BEMIDJI -- It’s obvious by the time her first name is announced, and even more apparent once she plays: Nettie Kimble was destined to be a goalie.
“I got to my 10U team, and they needed a goalie. I decided to play, and I never stopped,” the figure skater-turned-netminder said. “I didn’t even know, really, what hockey was. I didn’t know the game at all. … (Goalie) just seemed fun. Everyone told me I shouldn’t, but I still did.”
Kimble was right to go against the crowd. The Bemidji High School junior is a now seasoned veteran for the girls hockey team, having split time in the crease over the past three years before taking the reigns as the full-time starter this season.
“I was new to the scene last year, and we had a senior goaltender with Brooklyn (Delap),” second-year head coach Mike Johnson said. “In my eyes, the two were pretty even in most ways. They supported each other. (This year) Nettie knows that she’s the one who has to be ready every single night. She gets up for that.
“With her experience, it was really nice to walk into this as a new head coach last year and have a player like Nettie. This year, she’s raised her game even more.”
Kimble first arrived on the varsity scene as an eighth-grader and has been busy adding to her resume ever since. She reached 1,000 career saves during the Nov. 8 season opener, and she’s currently a dozen away from 1,500 stops going into Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. puck drop against Roseau at the Bemidji Community Arena.
“It’s kind of a surprise, you know what I mean? You don’t feel like it’s been 1,500,” Kimble said. “It’s just every shot, you’re trying to get it. … The team has blocked so many shots, too."
Kimble has denied 514 pucks so far this season, already a single-season best, while posting a .908 save percentage and four shutouts. But the most important number has been in the win column, where the Lumberjacks sit 9-9 and are finally seeing fruits of a program revival.
“It’s amazing to see the program turn around and to help with that,” Kimble said. “Growing up with these girls, I knew we could do it.”
Already with its most wins since 2015-16, BHS is trying to accomplish a .500 season for the first time in eight years. And Kimble is a big piece of the puzzle.
“We start with team defense,” Johnson said. “It’s just incredible to have Nettie there as a starting point, and then we have four veteran defensemen who really do their job. And I think the big turnaround this year is that our forwards are more conscientious, they’re getting back, they’re helping out. … If we take care of business in the defensive zone, it’s going to lead to good offensive opportunities on the other end.”
Bemidji has certainly made its mark this season. The program won its first season opener since 2011, defeated Thief River Falls for the first time since 2013 and claimed the Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic for its first regular-season tourney championship since 2006.
“There have been a lot of firsts, or at least first-in-so-many-years that they keep building on. Now we’re starting to look toward that playoff push,” Johnson said. “We’re not naive enough to think that we’re going to get any kind of high seed. We’re going to have to play a really good team in the first round. But the camaraderie that I’m seeing, the positive energy and the fun they’re having at the rink every day, it makes a difference and it really builds.”
Kimble grew up around the rink, and hockey runs in her blood. But Nettie’s name is the proof that she’s in the right place whenever she’s between the pipes.
“It’s been a lot of learning,” Kimble said of goaltending. “The team counts on you so much. … It’s made me grow as a player (and) it’s changed me as a person.”