Historic hockey season a success at all levels in Bemidji

March has arrived and hockey season is drawing to a close.

This hockey season has been one to remember for the players, supporters and fans of the game in Bemidji.

Given the success at all levels in town this season, Hockey Day Minnesota should seriously consider bringing the annual event to Lake Bemidji next season. It would only be a fitting recognition for this city steeped in hockey tradition and enjoying success today.

Let’s start with the Bemidji Youth Hockey Association where the Bantam B, Pee Wee A and Pee Wee B Blue teams all reached district championship games in February. Those teams, along with the Bemidji 14U team, all qualified for the Minnesota Hockey Regional Tournament.

USA Hockey Magazine profiled BYHA in its January publication and recognized it as ‘an asset to the community.’ BYHA president Tracy Pogue said this in the story:

“We call it ‘Bemidji Pride.’ We tell kids who are 5, 6, 7 or 8 years old that if you work hard, you not only can be a good Squirt or Bantam, but you’ll also have a chance to play for Bemidji High School. That’s something these kids dream about,” Pogue said.

Who knows where those dreams may lead?

The 2010-11 Bemidji High School boys hockey team is experiencing its own dream season that will be talked about for years to come.

The Lumberjacks are 23-2-2 so far and have thundered through the season with five different winning streaks. The longest winning streak was nine games and part of a January where BHS only lost one game.

If Bemidji can defeat rival Moorhead in the Section 8AA championship game tonight in Thief River Falls, the Lumberjacks will advance to the state tournament for the first time since 1986.

There is also good hockey being played at Bemidji State.

To understand what this year meant for the Bemidji State women’s hockey team, look back to the 2007-08 season when the Beavers won only five games overall and two in WCHA play.

BSU plays powers Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth four times each season: in the 2007-08 season the Beavers lost all eight by a combined margin of 31-4.

This season the Beavers earned its first win in program history over Minnesota-Duluth in November, the first home win in program history over Minnesota in December and the first win in program history over a No. 1 ranked team against Mercyhurst in October.

The women’s season ended Sunday with a 3-2 overtime loss to North Dakota in the decisive game of a best-of-three WCHA first-round playoff series.

After the Beavers beat UND 3-0 on Saturday, a prominent photo of Annie Bauerfeld celebrating Erika Wheelhouse’s goal was featured on the front of the Grand Forks Herald Sunday sports page.

The photo was printed larger than the North Dakota state high school hockey tournament title games and larger than the BSU-UND men’s game held the same day in Grand Forks.

The Bemidji State women have plenty to be proud of in a record-setting season where it earned recognition in national polls and won a program-record nine home games.

The Sanford Center has created all kinds of new memories for the community in this first season at the new facility.

There were still moving boxes at one end of rink when the Beavers held a public scrimmage there in October and the historic first hockey season at the new home will come to a close this weekend when the Bemidji State men host the University of Minnesota.

Over the last five months the facility has started to feel more like home. The plush arena has yet to produce a signature intimidating crowd atmosphere comparable to the John Glas Fieldhouse, but that part of the game is evolving in the new rink and it will come in time.

The Bemidji State men’s hockey team has attracted 53,265 fans to its games at The Sanford Center this season to rank 18th out of 58 Division I hockey teams in total attendance.

Compare that to last year when the Beavers drew 32,714 fans to the John Glas Fieldhouse to rank 38th in college hockey attendance numbers.

Those numbers help show how hockey is thriving here in north central Minnesota.

The excitement is building for the regular season finale against the Gophers. The BSU Department of Athletics is asking all fans attending the games to wear white as part of a ‘Whiteout Weekend.’

The series will be televised live on Lakeland Public Television and Fox Sports North in another weekend of big exposure of Bemidji hockey, Beaver hockey and the city to a large audience across the upper Midwest.

The Bemidji State men have experienced their share of highs and lows this season as part of the unpredictable nature of the hockey season. It has been an unpredictable season in the first year of the WCHA and the playoffs are approaching fast.

The Beavers contended for a WCHA home-ice playoff position this season and were mathematically eliminated only last weekend. Like baseball, the beauty of the hockey season is in the journey and team will get another crack at it next year.

For now there is more hockey to be played and more time to create games, goals and moments to remember.

Let March begin.