When it comes to rivalries, it's always been difficult to peg which team exactly fills that main role for the Minnesota State men's hockey team.
In the Mavericks' Division I era, fans have hoped that Minnesota or North Dakota could play the lead antagonist, but that's also been a hope and dream of just about every fan base in the sport.
Certainly, MSU has had its moments with both of those programs, including the best weekend of college hockey the city of Mankato has ever seen, the 2008 WCHA playoff series against the Gophers that featured a pair of double-overtime thrillers sandwiched around a single-OT game. And right out of the gates, in the late 1990s, the Mavericks played North Dakota tough in the WCHA tournament.
In-state opponents Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State were hopeful rivals for Minnesota State. However, UMD, a well-established WCHA member, also had its long-time adversaries within the conference. St. Cloud State was an opponent MSU had played more than any other team with the all-time series dating back to 1969. Add to that the two schools' rivalries in other sports in the North Central Conference and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, they easily could have been natural rivals.
The Huskies, who made the jump to Division I several years before the Mavericks, also were trying to establish rivalries with the big guns in the conference. It didn't help that the WCHA made Alaska Anchorage Minnesota State's official "rival," the team the Mavericks were locked into playing twice every season, while the more-fitting choice of St. Cloud got North Dakota instead.
Minnesota State and another old NCC school, Nebraska Omaha, tried to kindle a rivalry by playing for a traveling trophy, the Spirit of the Maverick, each season. However, with the teams playing in separate conferences for all but three seasons, fans never really embraced it. It didn't help that former MSU coach Troy Jutting (who is now an assistant at UNO) often downplayed the trophy series.
The breakup of the WCHA this offseason took all of those programs, with the exception of Anchorage, out of the league.
Naturally, people have pointed to the remaining in-state program, Bemidji State, as the Mavericks' chief rival. That's another series that dates back several decades. The Mavericks and Beavers began playing each other in 1974, and the two clubs had some bitter feuds in their Division II and III eras when both were national powers.
The two kept playing each other after making the jump to D-I, even though they weren't conference foes until the last three years.
Bemidji State leads the all-time series 46-39-13 — although MSU has 10 wins in the last 12 meetings — and they'll square off again this weekend in Bemidji.
"We've always had a great rivalry with Manakto," Beavers coach Tom Serratore said in a conference call last month. "Right now, with us being the only two Minnesota schools, that magnifies the rivalry.
"That's good. The league is built on rivalries and establishing new rivalries. This rivalry we have with Mankato is good, and it's only going to get better."
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.