When the season began the Bemidji boys hockey players were faced with the task of playing their first six games on the road and dealing with all of the problems and obstacles such a schedule would throw at them.
The road trip began with a trek to East Grand Forks and the next night BHS headed to Monticello. During the next week the Jacks would board the bus four more times and stop in Sartell, Moorhead, St. Cloud Apollo and Warroad.
"When you are gone that much it is tough to stay healthy, keep up on the academics and perform at a high level," said Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo. "When you are gone that much it takes a toll on a person no matter who that person is."
With the Jacks facing such an oppressive scheduled to begin the year few hockey fans would have been disappointed had Bemidji posted a 3-3 record. The Lumberjacks, however, went 5-0-1, capping the unbeaten streak Tuesday with their 1-0 victory at Warroad.
Today BHS finally will play at home when it hosts Thief River Falls 7:30 p.m. at The Sanford Center.
The Jacks are excited to finally play a game that doesn't require a 3-hour one-way bus ride and playing at the newest venue in town is a bonus.
Saturday BHS will also enjoy the home-ice advantage when it welcomes Fergus Falls to the Nymore Arena. Saturday's contest concludes the pre-Christmas schedule as the Jacks will be off until heading to the Denfeld Invitational Dec. 28.
"We're home Thursday and Saturday and then we have a nice break," Chiodo said. "And the kids are excited to play at The Sanford Center."
Chiodo preaches that hockey is hockey and it doesn't matter where you play the game. But he will understand if his athletes adopt a slightly different approach tonight.
"I'm sure the guys will have their eyes wide open at the start of (tonight's) game," the coach said. "We practiced here last Friday and the kids talked about how neat it is to be on the ice and look into the stands. That's a neat perspective and it will be even better looking up and seeing our fans."
"It is a great facility and I think everyone should watch a BSU or high school game there," Chiodo added.
Fans attending tonight's battle will see a team that has outscored its opponents 25-7 in six games. Goaltender Jeremiah Graves has spearheaded a defense which has produced two consecutive shutouts.
Graves will be back in the net tonight and he will be flanked by defensive pairs which match Tyler Tatro with Cam Dahedl, Dillon Eichstadt with Matt Port and Brady Devescovi with Kole Spencer.
The offensive lines will see Max Hazelton flanked by John Forseth and Matt Serratore, Tyler Follis centering Steve Heller and Jordan Heller, Eric Hernesman joined by Jake White and Will Bruestle plus Easton Halbert flanked by James Bofferding and Garret Lind.
"This team is capable of having a wonderful season if we keep getting better," Chiodo said. "I'm proud of the kids and I'm proud of the way they have handled the early-season adversity. We are laying the building blocks to the playoffs and our goal is to finish this week strong, take a break and get recharged for the rest of the year."
The wrestlers will be put to the test when they host Grand Rapids around 7 p.m. today. The Thunderhawks enter the meet ranked seventh in the state Class AA poll and the roster includes five kids rated in the top-seven.
"Traditionally Grand Rapids has a very good team and this year it is exceptional," said BHS coach Rance Bahr.
Despite Grand Rapids' lofty ranking Bahr expects the Lumberjacks to more than hold their own.
"I do look for a close, competitive match and I think there could be a 7-7 match split," Bahr said. "If we are to win the meet we'll have to pick up bonus points with major decisions or pins in the matches that we are expected to win. And in the matches Grand Rapids is supposed to win we'll have to not give up any bonus points."
The Lumberjacks are coming off a fine showing at last weekend's Paul Bunyan Invitational in Brainerd. As a team the Jacks placed 10th of 15 squads and individually BHS was paced by Jake Crosby who finished third at 125 pounds.
Contributing fifths were Brian Maas at 112, Logan Crosby at 119 and heavyweight Alex Johnson.
"Out of our 14 kids only three didn't win a match and eight of our wrestlers placed," Bahr said. "Overall we were more balanced at the Paul Bunyan than we were last year."
Tonight's projected lineup includes Tyler O'Beirne (103), Brian Maas (112), Logan Crosby (119), Gary Molash (125), Jake Crosby (130), Craig Maas (135), Cody Thoring (140), Kade Johnson (145), Kody Craft (152), Colton Doty (160), Tyler Molitor (171), Brenden Fredricksen (189), Nick Maggert (215) and Alex Johnson (heavyweight).
The Lumberjacks hope to regain their winnings ways tonight when they travel to East Grand Forks.
Bemidji dropped a 5-2 decision Tuesday at Crookston. Allie Lapp and Chaniel Nelson scored for BHS which saw its record dip to 3-8.
The Jacks conclude their week Saturday at Brainerd and Tuesday they end the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule at International Falls.
The next home game will be Dec. 28 against Detroit Lakes at Nymore Arena.