BEMIDJI — The Bemidji High School boys hockey team got used to playing in big games when they went to the Class AA state tournament last season.
The Lumberjacks lost in the consolation semifinals, but nonetheless gained some valuable experience playing good teams against big crowds in the Twin Cities.
On Tuesday night, the big-game atmosphere shifted to a slightly smaller stage at Bemidji Community Arena, as the No. 11-ranked Lumberjacks hosted No. 9-ranked Hill-Murray — a traditional state powerhouse who also played in the Class AA tournament last season.
The BCA was nearly filled to the brim for the top 20-matchup, and the Lumberjacks made a big statement over the Pioneers with a 6-2 win.
“We just, know what, play our game,” BHS head coach Wade Chiodo said of the big-game atmosphere. “You can’t change. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing and after the game, I said, ‘Guys, we gotta play like this all the time because when we do this, we’re a good hockey team.’ And we were flying in on all three lines, all our D-men. It was fun to watch.”
BHS forwards Josh Lusby and Rocky Copiskey scored two goals apiece and Jack Johnson added another in what was a dominant win for the Lumberjacks.
“It was great,” BHS senior forward Jack Johnson said of the energized home crowd. “The fans were great.
“It was nice to pack it. It was nice to be in front of a home atmosphere and get a win for the fans.”
Chiodo credited the quick pace exhibited by the Lumberjacks (15-2-2) to an improvement in his squad’s neutral zone play.
“We’ve been working on our neutral zone play because it’s been lackadaisical lately and I thought our neutral zone play was very crucial tonight,” Chiodo said.
Alex Pollock brought the crowd to its feet with his goal at the four-minute mark of the first period. The forward lifted the puck over the Hill-Murray (13-6-1) netminder Jake Begley to give the Lumberjacks a 1-0 lead.
There was no shortage of scoring chances in the opening frame.
The Pioneers’ Marko Reifenberger missed a wide-open net, going feet wide on the shot attempt. Copiskey nearly had a goal through the five-hole of Begley but he kept the puck from eeking across the line.
Less than a minute into the second, Dylan Mills’ slap shot deflected off the post and in to tie the game at 1-1.
Bemidji did not let the score stay even for long.
Jack Johnson grabbed a Copiskey rebound in front of the crease and easily pocketed it for the goal.
The Lumberjacks immediately struck again as Lusby caught Begley sliding out of his net and scored to make it 3-1.
Hill-Murray then pulled Begley and inserted John Eger into the game to stop the bleeding.
But the goaltending change did little to prevent Lusby from scoring again, this time from a slap shot that found the back of the net to put Bemidji up 4-1 late in the frame.
Three minutes into the third, Copiskey bagged a rebound goal off of a shot from Johnson as the Jacks extended their lead to 5-1.
Copiskey tallied his second goal of the night off a pass from Johnson at the 13:42 mark of the third, giving Bemidji its largest lead of the game at 6-1.
The Pioneers were able to scrounge up another goal when Luke Ranallo scored on the power play with four seconds left in the game, but it made no difference in the outcome.
“I thought we played hard,” Chiodo said. “Obviously, I thought we were really sound on pucks. We played simple, we attacked the net and good things are going to happen.”
The Lumberjacks will not wait long for their next game. The team heads to Roseau for a 6 p.m. contest Thursday.
“We’re just going to go tomorrow and have a nice little skill practice and then turn around and go up to Roseau,” Chiodo said.
Bemidji 6, Hill-Murray 2
BHS 1 3 2 — 6
H-M 0 1 1 — 2
First period — 1. BHS, Pollock (Tatro, E. Fitzgerald) 4:00
Second period — 2. H-M, Mills (Reifenberger) 0:28, 3. BHS, Johnson (Cole Hartje, Copiskey) 2:05, 4. BHS, Lusby 1 (Pollock, Tatro) 2:48. 5. BHS, Lusby 2 (E. Fitzgerald) 13:15
Third period — 6. BHS, Copiskey 1 (Johnson, Lalli) 3:06, 7. BHS, Copiskey 2 (Johnson) 13:42, 8. H-M, Ranallo (Helgeson, Mills) 16:56
Goalies — BHS: M. Fitzgerald: 11, H-M: Begley: 10, Eger: 16
Bemidji’s Alex Pollock (11) shoots and scores against Hill-Murray’s goalie Jake Begley (1) during a game Tuesday in Bemidji. Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer