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GIRLS HOCKEY: Middle schoolers Rupp, Johnson pace Bemidji in 3-0 defeat of TRF

There are youth movements, and then there’s what the Bemidji High School girls hockey team is putting on display so far this year. Thursday was another case in point, as two middle schoolers did all the scoring for the Lumberjacks against Thief River Falls at the Bemidji Community Arena.

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Bemidji eighth-grader Bailey Rupp (28) controls the puck during the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- There are youth movements, and then there’s what the Bemidji High School girls hockey team is putting on display so far this year.

Thursday was another case in point, as two middle schoolers did all the scoring for the Lumberjacks against Thief River Falls at the Bemidji Community Arena. Eighth-grader Bailey Rupp continued her early-season points binge with two goals, and seventh-grader Naomi Johnson scored one to power BHS to a 3-0 win.

“They're solid hockey players, had great youth coaching, and they just love the game,” Jacks head coach Mike Johnson said of his youngest participants. “It's a joy to see them come to practice with a smile on their face, and they leave practice with a smile on their face. It’s pretty cool.”

Numerous Bemidji Middle School attendees populate this year’s BHS roster, and they’ve been ice-cold performers so far. In addition to Rupp and Johnson’s contributions, eighth-graders Mali McLean and Millie Knott each assisted on one of Rupp’s goals.

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Bemidji seventh-grader Naomi Johnson (44) moves the puck during the second period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“We've been teammates all through hockey, so it's really nice to have each other,” Rupp said. “We know each other well and where we're going to be, so it's kind of nice.”

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Rupp got it started for the Lumberjacks in the first period, poking in the puck off McLean’s assist amid a scrum at 16:01. Johnson doubled the lead at 12:55 in the second off a perfect 2-on-0 pass from Sammy Nistler, and Rupp fired home an empty-netter at 16:17 in the third to cap the scoring.

The final margin did not accurately capture the level of Bemidji’s dominance, though. The Jacks had 43 shots on goal to the Prowlers’ 13, and BHS often held the puck within the offensive zone for stretches of over a minute.

“We’ve got really strong defensemen that understand when to pinch and how to pinch and how to control the puck,” Johnson said. “All of our D can handle the puck really well, and the speed up front from the forwards really, really helps to keep that possession in the zone. And we did talk about that too, that when we have pressure like that, we want to maintain possession of the puck and not let them off the ice, not let them get an easy change.”

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Bemidji senior Bella Webb (10) moves the puck during the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Rupp particularly stood out with her slick maneuvers in the O-zone, sometimes weaving through all five of the Prowlers’ skaters to look for open-ice opportunities.

“It's fun stick-handling and skating and just waiting for that opening,” Rupp said. “It feels good, like you're flying.”

The Lumberjacks are soaring early this season, now at 3-0 after wins over East Grand Forks, Grand Rapids/Greenway and TRF (1-2). And they have their new eighth-grade star to thank for a large part of it.

“Bailey is the most talented, most humble kid you'll ever meet,” Johnson said. “(It’s) a blessing to be able to have her come to the team. She has no amount of arrogance, and it's always all about the team. She'd much rather pass the puck than shoot it. She doesn't play to win for herself. She plays to win for her teammates, and that's just a beautiful thing.”

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The Lumberjacks celebrate after eighth-grader Bailey Rupp scored during the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Rupp has three goals and five assists this year, compiling eight points in the early going.

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BHS split goaltenders on Thursday – Payton Weidemann started and finished with six saves, then Ava Myhre relieved her midway through the second period and recorded seven stops. Thief River Falls’ Bell Hamre turned in a Herculean performance in net, stopping 40 shots to keep the Prowlers within striking distance.

Bemidji next faces Sartell-St. Stephen for its third contest of the week at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, in Sartell.

Bemidji 3, Thief River Falls 0

TRF 0 0 0 -- 0

BHS 1 1 1 -- 3

First period -- 1, BHS GOAL, Rupp (McLean), 16:01.

Second period -- 2, BHS GOAL, Johnson (Nistler), 12:55.

Third period -- 3, BHS GOAL, Rupp (Knott), 16:17, EN.

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Saves -- Weidemann (BHS) 6; Myhre (BHS) 7; Hamre (TRF) 40.

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Bemidji freshman Megan Berg (2) shoots the puck during the first period against Thief River Falls on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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The Lumberjacks attack the puck in front of the Thief River Falls net during the first period on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

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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