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Sanford Center feels more like home in second year for Bemidji State hockey, staff and Lakeland Sports

Bemidji State hockey players Brad Hunt, left, and Jamie MacQueen walk to the locker room following Tuesday's practice at the Sanford Center. The 'Walk of Champions' hallway features photos of BSU's national championship teams and helps the facility feel like a home for the Beavers. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

The Bemidji State hockey teams are feeling at home in the Sanford Center to start the second full season in the arena.

Sanford Center interim director Roger Swanson is looking for ways to help make the arena feel more like home for fans, too.

"I think we should make the time and experience here the best it can possibly be," Swanson said. "I fully support doing more promotional things and lifting some of the restrictions. We want to try and be more proactive to reach out to season-ticket holders, suite holders and let them not be in such a hurry to get out of the lot."

Swanson said the club level bar will remain open to all fans for one hour following all home games this season. There is also a change in suite policy where owners can personalize the space and put photos on the walls, something not allowed last year. Swanson is also looking to lower concession menu prices.

"We're going through all these exercises and trying to do a better job of doing the things people expect from us," Swanson said. "This is the community's facility and we want to increase usage whenever we can and let people enjoy it."

The Sanford Center was completed on time last season for the season-opening hockey series but there was little time to spare for the teams. The BSU men's hockey team was not completely moved into the facility and did not skate on the Sanford Center ice until a week before the season-opening series.

The locker rooms, exercise area and equipment room were in place but like moving into a new home or apartment, the feel of home was not quite there at the start of the season.

That feeling is different a year later.

"I think it's just a comfort level now and I think it's interesting when people can see what we have compared to a lot of other programs," BSU women's head coach Steve Sertich said. "You really do appreciate the beauty of this place. I think we have a certain comfort level here now. It's home."

The once bare walls in the hockey wing of the Sanford Center are now filled with collages depicting the history of the programs, photos honoring graduated players and canvas prints of past teams. A photo of Shea Walters' game-winning, overtime goal against Minnesota-Duluth at the Final Five last year covers an entire wall in the men's player lounge behind a ping pong table.

"Last year it didn't even feel like our own arena but now it's home," BSU senior Drew Fisher said. "We're pretty spoiled really but it shows the character of our guys because we don't take this for granted. We want to take advantage of what we have here."

Toby Palmicsno is the equipment manager for the Beavers and manages a large equipment room between the two locker rooms.

"We're the only equipment room in the conference that has the offices, skate sharpening, laundry, the small storage and big storage all in one room," Palmiscno said. "I'm in love with it because everything is in one room."

Palmiscno and former equipment manager Justin Enfield incorporated ideas from other college hockey programs and the National Hockey League into the equipment room setup at the Sanford Center.

The large stick rack inside the equipment is similar to what Nebraska-Omaha program has- an improvement on the old 25-square foot stick storage room at the John Gals Fieldhouse. An island table mirrors the University of Minnesota's women's program. A locker room chute to hide laundry baskets is copied from the Northern Michigan program.

"We're a little far from the playing surface, it's about 85 steps from the bench to the locker room," Palmiscno said. "So I have to run if I have to sharpen skates between periods. But I think if that's your biggest issue then you have it made."

The feeling of comfort also extends to the Lakeland Sports television production staff. BSU home hockey game broadcasts moved from KBSU Channel 17 to Lakeland last season as part of a two-year contract.

There was new equipment and a new audience. The broadcasts are available throughout Minnesota and parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin via the Minnesota Channel on all Minnesota Public Television stations.

The production crew worked with brand new equipment last season and spent much of the year working to improve broadcast quality.

"I think last year we didn't know what we were doing with camera placement, so this year we've decided to make some adjustments," said Lakeland Sports director Tim Larson.

There will be a camera in the corner of the rink at ice level this season to add an extra replay angle to the live broadcasts. Last year the only two replays available were from the two primary cameras located at center ice in the press box.

Play-by-play announcer Scott Williams and color commentator Eric Monsrud called games on KBSU and were hired to call the games on Lakeland.

"I think last year the only people who were familiar with what happens on game day were Eric and I," Williams said. "Now we notice a huge difference in the production meetings we have. Everyone knows what it takes to broadcast a hockey game ... I think we feel like everyone in this building right now. There are less unknowns than there were last year."

The broadcast this year will include on-ice instructional segments with the BSU hockey players and coaches during intermissions. There are also plans to feature players and parts of the Bemidji community.

"This year going into the first game we know exactly what to expect and we know how much time things are going to take," Larson said. "If you look at the beginning of the year compared to the end of the year last year, our first game was kind of rough where as at the end of the year we were in the swing of things and we knew what was going on."