BEMIDJI — The Bemidji High School boys hockey team ended a 29-year drought last season when they beat Moorhead in the Section 8AA title game to advance to the state tournament.
This year, the Spuds stand in their way again as the Lumberjacks will face-off with their longtime rivals in Thief River Falls at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Bemidji returns to Ralph Engelstad Arena, the site of last year’s section final, as it attempts to make consecutive trips to the state tournament for the first time since 1985 and 1986.
“It would be huge,” Bemidji head coach Wade Chiodo said. “It would mean a lot for the community and obviously for these kids. They’ve put a lot of time in. They’ve been dedicated to the program, dedicated to the sport and it would be a big accomplishment for them.”
The Lumberjacks (22-2-2) split its two regular season games against Moorhead, winning convincingly 5-0 at the Bemidji Community Arena on Dec. 1.
But the Spuds (16-10-0) also handed Bemidji one of its two losses this season, winning 3-2 in overtime on its home ice Jan. 12. The Lumberjacks led 2-1 in the second period but gave up the tying goal late in the second before Jack Fahrendorf scored the game-winner with eight seconds remaining in overtime. Since that meeting, Bemidji has won 10 straight games.
“I think the big difference was obviously we were home on one game and we were away on the other game,” Chiodo said.
Wednesday’s game marks the third time the rival schools have met for the Section 8AA title in six seasons, with Bemidji being the No. 1 seed and Moorhead the No. 2 seed for each contest.
“It’s always been a tough game,” Chiodo said. “They obviously know us, we know them. And bottom line is we just have to execute our gameplan.”
The Lumberjacks won 2-0 in last season’s section final to sweep all three meetings with the Spuds in 2014-15.
In 2011, Bemidji owned a 23-1-2 record but fell to Moorhead in the section title game after the Spuds had already accounted for the two ties in the Lumberjacks’ record.
Until Bemidji’s breakthrough win last season, Moorhead had won nine of the previous 15 Section 8AA titles with Roseau winning the other six.
After the Lumberjacks brought an end to the two-team domination of the section last season, their next challenge will be to see if they are a new Section 8AA power.
Chiodo says his players are prepared to defend their section title.
“The kids are ready and they’re relaxed and they’re focused in.”