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BOYS HOCKEY: Bemidji concludes regular season with emotional loss to TRF

Josef Lalli and Tyson Bjornerud sat solemnly on the Bemidji High School boys hockey team’s bench on Thursday night.

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Bemidji senior Tyson Bjornerud (7) fights for possession of the puck in the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, at Bemidji Community Arena.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Josef Lalli and Tyson Bjornerud sat solemnly on the Bemidji High School boys hockey team’s bench on Thursday night. The Lumberjacks had just lost 4-2 to Thief River Falls at the Bemidji Community Arena.

It was the last regular-season game that Lalli, a senior defenseman, and Bjornerud, a senior forward, would play for BHS at the BCA. And it started to hit them.

“Hockey’s a tough sport,” head coach Pete Stahnke said. “It’s got its ups and downs, and obviously tonight was a little bit of a down with losing. But there’s a lot of memories for these seniors.”

But the Jacks’ seniors wanted to end their final regular season with a win. And for a brief moment, Bemidji controlled the action on the ice and looked primed to do so.

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The Lumberjacks celebrate junior Wyatt Mattfield’s (9) goal in the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, at Bemidji Community Arena.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

The Lumberjacks (8-15-2) came out with an early surge, with Wyatt Mattfield burying a goal as he hurtled toward the crease at 2:56 in the first period. A few minutes afterward, the Jacks nearly chipped in another close one, but they couldn’t get good wood on the puck in the crease.

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Thief River Falls (14-11) then took the advantage by the first intermission. Tysen Loeffler scored at 8:36 on the power play to tie it, and Braydin Lund gave TRF the lead at 14:41 on an even-strength score tapped in near the Bemidji net.

The Prowlers pushed the lead to 3-1 with a goal by Brendan Bottem on the power play at 14:13 in the second period.

Bottem’s 5-on-4 score was TRF’s second of the game and served as the game-winner. Conceding goals down a man thus became a point of emphasis for Stahnke after the contest.

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Bemidji goalie Jackson Hill (1) deflects a shot in the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, at Bemidji Community Arena.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“I thought we played hard,” Stahnke said. “I just thought we were really bad on the penalty kill, and we took too many penalties. That's kind of been our downfall all year.”

Jace Erickson stretched the lead to 4-1 with an even-strength score at 12:03 in the third period. Mattfield responded with his second goal at 15:19 on a nifty backhander in front of Prowlers goaltender Brett Holmer, making it 4-2. But it was too little and too late for Bemidji.

“As coaches, we just said, ‘OK, we didn't win this one, but we had some energy,’” Stahnke said. “We know what we need to learn from it to be better for Tuesday's playoff game. And honestly, that's what we're really focusing on right now.

“… So I think the big thing after tonight, they’ll come ready for practice tomorrow, and I think they’ll be geared up and ready to go.”

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Bemidji junior Cooper Malkowski (10) challenges Thief River Falls’ Brett Holmer (31) in the first period on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, at Bemidji Community Arena.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

The Lumberjacks will face Elk River/Zimmerman in the first round of the Section 8AA Tournament. BHS was seeded sixth of nine teams in the section and will travel to face the third-seeded Elks in Elk River.

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But Thursday night belonged to the Jacks’ seniors. And though it wasn’t the outcome they wanted, they’ll have a chance to flip the script at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

“I think we can beat Elk River, and these guys believe it too,” Stahnke said. “It’s a tough game, to stay focused all three periods. But in order to win in the playoffs, it’s got to be a must.”

Thief River Falls 4, Bemidji 2

TRF 2 1 1 -- 4

BHS 1 0 1 -- 2

First period -- 1, BHS GOAL, Mattfield (Gladen), 2:56; 2, TRF GOAL, Loeffler (Erickson, Lund), 8:36, PP; 3, TRF GOAL, Lund (Arlt), 14:41.

Second period -- 4, TRF GOAL, Bottem (Lund, Arlt), 14:13, PP.

Third period -- 5, TRF GOAL, Erickson (Lund, Villareal), 12:03; 6, BHS GOAL, Mattfield (Lalli), 15:19.

Saves -- Hill (BHS) 18; Holmer (TRF) 27.

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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