Column: Bemidji Events Center first step for BSU hockey

BEMIDJI - Monday was a big day for the Bemidji community. News that Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty had included the Bemidji Regional Events Center in the bonding bill was met with a great deal of fanfare ... and sighs of relief.

BEMIDJI - Monday was a big day for the Bemidji community. News that Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty had included the Bemidji Regional Events Center in the bonding bill was met with a great deal of fanfare ... and sighs of relief.

Among those most relieved were the members of the Bemidji State University hockey program - not just the coaches and current players, but the extended family of alumni, fans and supporters of the program.

Finally, some good news concerning the future of BSU hockey.

Remember, it wasn't all that long ago where the news was filled with stories abut the possible demise of the storied BSU men's hockey program. About 18 months ago, BSU President Jon Quistgard announced the program was on anything but stable ground. Unless a way could be found to come up with $500,000 a year for five years and the Beavers had a new place to play games and the program found a better conference situation, its financial stability could not be guaranteed.

That meant, in not so many words, unless these conditions were met the BSU hockey program was kaput ... over ... finished.


The news hit the BSU hockey faithful like a mule's kick to the stomach. No more BSU hockey? C'mon ... you can't be serious. This is a program with a fifty plus year history of success - one of the two college hockey programs in the nation to compete for national titles at the NCAA Div. I, Div. II and Div. III levels.

This is a program that has sent players on to the Olympics, to U.S. National teams, to the National Hockey League and many other pro leagues around the world. This is a program that has produced a phenomenal number of coaches who have worked at all levels of hockey across the country

But here the program was, on the verge of being disbanded. The talk was serious and very real - all too real for many. Those who didn't think so were fooling themselves.

The following months were a roller coaster of emotions - first the news the city would pursue an events center downtown (high), to the downtown idea being tossed (low). From the university being a willing partner and anchor tenant for the project ( high) to the university refusing to sign any type of agreement (low). From the events center idea being rejuvenated at a new site on the south shore of Lake Bemidji (high) to the project not being included on Gov. Pawlenty's bonding list (low).

On and on the wild ride continued. And all the while the BSU hockey program was paying the price. The coaches received tons of calls for people across the country about the status of the program - prospective players and their parents, national news media, and other coaches among them. Players were bombarded with questions from students and university staff about when the program would be canned.

Somehow, through it all, BSU hockey and those involved with it persevered. The Beavers ended up putting together a fine 2007-08 season, winning the College Hockey America regular season title and coming within a few inches of advancing to its third NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance in four years.

And then finally, thankfully, some good news.

The Bemidji Regional Events Center will become a reality, thanks to the hard work and foresight of many, many people. For the first time in too many months the cloud that had been hanging over the Bemidji State hockey program started to lift.


BSU head men's hockey coach Tom Serratore ran through the gamut of emotions when hearing the big news Monday afternoon. "I very happy and excited, of course," he said. "But it's kind of like when you win a big game - you're happy, but more relieved than anything. The real excitement to me is seeing how enthused all the various stakeholders in the process are about this happening.

"To see the look in people's faces who played vital roles in making this happen - that's the exciting part for me. They are the ones who worked so hard; they were the ones in the trenches doing the tough work every day. That's the exciting part."

More specifically in terms of the BSU hockey program, the standard lines like a breath of fresh air or a ray of sunshine come to mind.

"The coaching staff got together and talked about what an impact this has," Serratore reported. "For the first time in 18 months we have something positive to say to the world about the program's future. The event center, to us, is not just about a building - it's about the future of a program that includes 52 years of history - a history that very many people feel very strongly about.

"The last year and a half has been tough; it's been demoralizing in many cases. But now we have something positive to talk about and everyone involved with Beaver hockey is very thankful for that."

One major hurdle down, but yet another remains. BSU now needs a conference or league in which to play. The CHA is no longer viable, being reduced to four teams following the disbanding of the Wayne State University program this year. It is now time for the powers that be of college hockey to come up with a solution to the situation facing BSU and the three additional CHA teams.

So far, rumored plans to make the CHA a viable conference by adding teams or moving under the umbrella of another conference have not come to fruition. At the same time, no plan to disband the CHA and have other conferences absorb the new members has been unveiled.

The Bemidji community, the university and the state of Minnesota have banded together to show their commitment to Bemidji State men's hockey - in a major way many people thought not possible.


Now is the time -- not in a few weeks, months or years but now, for college hockey to step up and show its commitment. As many a college hockey coach is fond of saying "hey, this isn't rocket science; we're not splitting atoms here."

What we have is four storied and committed college hockey programs that need a home. C'mon, college hockey, let's find them one.

Then we can all really celebrate.

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