Your usual “Old Dog,” Mike, is a little too busy at work this week to make time for his weekly column so I thought I would take a stab at one revolving around some of my experiences with Bemidji State and the town of Bemidji, Minnesota.
When I became a big time fan of Michigan Tech hockey back in October 2003 the Beavers were not part of the WCHA. BSU was part of the CHA (College Hockey America, along with Alabama-Huntsville), and struggling to stay afloat a that time. They were pushing hard to join the WCHA and the league basically forced BSU/Bemidji to invest in a new arena to get in. No one really wanted BSU in the conference and early on, my friends and I didn’t really enjoy traveling there.
The first ever match-up between MTU and BSU happened in 2007 and the Huskies first ever trip to Bemidji was in 2008 right after Thanksgiving. I remember making the trek with my roommate. Two things really stick out for me: the Huskies got swept, so I was disappointed in traveling that far to not see my team win a game with what was supposed to be an inferior CHA team, and that after the game Saturday we ended up getting dinner at Applebee’s because none of the restaurants we tried on recommendations of locals were still serving food when we got there. Side note, some of the BSU players were at Applebee’s and snickered when I complained to the server about the long drive to watch my team lose twice.
Most of the stories about Bemidji and BSU sound something like this. Some of my friends have struggled to find food in Bemidji when driving back from Grand Forks road trips, including one time when Taco Bell ran out of meat and Dominos was only open for delivery and refused to deliver a pizza to a car in the parking lot. I still contend that those issues were on my friends for ever leaving Grand Forks/East Grand Forks without getting food.
There are many restaurants over the years that people have told us to check out. The first was Dave’s Pizza. I think we tried to eat there a couple times and it just never worked out because their kitchen was closed or we didn’t give ourselves enough time before the game for how busy they were. Maybe this year we’ll find time to go to Dave’s; we’ve wanted to for quite some time, hoping to run into the owner, Pete Fenson. My roommate and I have wanted to chat with him about curling for quite some time, as he skipped Team USA to Bronze in Turin (2006) and participated in eight world championships.
In 2016, everything changed for us. My former roommate and I had each gotten married and we convinced our wives to make the trek to Bemidji, bar hop our way there and check out a couple games at Sanford Center. Friday night was similar to past trips where we ended up just getting bar pizza somewhere and hanging out in some very strange bars out of simplicity. Then Saturday afternoon we met a friend for lunch at Bar 209 and realized this place was pretty awesome. They had delicious burgers and we found out they served food until 11 or midnight (I forget which) so we rush there after the game and got food before drinking the night away.
When the Huskies drew Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, we mobilized again including one of my college roommates and another friend that many of you know, MeanEgirl. Her opinion of Bemidji has never been great, going back to the previously mentioned Taco Bell incident. We ended up renting a cabin at a resort on the north side of the lake with a kitchen and everything. It worked out pretty well, but with Bar 209 already on the planned list, we tried to find more options and found out that the owners also owned a fancier place outside of town called Turtle River Chophouse. While I will say I do have one complaint—their website lists their summer hours and doesn’t mention winter hours at all so we thought we’d be able to get dinner there after the game only to find they were closed—we made time to go back the following night to get dinner and it was wonderful. Everyone liked what they had and the beer selection was great. MeanEgirl’s stance on Bemidji even softened, helped obviously by the results of the hockey games. A playoff road sweep is not a common occurrence but it happened that weekend.
One other event that brings Bemidji higher on any list is a little more related to Mitch’s Misfits than Bemidji itself but I usually try to treat the Mitch’s Misfits leadership to dinner at some point during the season if I get the chance to say thank you for keeping the Misfits going and Friday night at Bar 209, while waiting on our food, one of the Misfits made a couple song requests that I will never forget. They introduced me to the lyrical genius that is Wheeler Walker Jr. I won’t go into too much detail here because he’s far from appropriate but I get a kick out of his terrible songs and maybe you will, too. I will also remember laughing at the lyrics in Bar 209 with some of Mitch’s Misfits and then annoying MeanEgirl most of the weekend by playing the songs off Amazon Music.
Now, after all that struggle for BSU to get into the league and for my friends and I to actually find places that help make the trip enjoyable, Bemidji gets to participate in one of the biggest events in the North Star State. It doesn’t get much bigger than Hockey Day Minnesota. Michigan Tech should be ecstatic with the opportunity, even if temperatures are supposed to be well below zero at puck drop outside on Friday night. Even though their game won’t be covered on Fox Sports as part of HDM on Saturday, they are still participating and its a great opportunity for the program and the fans that get to make the trip. If you’re making the trip, I would also recommend getting up early Saturday morning and trying to catch the 9:30 AM game between Andover and Minnetonka.
Those two teams are currently the two top-ranked teams in the state, both coming into Saturday with 15-0-1 records. Minnetonka also features a future Husky, Grant Docter. Hopefully he gets the chance to catch one of the two BSU vs MTU games to watch his future team in action as well. Even with the freezing cold temperatures, I’m excited to attend Hockey Day Minnesota and see Michigan Tech play outdoors on the HDM Rink, plus everything else around it. What once was a road trip that none of us wanted to make, is now one of my favorites. Only time will tell what the next chapter holds for stories about trips to Bemidji.