Nickname: Lumberjacks (and Lady Lumberjacks)
Home Ice: Bemidji Community Arena
2014-15 Registration Numbers: 305 (77% growth from 2013-14)
President: Corey Rupp
Why They’re Awesome
Bemidji is a hockey town. From the old timers right on down to the mites, hockey is in their blood. As a result, the association, the high school and the city work together to support four ice sheets in a town with a population of 14,000 people.
The Bemidji State University Influence
Not all hockey towns can claim a strong connection with Division I hockey—something BYHA president Corey Rupp describes as huge for the youth players.
“Just being able to have that level of hockey played in our community, right here in Bemidji for all of our kids to be able to watch and see, it’s so cool,” Rupp said. “You see the players in the community—they’re always around, out at the rink with our youth teams.”
Growing the Game
Over the last several seasons, BYHA has taken advantage of the many programs available to help share the sport. Annually, they host Try Hockey For Free days and run their own program that allows new skaters to play their first season of hockey free of charge with equipment included.
Last year the association launched the Little Lady Lumberjacks program. The program saw 74 girls sign up between the ages of 4 and 10 who had not previously played hockey. Local volunteers from the high school girls' team and the BSU women's team served as coaches. The program was so successful it won a USA Hockey Grow the Game Award.
Their efforts didn't end there. This season, the association partnered with the Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey and Total Hockey to host a Little Wild Learn-to-Play program. Sixty new players from around the community and the neighboring towns signed up to participate, and half of those have registered with BYHA for the 2015-16 season.
BYHA's programs get kids on the ice. And once they play, usually they want to stay.
"It really makes it nice to encourage people to try it and play," Rupp said. "It's such a great game, once you try it, you love it."
A Bright Future
Last season, the Bemidji High School boys’ team returned to the state tournament for the first time in 29 years. That success has generated excitement throughout the community for the 2015-16 season at all levels of play.
"It was pretty special," Rupp said. "It's cool because that group of parents and kids has really done a lot for the program and are really involved in the youth program.
"We're excited for the future of Bemidji hockey as a whole."