BEMIDJI, Minn.—As if the first meeting of the season between the Bemidji State University men's hockey team and Michigan Tech needed any more cause for excitement, the MacInnes Cup, and much more, will be on the line in this weekend's series at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Mich.
The backdrop of Michigan Technological University's annual Winter Carnival will provide additional motivation in a series that could potentially be a first-round Western Collegiate Hockey Association Playoff matchup.
The Beavers (14-10-6, 11-7-4-2 WCHA) enter the weekend two points ahead of the Huskies (14-12-5, 10-9-5-2 WCHA) for fourth place with two games in hand on MTU.
The winner of the series could not only come out with the MacInnes Cup, awarded to the team with the most goals on the weekend, but also a grasp on the fourth and final quarterfinal-round home-ice playoff spot.
"There's two desperate teams right now playing this weekend that need wins," BSU coach Tom Serratore said. "There's a big carrot involved—it's called home ice."
BSU seniors remember the last time they experienced the Winter Carnival atmosphere. The Beavers were the Winter Carnival opponents in 2015, a series the then-No. 5 Huskies swept.
"I think everyone's excited, especially the guys that have played in it," said senior Kyle Bauman, a freshman during the 2015 meeting. "...The guys that have been there know how exciting it is. It's (going to) be a great environment."
"It's an unbelievable environment, it's a great building," Serratore said. "I always compare MacInnes Arena to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field."
Led by first-year head coach Joe Shawhan, the Huskies snapped a three-game losing streak last Saturday with a 4-0 win at Bowling Green to secure the series split.
"It might be a new coaching staff, but they coached under (now-Michigan coach) Mel Pearson. They play a lot of the same systems," Serratore said. "They play with the same pace, and it's a team that (has) very good team speed, maybe the quickest in our league, and a very good defensive corps."
Serratore said he doesn't want to get ahead of himself when it comes to speculating on a possible first-round rematch, but he recognizes how crucial this weekend is for all involved.
"We need wins, they need wins," Serratore said. "We put ourselves in this predicament last weekend by losing two games at home. The only thing I'm concerned about and worried about is Michigan Tech this coming weekend."
The Beavers ran into a Lake Superior State University team desperate to remain in the playoff race last weekend. BSU has quickly moved on from the pair of 2-0 home defeats.
"I think we're already over it," Bauman said. "I think when anything like that happens in hockey or even in life, you (have to) forget about it and learn from it. There's nothing you can do dwelling on it."
Earning points from Michigan Tech would help BSU forget all about last weekend, though it will be a challenge to steal the MacInnes Cup away from its holders. The Huskies are 76-46-14 in Winter Carnival games since 1950 and have won the trophy five straight years, taking eight of the last nine games.
Not that the Beavers need any extra motivation.
"We're definitely excited just because of our position in the standings with them and how important this weekend is," Bauman said. "I think we all understand that."