LUMBERJACK THROWBACK: Boys Hockey Dominates Hill-Murray With Riveting Performance (1-26-16)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, KBUN Sportsradio presents a “Lumberjack Throwback”, as we recall a memorable Bemidji High School game from recent years through archived highlights and interviews. Today, the focus goes back to an electrifying night and performance from Bemidji boys hockey during its last State tournament season…

It was a game that stood out on the 2015/16 Bemidji boys hockey schedule as soon as it was released. An opponent coming on the road in a way that not many schools from its area and out of Section 8AA would.

“Hill-Murray? Coming to Bemidji for a hockey game? On a Tuesday?”

Indeed, the storied program–who, at the time, had made 27 State tournament appearances and won three State titles in its history–had agreed to come north to Bemidji to take on the Lumberjacks, who had made an impression with their run to the Class AA state tournament the previous season. The Jan. 26, 2016 matchup had created significant buzz around town, with a packed house expected at the Bemidji Community Arena.

The Lumberjacks had created their own buzz too, though. They were 14-2-2 by this point in the season, ranked #11 in the latest Let’s Play Hockey Class AA poll, and had won three straight games–among them an impressive 4-2 victory on the road at Hermantown that had come just over a week before.

Hill-Murray brought a nice traveling group of parents and fans north and arrived in Bemidji with the #9 ranking in Class AA and a 13-5-1 record, though coming off a 5-2 loss to Section 4AA foe (and eventual champion) Stillwater. It was a team that had also gone to State the previous season and featured a balanced group of forwards, along with talented goaltender Jake Begley and his excellent .924 save percentage.

From the very start though, the Lumberjacks were up for the big occasion. In front of one of the biggest crowds in BCA history, the opening shifts produced the blend of speed and physicality that had come to define the Lumberjacks that season. A prime example came on the first shift of the game for the Pioneers’ Kyler Yeo–the son of then-Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo–, who was leveled on an open-ice hit by future Bemidji State defensemen Nick Leitner.

The energy translated into scoring as well. Junior forward Alex Pollock raced through and backhanded under Begley to put Bemidji ahead at 4:00 of the first, helped by excellent plays from Brady Tatro and Erik Fitzgerald.

Despite controlling the first period, Bemidji was suddenly in a tie game 28 seconds into the second period when Dylan Mills scored for the Pioneers. The response from the home team was almost immediate though, as senior Jack Johnson finished a rebound to put the Lumberjacks ahead for good.

Senior Josh Lusby chased Begley from the game just 43 seconds later, smartly backhanding past the goaltender with his back to the net in front of the crease to make it a 3-1 game.

Lusby kept up the scoring with another outstanding goal at 13:15 of the second, shooting past Hill-Murray backup John Eger on the rush to send the packed crowd into delight.

By the end of the second, it was 4-1 Bemidji and it felt as though the visitors had no answers, as their long, up-ice passes continually went begging against the Jacks’ coverage in the neutral zone and behind. The third period became the Rocky Copiskey show, as another of Bemidji’s legion of seniors scored his first of two at 3:06 to keep the party atmosphere going in the BCA.

There was time for one more goal from Copiskey at 13:42, as he took advantage of Hill-Murray’s fading resistance to score on a turnaround.

The Pioneers got a consolation goal on the power play with mere seconds remaining, but the 6-2 final and 32-12 shots advantage underlined the dominance Bemidji had displayed against their visitors from the south.

Copiskey (2g, a) and Johnson (G, 2a) each finished with three points, while Pollock, Lusby, Tatro, Fitzgerald, and Leitner all contributed two points, displaying the vast balance and scoring threats Bemidji boasted at forward and defense. Sophomore goaltender Matt Fitzgerald had just 10 saves to make in the win.

While the Pioneers would lose to Stillwater in the Section 4AA final later that year, they would return to the Class AA state tournament the following two seasons.

Bemidji would not lose the rest of the regular season on its way to the top seed in Section 8AA and an eventual overtime win against Moorhead to go back to the State tournament. Despite losing in overtime to Grand Rapids in the opening game, the Lumberjacks would be crowned Class AA consolation champions two games later.

COMING THURSDAY: A State softball comeback almost beyond belief.

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