer elsewhere. Coupled with the graduations of four seniors, the Chargers lost their top seven scorers and their starting goaltender.

A freshman class of 13 newcomers has helped UAH stand at 2-5-1 overall and 2-2-0 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play, needing only eight games to match last season’s win total when the team finished 2-26-6 overall.

“The biggest thing is they’ve got an experienced (defensive) corps with (Dayne) Finnson, (Drew) Lennon, (and Lucas) Bahn,” Serratore said. “They’ve got some experience on the back line, which really helps. And they’ve got a lot of youthful energy, and there’s nothing wrong with youthful energy.”

With Bemidji State’s impending departure for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the series could mark the final time the schools play as WCHA members.

Home again at last

Bemidji State's Brad Belisle (20) sends the puck toward the Alabama Huntsville goal in a November 2019 game at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State's Brad Belisle (20) sends the puck toward the Alabama Huntsville goal in a November 2019 game at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

As for the Beavers (3-4-2, 1-1-0 WCHA), they’re riding high after a 4-3 overtime win over No. 6/7 Bowling Green last Friday. Ethan Somoza needed only 13 seconds to net the winner and avenge a narrow 3-2 defeat from the previous night.

“It definitely gives our team confidence,” junior forward Alex Ierullo said. “That’s a really good team in Bowling Green. … To beat a top ranked team like that, it definitely gives you confidence going forward.”

The split with the Falcons capped a four-game road trip that began at Lake Superior State to open the new year. Bemidji State traveled directly to Ohio from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., during the trip, which gave players a chance during this pandemic-altered campaign to spend more time with their teammates.

“It was definitely fun. The first half of the season (there) was a lot of ups and downs, a lot of quarantining, a lot of games canceled, games postponed,” Ierullo said. “You didn’t see the boys a lot, so after Christmas to spend two weeks on the road and being together for two weeks seeing each other every day, it was definitely fun and a good experience.”

The Beavers also played before fans for the first time all season, albeit a small number due to limited capacity. Announced crowds of 300 attended both Bowling Green games.

“Do you notice the small percentage of fans? A little bit but not a lot. … The game overtakes that,” Serratore said. “We are going to notice when we start having more and more fans in the building and we can get back to full capacity. … We’re going to say, ‘Holy moly. We’ve missed something. This is great to have this back.’”

Fans will have to wait a while longer to return to the Sanford Center. BSU and the other five Minnesota State universities have agreed to not allow spectators at home events through the end of January.

A month removed from its last home contest, this weekend marks the start of a six-game homestand for Bemidji State, its longest of the season, with series against Bowling Green and Lake Superior State coming down the pike later this month.

“It's definitely huge, starting with these two games against Alabama,” Ierullo said. “We know they’re a really good team. We’re not overlooking them. We don’t overlook anyone.”

At a glance

Who: BSU vs. Alabama Huntsville

Where: Sanford Center

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday; 6:07 p.m. Saturday

Radio: Beaver Radio Network/92.1 FM

Web stream: FloHockey.tv