There are many reasons why the Bemidji boys hockey team is 7-0-1 heading into next week's tournament at Duluth Denfeld.
Offensively the Lumberjacks have outscored their opponents 34-9, including 18-0 in the first period. They also enjoy a 269-174 advantage in shots and have connected on six of their 26 power play chances (23.08 percent).
Defensively the Jacks have yielded only four goals on 45 penalty kills (91.11 percent) and collectively the players have done what is necessary to limit the opponents' scoring opportunities.
"We have a solid group of young defensemen and they have done a good job of pushing the shots to the outside and letting me see the puck," said Bemidji goaltender Jeremiah Graves who has formed the backbone of the defense by playing near flawless hockey so far this winter.
Graves has done his part to help the Lumberjacks post an unbeaten record after eight games. He is one of only two goalies in the state with three shutouts (Ryan Coyne of Maple Grove is the other) and his 1.10 goals against average is second in the state to Anders Jecha of Benilde-St. Margaret who has a 1.00 GAA in four starts.
Graves also has a .948 save percentage and that figure ranks fifth among the state's goalies with at least four starts.
"Jeremiah comes up big a lot for us," said co-captain and senior forward Max Hazelton. "Jeremiah has been a good goalie all his life. He is a very good athlete in general and is quick and confident.
"And we have confidence in him."
BHS coach Wade Chiodo agrees with Hazelton's assessment and Chiodo has noticed another quality that has led to the fast start for Graves and the Lumberjacks.
"Jeremiah is definitely in a zone right now," Chiodo said. "He is focused on the job at hand and that is evident when you look at how he has started the season."
Graves started a few games as a sophomore and last year saw extended duty until he took a slap shot to the knee in a game against Grand Rapids.
"The knee never really did come back last year," Graves said. "We did a lot of rehab and it was better by spring although there still was some nagging pain. But it's no big deal now."
While Graves possesses the physical qualities required of a successful high school goaltender, his ability to react to the varying situations has also been a key component.
"I feel the game has slowed for me compared to when I was a sophomore," Graves said. "It is nice to see the game in slow motion and to be physically able to react to the situations.
"We do a pretty good job of relaxing on our team," Graves continued. "Being able to relax while playing under the spotlight that is goaltending is important. Also, a goalie can never get too high or too low. It's like being a pitcher in baseball: you shouldn't show your frustrations."
Chiodo isn't surprised that Graves is among the state leaders in all of the goaltending statistics. And he expects that level of play to continue.
"Jeremiah is playing like we hoped and expected him to and it's been fun watching him work," Chiodo said. "He is making the big saves when we need them and he is making all of the routine saves.
"Every kid on this team is a piece to our puzzle," Chiodo continued. "Jeremiah is another piece and he is doing a great job of helping his team be successful."
"I feel this team is a brotherhood," Graves said, "and as a team our expectations are to reach the top. Ultimately, we are always trying to get to the state but before that can happen we need to make a statement in the section that we are the team to beat.
"We have the talent to take the section and it is going to be fun to see where we end up."