So my predictions did not quite make me look like Nostradamus this week, but I do believe the way the games played out helped me look a little better. However, in this post I would first like to talk about my overall impressions of my first trip to the Sanford Center and the game played there.
The arena is set next to the lake with plenty of room around the building to create parking however the method of directing cars is terrible. We were cutting it a little close to make the game on time but with a tiny bit of speeding up highway 371 we were able to make it to the arena’s parking lot entrance by 7:15. Now, with a 7:37 puck drop you’re probably thinking we were ok…but you’d be wrong. There was only one entrance that nearly every car was going in to and so we figured that was the only option and didn’t want to risk searching out a new route only to get pushed to the back of the line. So we got in the line and waited…and waited…and waited. We kept passing lanes that had empty spots in them but were blocked by cones so all cars entering the arena were funneled into one, single path to the remaining parking spots. I’m the type of person that likes to be places on time and hate if I even miss the national anthem. So when we finally parked in a quasi parking spot that we may have convinced ourselves was legitimate at approximately 7:40, there was smoke coming out of my ears. The parking expedition would have been concluded more quickly if it was a free-for-all with no cones or parking attendants involved. As a result of this, we didn’t get to our seats until the 3 minutes of the game had elapsed. At least no goals had been scored by either team, but I was still not pumped about the experience. Luckily, they did serve beer there and my nerves were calmed for the moment.
Now to my thoughts on the Sanford Center. The first reaction that I had was that the Sanford Center is an absolutely perfect arena for Bemidji State University. I don’t say this to be snobby but for the amount of people in the surrounding area combined with the interest in college hockey 4,500 seats felt about perfect. Everything about the arena felt new but not overly extravagant. It very much felt like a college hockey arena in all facets. However, the PA system sounded awful and I may have lost some hearing in one ear after the team took the ice. Also, how much money does a company pay to sponsor a powerplay? I can’t remember the company, but it sounds really sad when you hear “AND NOW YOUR BEMIDJI STATE BEAVERS ARE ON A (Insert Company Name)’s POWER PLAY!”. Between that and the banners hung around the arena that are sports bar quality replicas, there’s some easy ways to class the place up a bit. I understand the need for the almighty advertising dollar revenue, but let’s be slightly more creative and much less intrusive.
Next, the atmosphere for the hockey game. I have to imagine that the Sioux are most likely the biggest draw of any hockey game played at the Sanford Center throughout the season. This is due to the combination of the proximity to Grand Forks, the relentless traveling hoard of North Dakota fans, and the fact that many GF residents have a lake cabin in the Bemidji area(my family included). This being said, the atmosphere was disappointingly mundane if a goal was not being scored or a big play made. I feel like I’ve been to a decent amount of college hockey barns and this might have been the quietest of them all. My friend sitting next to me made a comment that it felt like we were at one of our old high school games and I couldn’t argue with him. The student section tried to start a few “Let’s Go Beavers” chants(to which I mockingly started my own “JUS-TIN BIEBER” chant) but it didn’t really catch on. As surprisingly was the lack of spirited “Let’s Go Sioux” chants. I’ve heard better Grand Forks representation in Denver at Magness Arena. I partly think it’s due to the fact that UND only played one game in Bemidji rather than the normal two. Also, I think the fact that the weather started to turn pretty bad along highway 2 may have contributed to the lackluster showing by Sioux fans.
Now that you know all about the arena and maybe stuff you didn’t care about, let’s touch on the game that broke out while we were there. North Dakota absolutely came out like they had something to prove. I like to think it was the choice to wear the business suits(black alternate jerseys) that gave them the little extra jump. The first period was all UND with extended play in Bemidji’s neutral zone and a shot total of approximately 15-4 but no goals to show for it. The 2nd period started with much of the same and climaxed with a beautiful feed from Drake Caggiula behind the net to Rocco all alone in the slot who made no mistake in one-timing it past BSU’s goalie, Andrew Walsh. However, with about 2 minutes left in the period UND lost a neutral zone faceoff and someone missed their assignment allowing Cory Ward to walk in and snipe a wrist shot over Zane Gothberg’s glove side to even the score at one. The 3rd period showed a little more back and forth but still favoring North Dakota with a few huge scoring chances that they couldn’t capitalize on. Overtime again provided some close chances on North Dakota’s side and one very dramatic near goal by the Beaver’s Radislav Illo when he fired a shot past Gothberg that hit the inside of the post and didn’t go in. Although they were lucky the shot didn’t find the back of the net, the tie still felt unfair as they often do in hockey.
UND outshot the Beavers by a nearly 3 to 1 margin and looked like the better team for the large majority of the game. Although Andrew Walsh obviously had a solid game for the Beavers, some of the ownness belongs on the shoulders of the Sioux as they had multiple chances to put the game out of reach and failed to capitalize. This was a problem earlier in the year when it seemed like the team just didn’t have the finishers it has grown so accustomed to in recent memory. Off the top of my head the names Kristo, Knight, Frattin, and Oshie come to mind as these types of guys that would get the puck in the net when the team absolutely needed it. I always envisioned Rocco Grimaldi becoming this player and although he is extremely fast and dynamic, he has not shown that killer instinct when it comes to finishing that I have expected. It seems as though Rocco puts a lot of pressure on himself and when he’s put in a situation like a breakaway you can almost see the weight all of his expectations pushing down on him. At points it seems as Rocco almost “out-dekes” himself and end up in a worse position than a simpler move would put him in. However, I do think Grimaldi has a bright future and the sky is the limit for him. I just hope he sticks around the UND campus for at least one more year so we can see the development firsthand.
In summary, Bemidji has a nice little barn and a solid hockey foundation to build upon and visiting their arena just further solidifies to me why UND fans’ see BSU as their little brothers in the hockey world. The fans are about as nice and polite as you can imagine from a visitor’s perspective. The only thing about the program that I have a strong disdain for….is the parking lot. To top off my experience, I was walking out to my car after the game and hit a patch of glare ice, did a triple axel ala Kristi Yamaguchi nearly pulling my groin and received a score of 6.1 from a Sioux fan walking behind me. To be fair, he blamed it on “the damn Russian judges”.