Revenge. It’s the driving force behind any rivalry.
And so it was with UAH and Bemidji State. The Beavers took the NCAA Division II championship from the Chargers in sudden death overtime in 1994. UAH got even with a convincing sweep in 1996.
The Beavers took the 1997 title with a sweep in Bemidji. Naturally, it was UAH’s turn.
“We don’t like each other,” Darren Awender told The Huntsville Times. “It‘s a rivalry, simple as that.”
Fifteen years ago, on March 14, 1998, the Chargers got revenge. Again.
And it cemented UAH-Bemidji as one of the hottest rivalries in college hockey, despite the approximately 1,200 miles between the schools.
The Chargers won the 1998 NCAA Division II national championship with 6-2 and 5-2 wins over the Beavers. UAH finished the season with a 24-3-3 record.
It appeared things were going UAH‘s way early in the first game. Bemidji’s Marc LeFleur had UAH goalie Cedric Billequey down with 40 seconds left in the first period, when defenseman Tim McAllister flew into the crease and blocked LeFleur’s shot to keep the game scoreless.
From there, the Chargers took command with three goals in the second and three more in the third. Mark Motowski netted two goals, with Colin Schmidt, Ryan Stewart, Mike Hamlin, and co-captain John McCabe also scoring.
With the game in hand, tempers flared. Twenty-four players were called for penalties between the teams, including a game misconduct penalty on BSU’s Bruce Matatall for butt-ending Stewart.
Bemidji opened the scoring in Game 2, but Ryan Gavigan’s deflection of a McAllister shot from just inside the blue line snuck past BSU goalie Neil Cooper to tie the game at 1.
Ryan Stewart then blew the doors off Bemidji and UAH didn’t look back. His blast from the far circle with 3:16 of the second period hit Cooper’s pad, trickled past him, and broke a 1-1 tie.
Schmidt made it 3-1 two minutes later when he buried a Ryan McCormack pass from behind the goal line. Jay Woodcroft and McCabe’s power-play goals in the third put the game out of reach. Billequey’s 30 saves made it stand.
The end of the championship was marred by one final scuffle. Shane Stewart had the puck alone behind the UAH net as the final seconds were counted down, ready for the celebration, when BSU’s Jim Logan checked into Stewart. The Chargers retaliated and a fracas ensued.
Call it the heat of the moment, but the incident led to harsh words on live TV by McCabe: “We’re 20 times the team that team is down there, and showed it both nights.
“They can’t carry our skates and they’re going Division I? They’re brutal. See you, Bemidji!”
Bemidji State would announce a move to Division I in May of 1998. UAH followed a month later, ending the head-to-head series in Division II at two championships apiece. After a year as independents, the schools would continue the rivalry as charter members of College Hockey America.
But on that night, the Chargers got the best of the Beavers again.
Huntsville native Matt Parker, who was a senior this go around, told The Huntsville Times: “This was my second championship, and it was just as good.”