Commentary: No longer unknown, Beavers prove they belong

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There is definitely more awareness of the Bemidji State men's hockey program this year compared to last. Last year the Beavers made their first appearance on the NCAA DI stage. The east coast media, and some on the national lev...

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There is definitely more awareness of the Bemidji State men's hockey program this year compared to last.

Last year the Beavers made their first appearance on the NCAA DI stage. The east coast media, and some on the national level, peppered the Beavers and head coach Tom Serratore with gee-whiz questions. "Aren't you going to be happy just being on the ice against the defending national champion? Aren't you just happy to be here? Are you going to skate just two lines in trying to match up with Denver? What is College Hockey America? Where is Bemidji?"

The questions continued ad nauseam, leaving the players and Serratore shaking their heads.

This time around there was few such questions. In fact, at a national press conference Friday morning there was only one. That's right, just one. Talk about progress.

"If you win the game tomorrow is it going to shock the world?" asked a blow dried television announcer?


"I'd like to answer that question," Serratore told the gathering. "The hockey world knows what we are about. It's just a certain portion of the media and those not connected with college hockey who would be shocked. Talk to the coaches of the WCHA or the CCHA or the ECACHL. They know about us. Hockey people know about us. They know what's going on. We are a respected program."

Bemidji State is geographically challenged, hidden away in northern Minnesota. The only time the national media talks about the community is when disaster strikes or something spectacular happens, most recently because of the prowess of athletic teams as in curling and hockey. A Bemidji team makes it to the national, or world, stage and then endures the same inane questions over and over again.

But progress is being made, as evidenced by the Beavers' return trip to the NCAA tournament.

Later, as the Beavers went on a tour of historic Lambeau Field, the similarity between Bemidji and Green Bay, between the Packers and the Beavers, really began to click. The similarities are on a much different level, of course, but the basics are the same.

Green Bay is much too small of a community to have an NFL franchise. The same has been said about Bemidji State in terms of having an NCAA Division I hockey team. Because of its small size Green Bay faces economic challenges that other communities that host NFL teams never worry about. Bemidji State faces the same economic challenges in providing for teams competing at the highest level of college hockey.

Just five years ago, the challenges seemed too great for the Packers to survive. In order to move forward in and compete in the billionaire's club that is the NFL the Packers had to make changes. Venerable Lambeau Field, despite its great history, needed to be upgraded in order to provide more revenue. If it didn't happen there was a very real possibility the unthinkable would happen - Packers would have to move.

The Packers had no deep pocket owner or big business rich community to come through with the major dollars needed. If the changes were going to be made, they'd have to be handled by the community. A $300 million upgrade expansion was called for. The Packers agreed to pick up one-half the cost. Brown County, where the city of Green Bay is located, was asked to come up with the additional $150 million.

A referendum was placed before the voters. It passed 51 percent to 49 percent. The upgrade was completed, including extra seats and a string of over 100 luxury boxes. The community had come together to save a local treasure. The Packers simply provided too much to the community for the residents to simply let them go.


Bemidji State men's hockey is now in a similar situation. In order to grow as a program a new arena is needed. There are no deep pockets who will step up to build the new facility. In order to advance as a program the community will be asked to rally together and pass a referendum.

Make no mistake; a new arena is a key to the advancement of BSU hockey.

Playing at The Glas the Beavers would have a very tough time arguing they belonged to be in a major conference. However, with a new arena that could generate revenue the case would become very solid.

What would the Bemidji community receive in return for making such a sacrifice? Premier teams from around the country would suddenly agree to play in Bemidji. Playing top notch competition in a new facility would undoubtedly attract fans from across north central Minnesota. The WCHA would have a tough time saying no.

Bemidji would also be able to host additional regional events that would bring in more revenue and more notoriety for the community.

Bemidji will never have a professional sports franchise. Topnotch DI college hockey will be as close as Bemidji will ever come. That's a wonderful second option, one to which no other community of this size in Minnesota could lay claim. Will the community come together to aid the storied program? Time will tell.

The people of Green Bay certainly thought is was worth it.

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