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GIRLS HOCKEY: Johnson settles in behind the BHS girls hockey bench

Bemidji High School girls hockey coach Mike Johnson talks to the team at practice on Wednesday at the Nymore Arena. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Bemidji High School senior Maggie Marcotte (2), a right-handed hockey player, completes a drill using a left-handed stick at practice on Wednesday at Nymore Arena. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- In a year that marks a new wave with Mike Johnson taking over as head coach of the Bemidji High School girls hockey team, the Lumberjacks’ first matchup comes against the Green Wave.

Bemidji heads to East Grand Forks for a 6 p.m. season opener Friday, Nov. 9. In the same game last season, the Green Wave shut out the Jacks, 2-0.

“I think we have to come out and play an aggressive style,” Johnson said. “I’ve always kind of built my teams as a coach from defense first. So we make sure we do a good job in defensive-zone coverage, but then we’re going to try to transition quickly to breakout and maybe stretch the ice through the neutral zone, try to generate some speed.”

BHS went on to finish the season 5-21 last season after falling to Roseau, 4-1, in the first round of the Section 8AA tournament under head coach Casey Reierson, while EGF finished 18-9-1 and lost in the Section 8A championship, 4-1, to Warroad.

Coming into hockey season, Johnson said his knowledge about the team was limited.

“I grew up here, but then we were gone in Madison for a little over 20 years, and we moved back here about three years ago,” he said. “I didn’t know a lot. I knew you don’t measure everything in wins and losses, but I knew they hadn’t had a lot of success in the win column, if you will.”

The Lumberjacks started practicing Monday, Oct. 29, starting with three hours of ice time per day, and the first-year coach is happy with what he’s seen so far.

“I don’t want to say amazed, but in some sense, I kind of am,” Johnson said. “I look at the quality of these kids, the skills they have and the camaraderie, and I think there’s really potential for something special here.”

Led by senior forward Maggie Marcotte, the Lumberjacks carry a lot of experience into their first contest due to an abundance of underclassmen on the roster the past couple seasons.

Johnson has done his best to simulate a game-level style of competition in practice, but the now-seasoned Lumberjacks won’t know how they’ll stack up against a real opposition in an actual game until the puck drops Friday.

“To have that experience as an eighth or a ninth grader at the varsity level – and to have to step in because there’s just not a lot of upperclassmen – you develop some quick leadership skills and you get used to going out there and having to perform and compete at a very high level,” Johnson said. “The kind of experience that these players have already had at that level is, I think, really going to be a feather in our cap this year.”

Starting the season against a program like East Grand Forks isn’t an easy feat for Bemidji, but it is a welcome test to get started on a year the team hopes to turn its fortunes around.

“I’m super optimistic and the girls are fired up,” said Johnson. “I haven’t seen the competition yet, but based on recent history, East Grand has a solid program and it’ll be a great challenge to get out there and see what we can do.”