Hockey mania in Bemidji, Minn., was whipped up Friday as the city celebrated groundbreaking for the Bemidji Regional Event Center, which will house Bemidji State’s hockey program. And, of course, fans of the Beavers are heading toward a hyper peak as Bemidji State prepares to meet Miami of Ohio in Thursday’s 4 p.m. Frozen Four semifinal game in Washington, D.C. (on ESPN2). Here’s a taste of the excitement from Saturday’s Bemidji Pioneer.
Bemidji Pioneer – 04/04/2009
Shortly after ground was broken for Bemidji State’s new hockey home, a parade of politicians lined up to pressure a visiting WCHA official about the school’s entry into the elite league.
Friday’s groundbreaking for the Bemidji Regional Event Center, Bemidji State’s upcoming NCAA Frozen Four trip to Washington, D.C., and the Beavers’ “potential” entry into the WCHA is the “perfect storm,” state Labor and Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum said during a luncheon celebrating the event center construction start.
“I did some minimal background research,” Sviggum told WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, who sat in the front row of tables in a packed Hampton Inn & Suites convention hall. “I understand in reading what the papers — Washington Post, New York Times, ESPN, Minneapolis/St. Paul papers — have got to write about Bemidji.
“I have been reading about the difficulty in your decision,” he added, referring to BSU being the 11th school should the WCHA rule favorably, creating an unbalanced league. “And we understand that. But my minimal research told me that the Big Ten has 11 teams.”
That got a hoot from the crowd and a smile from McLeod, who with University of North Dakota faculty representative Sue Jeno was making a site visit.
“I don’t know if that’s precedence or not — it certainly suffixes in my book,” Sviggum said.
Sviggum, who also read a congratulatory letter from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said that no longer is talk of the first 16th seed to make the Frozen Four, but the expectation is that Bemidji State will win.
"By the way, I hope that they don’t meet the Badgers,” he said referring to a WCHA team. “Oh, they aren’t there, are they? Hopefully, in the first game, they won’t meet the Sioux. What, the Sioux are not there? At least they can fly out with the Gophers, right?”
“Go Beavers!” Sviggum said, as no WCHA teams are in the Frozen Four.
Sviggum read Pawlenty’s letter that the event center “will serve as a hub of social, cultural and recreational events in north-central Minnesota. It will also generate significant revenue for the local economy and create many jobs.”
And Sviggum, a former House speaker, reiterated his push to name the event center “R.H. ‘Bob’ Peters Ice Sheet,” after the legendary Bemidji State men’s coach.
“Frankly, I was thinking about lobbying efforts, so Mr. Commissioner, why not now?” Minnesota Assistant Majority Leader Taryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, asked McLeod after saying the effort to build an event center pulled the community together, all in support of BSU’s national title run.
Citing persistence and perseverance, Clark deadpanned to McLeod, “It’s a matter of time?” for BSU’s entry to the WCHA.
Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who played college hockey for Denver University, another WCHA team, reminded the gathering they were there to highlight the groundbreaking ceremonies for the event center.
Special thanks went to Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee which last year found monies for five such centers and hockey arenas around the state.
“You got this thing after many, many tries,” Tomassoni said. “You deserve a whole lot of credit. … Persistence is a really good word.”
He cited the trips Bemidjians took to the State Capitol with red-and-black sweaters to lobby for the project. “Start digging and putting people to work.”
BSU President Jon Quistgaard called it a new era for BSU hockey. “Think where we have been with 13 national championships, getting into the Sweet 16 and now into the Frozen Four. I’m more optimistic … I think this is just the beginning in the evolution of Beaver hockey. It’s now a new era, and a new era for Bemidji State University hockey.”
Quistgaard called it a dream that became reality. “It’s all kind of a swirl right now.”
The new event center is a partnership, he said, as it not only provides a new venue for Bemidji State hockey, but also for it fans who will come to Bemidji and stay in its hotels and eat in its restaurants. “This is just the beginning of what Bemidji is going to continue to become.”
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, right, talks with Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann following a WCHA Site Visit Rally Friday night in Memorial Hall at Bemidji State. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren