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GIRLS HOCKEY: Bemidji earns moral victory amid search for real-life wins

It was a moral victory for BHS to some extent, a one-win team keeping things respectable against the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. But now Bemidji must find ways to flip moral victories into real-life wins.

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Bemidji senior Chloe Hasbargen (4) shoots the puck in the third period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Chloe Hasbargen was the first Bemidji High School girls hockey player on the ice for warmups.

The senior captain glided toward the far net, made a smooth turn toward center ice and finally watched as Warroad, Monday night’s opponent, converged on the opposite end of the Bemidji Community Arena.

As Hasbargen prepared herself for the game, her attention turned to her teammates.

“My main focus,” Hasbargen said, “is trying to get the whole team pumped up and getting them in a game mindset. Then they’re ready to play.”

Warroad controlled the scoreboard -- winning 5-1 in the end -- as the Lumberjacks dropped to 1-12-2 on the season.

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Bemidji junior Bella Webb (10) takes control of the puck in the second period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

It was a moral victory for BHS to some degree, a one-win team keeping things respectable against the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. But now Bemidji must find ways to flip moral victories into real-life wins.

“I still have looked at this season as a real building process in terms of being a different team at the end of the year than at the beginning,” head coach Mike Johnson said. “We need to get beyond that moral victory stage, and hopefully we’re headed in that direction.”

That process, Johnson said, relies heavily on a leadership group he trusts.

“(Hasbargen) has put the team on her back and said, ‘Hey guys, this is how we’re going to do it, and this is what we need to do,’” Johnson said. “She’s been a fantastic leader. And, of course, Madyson Nistler, Elizabeth Oster have stepped up. Bella Webb is always in the mix. No question, we’re always looking to those upperclassmen to lead.”

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Bemidji junior Madyson Nistler (21) controls the puck in the second period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

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Optimism can be a challenge during a winter in which the record is as cold as the weather. But with their first win in hand, plus a few recent ties and some one-goal losses, the Jacks believe a long-awaited turnaround is within sight.

“I really think they’re starting to believe, and they seem to be having a good time,” Johnson said. “They’re buying into what we’re selling: It’s got to be defense first, and then we’ll try to generate some opportunities to get some pucks in the net.”

There were promising moments on Monday, like when Nistler redirected a Kiera Nelson power-play shot at the 14:10 mark of the first period. Once the puck found the netting, Nistler nearly jumped out of her skates in celebration.

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The Lumberjacks celebrate after Madyson Nistler's (21) goal in the first period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

Then there was goalie Payton Weidemann, who made a few highlights of her own while standing on her head. Her showcase included a pair of saves during a 2-on-0 Warriors breakaway and back-to-back point-blank denials.

But the night still belonged to Warroad, who finished the game with a 51-9 advantage in shots on goal. Weidemann withstood the assault for 46 saves.

The Warriors (13-2-1) scored the first two goals of the game, then another with 0:01 left in the first period. They added two more strikes in the second frame for a 5-1 advantage through two.

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But the third period was scoreless, another example of a moral victory that BHS wants to cultivate into a greater development.

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Bemidji goalie Payton Weidemann (35) deflects the puck in the second period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

“It’s really exciting to see us improving and learning from everything,” Hasbargen said. “Learning from what we do, and then getting better from then on (is the next step).”

Hasbargen was the first Lumberjack through the handshake line, the first one to thank the refs, and she was sure to distribute a few high-fives and back pats to teammates on her way off the ice.

“It’s really huge to have that many girls looking up to me,” Hasbargen said of her captaincy. “I just want to make sure I set a really good example for them. Then they can learn stuff from me for when they’re in the same role in a few years.”

Bemidji is back at home at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, against Thief River Falls at the BCA.

010522.S.BP.BHSGHKY Megan Berg.jpg
Bemidji eighth-grader Megan Berg (2) shoots the puck in the third period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

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Bemidji sophomore Mya Lundeen (6) moves the puck in the second period against Warroad on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

Warroad 5, Bemidji 1

WAR 3 2 0 -- 5

BHS 1 0 0 -- 1

First period -- 1, WAR GOAL, Lavergne (Sandy, Lindquist), 7:13, PP; 2, WAR GOAL, K. Johnson (Courteau, Skogman), 12:44; 3, BHS GOAL, M. Nistler (Nelson, Oster), 14:10, PP; 4, WAR GOAL, Hendrickson (K. Johnson), 16:59.

Second period -- 5, WAR GOAL, K. Johnson (Hendrickson, Skogman), 0:47; 6, WAR GOAL, Hendrickson (K. Johnson, Comstock), 10:30.

Third period -- No scoring.

Saves -- Weidemann (BHS) 46; Werk (WAR) 8.

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