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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published February 28 2013

UND, Bemidji State will play each other after WCHA breaks up

GRAND FORKS – A mid-July news conference was held in Colorado Springs to announce the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2011.

Before that announcement even happened, University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol was on the phone with Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore.

Both coaches agreed: Even if the teams were in different conferences, they want to keep this budding rivalry going.

So, while UND and Bemidji State will meet this weekend as Western Collegiate Hockey Association members for the final time, it won’t be long before the fans see these teams play again.

UND and Bemidji will play a home-and-home series next January as nonconference foes. The teams have home-and-home series lined up for a couple of years after that, too.

“I talked with (Serratore) right away,” Hakstol said. “We made plans to try to continue playing on a nonconference basis, trying to play every year that we can. I don’t know if that will be possible, but right now, at least in the near future, it is going to be possible. We’ll play one there and one here the next few years.”

The series has been a hit among fans, who only have to make a two-hour road trip to catch their team play on the road. The games have frequently been entertaining, too.

The countless ties between the programs also add to it. Look no further than this year’s matchup:

E UND’s leading scorer, Danny Kristo, is the son of former Bemidji State star Mark Kristo.

E Bemidji State defenseman Jake Areshenko is the grandson of former UND basketball coach Dave Gunther.

E Bemidji State defenseman Matt Carlson played high school hockey in Grand Forks and Beavers forward Danny Mattson was once committed to UND.

E Serratore’s brother, Frank, once was an assistant coach at UND.

“They’re always battles and that’s what it will be again this weekend,” Hakstol said. “It will be two hard-fought hockey games.”

UND (17-9-6, 12-6-6 WCHA) has a chance to clinch home ice for the first round of the league playoffs if it registers one more point this weekend than Denver or Wisconsin. Denver plays at second-place Minnesota. Wisconsin is at Omaha, which is tied with UND for third.

UND also has a chance to solidify its position in the Pairwise Rankings, where the team moved up to fifth after Boston College lost to UMass-Lowell earlier this week.

“North Dakota has a lot to play for,” Serratore said. “We all have a lot to play for. But they want to win a league championship and put a ring on their finger. They’re going to be playing hard as they always do. They’re a great program. They’ve got a great hockey team. It’s going to be a hostile environment going into Engelstad Arena. There’s lots on the line for them and we’re trying to establish ourselves going into the playoffs.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald